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The Lazarus Project

Aleksandar Hemon

Average Review Rating Average Rating 8/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Picador

Published : 2009

Copyright : Aleksandar Hemon 2008

ISBN-10 : PB 0-330-45842-6
ISBN-13 : PB 978-0-330-45842-9

Publisher's Write-Up

On 2 March 1908, Lazarus Averbuch, a young Russian Jewish immigrant to Chicago, tried to deliver a letter to the city's Chief of Police. He was shot dead. After the shooting, it was claimed he was an anarchist assassin and an agent of foreign operatives who wanted to bring the United States to its knees. His sister, Olga, was left alone and bereft in a city seething with tension.

A century later, two friends become obsessed with the truth about Lazarus and decide to travel to his birthplace. As the stories intertwine, a world emerges in which everything and nothing has changed...

'A haunting study of despair and loss, death and dreams, identity and home... An outstanding contribution to immigrant literature.'

The Times

'Prose this powerful could wake the dead.'


'The Lazarus Project raises questions of what it is to belong, illuminating fragments of history along the way.'

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Reader Reviews

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Review by Vesna McMaster (310710) Rating (8/10)

Review by Vesna McMaster
Rating 8/10
The narrative of The Lazarus Project is an ever-increasingly densely woven tapestry between the three main entities of:

a) the murder of a Jewish immigrant Lazarus Averbuch approximately a century ago by the Chief of Police when Lazarus went to his house to deliver a message;
b) the travels of the writer-character Brik, who gains a grant to write the book and travels from Chicago to Europe to follow Lazarus's tail and
c) the aura of the author himself, an undisguised mirror of the writer-character.

Like the character, Hemon is a Bosnian who has moved to Chicago, none too certain about the cultural integration aspects of the transition. Like Brik, Hemon gained a grant to write the book in question, and like the character, he travelled on the course through Europe detailed, accompanied (just as the character was) by his photographer friend Velibor Bozovic (a.k.a. Ahmed Rora in the book).

Throughout the narrative, the strands of past and present become increasingly interwoven. A discussion on the nature of the creation of history, literature and art is entered into directly with the reader, as the mirrors and resonances are made ever more apparent. Observations of a flapping foot, the glass eyes of a fox fur around the neck of a woman on a tram, people's names, their motives, feelings of isolation and detachment, of ostracism and the motivation and consequences thereof - all these echo from author, to writer-character, to the newly-created and imagined past of Lazarus Averbuch's day, and back to the reader. The work is so structured and organically knit together is seems to writhe into a self-evolved life-form between the pages. This is not a book or a 'story', it is a take-you-by-the-shoulders-and-shake-you invitation to consider what history is, who made (and is making) it, what cultural and social frictions consist of and what lessons we ought to learn from history but have failed to.

The title itself is key to one of the ultimate questions Hemon poses. He ponders on the resurrection of the biblical Lazarus – was Lazarus pleased to be raised from the grave, or was it just another exile from death? Did he ever return 'home' or is he still wandering the earth? It is another mirror for an oft-asked question of typically post-apocalyptic scenarios: if humanity rises from the ashes, is that existence worth inhabiting? From the wrecks of so many human tragedies - the pogrom of Kishinjev or the bombing of Sarajevo and all their associated horrors, people rise and walk away - but where will they go, and why should they. It is not a question that Hemon gives the answer to here, except for an aching longing to return 'home' - though the entity that was called 'home' as such no longer really exists. It is another mirror of the path from the present to the past, built on regret and barely understood, but desperately needed for the journey into the future. In Hemon's own commentary in an interview: 'memory metabolises the past'.
Vesna McMaster (31st July 2010)

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