9780385499231

The Question of Bruno

Hemon, Aleksandar

ISBN 10: 038549923X / 0-385-49923-X
ISBN 13: 9780385499231
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
Publication Date: 2000
Binding: Hardcover
Editorial Reviews for this title:
Synopsis:
The Question of Bruno is a novella and stories that are linked by characters, by locations, by interwoven substories, and by a literary voice so strong and sensitive that no matter how many guises it adopts, the stories cannot help but gather momentum and join together as a powerfully inventive whole.

Set in Chicago and Sarajevo, it is a book about the trauma of war, about how an exile makes a new life in a new land.  But above all it is a work of impressive range, stunning accomplishment, and deep humor. In the novella "Blind Jozef Pronek and Dead Souls," a young Sarajevan travels to the United States and decides to stay when he sees war break out at home on CNN--he goes on to experience a starkly contemporary version of  "coming to America." In "The Sorge Spy Ring," a young boy in communist Yugoslavia becomes convinced his father is a spy because of the strange toys he brings back from Moscow.

Whether Hemon is writing of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand or of a family trip to the beach, of an immigrant in the United States fired from a sandwich shop for an inability to distinguish between romaine and iceberg lettuce, or of the art of dodging sniper fire in a modern city under siege, he is both painfully funny and heartbreakingly sad. He writes with a wit, freshness, and true originality that prove him one of the most talented and skilled writers of his generation.

Review:
Aleksandar Hemon moved to the U.S. from Bosnia in the early 1990s, prior to the siege of Sarajevo. He swiftly learned English and began writing, in his adopted language, stories about the traumas of immigrant experience and the pain of witnessing the war from his American exile. His impressive debut, The Question of Bruno, may lack the fluency and imaginative élan of Kundera and the linguistic density and sophistication of Conrad (both of whom Hemon specifically invokes), yet these stories have a haunting power that lingers long after a first reading.

By turns tragic and darkly comic, the stories are a mixed bag in terms of style. They are unified, however, by theme. In "Islands," for example, a boy and his family visit their Uncle Julius on the island of Mljet, which is infested by the very mongooses that were imported to deal with the snake problem. Julius, veteran of a Stalinist prison camp, takes a stoical tack: "So that's how it is, he said, it's all one pest after another, like revolutions." And when the family returns to Sarajevo, they are greeted by their neglected, starved cat, shaking "with irreversible hatred." The hungry feline returns in another story, when we learn that Sarajevo under siege was filled with starving cats, which were eaten by starving dogs. If it's symbolism you're after, look no further.

One of the best stories, "The Sorge Spy Ring," wonderfully evokes a sad childhood spent in the shadow of Tito's cold war repressions. A man buys his son a portable telegraph set, and the two communicate in Morse code in the privacy of their own home--but later the father is arrested for espionage, and as Tito finally dies, he too languishes on his deathbed, weakly sucking a banana. The image is both poignant and pathetic. It's also the sort of tight close-up that Hemon loves (the camera and the television are dominant images, as one might expect from a writer who resorts to CNN to find out what's happening at home). There are moments when his language is slightly unidiomatic and offkey, as if he's leaned too heavily on a well-thumbed thesaurus. On the whole, though, this is an honest, vivid, and sometimes brilliant collection. --Jonathan Allison

Review

Review:
The Question of Bruno is a novella and stories that are linked by characters, by locations, by interwoven substories, and by a literary voice so strong and sensitive that no matter how many guises it adopts, the stories cannot help but gather momentum and join together as a powerfully inventive whole.

Set in Chicago and Sarajevo, it is a book about the trauma of war, about how an exile makes a new life in a new land.  But above all it is a work of impressive range, stunning accomplishment, and deep humor. In the novella "Blind Jozef Pronek and Dead Souls," a young Sarajevan travels to the United States and decides to stay when he sees war break out at home on CNN--he goes on to experience a starkly contemporary version of  "coming to America." In "The Sorge Spy Ring," a young boy in communist Yugoslavia becomes convinced his father is a spy because of the strange toys he brings back from Moscow.

Whether Hemon is writing of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand or of a family trip to the beach, of an immigrant in the United States fired from a sandwich shop for an inability to distinguish between romaine and iceberg lettuce, or of the art of dodging sniper fire in a modern city under siege, he is both painfully funny and heartbreakingly sad. He writes with a wit, freshness, and true originality that prove him one of the most talented and skilled writers of his generation.

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