Friday, August 29, 2014

Review: "Love and Obstacles" by Aleksandar Hemon

Reading anything by Aleksandar Hemon is always a unique experience, and that is no different than his short story collection Love and Obstacles. He is the writer Jonathan Safran Foer wishes he could be: brilliant without being arrogant, though-provoking without being needlessly obtuse and possessing an ability to dissect his homeland in a way that is humorous new and not simply to fill the void of a foreign writer. His narratives lack an urgency and newness that make them come off as stale, but his prose styling, influenced by a command of the English language that didn’t come about until Hemon was almost 30, is very fun to read and something to behold. It can come off as funny, the misuse or overuse of metaphors and similes can have the tendency to produce belly laughs. But it can also become very poignant and serious, with Hemon stumbling, almost by accident over great human truths that go beyond boundaries of culture and country. This collection is pretty solid, and is linked not by people, but by themes and a few different actions within the story, like the war in Sarajevo and trips to Zaire to avoid trouble at home. There are a few stories in this collection that really stand out. One of them is the opening story; “Stairway to Heaven” about a lovelorn young man who befriends a nefarious American while his family is staying in Zaire. It doesn’t break new ground but it is rather funny and has a lot of energy. “Everything” is a more emotional based story, where the narrator finds bigger things to worry about than lost love. But my favorite story is “The Conductor” about a wannabe poet who constantly gets belittled by actual famous poets. It dissects intellectualism in a Bolano-esque way that is truthful, hurtful and funny. As I said, these stories don’t break any new ground, but Hemon is definitely worth checking out if you want to laugh and cry within the same page.

Rating: 4/5

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