Monday, April 28, 2008

The Orange Spotlight

Aleksander Hemon The Lazarus Project (Riverhead Book, May 1st, 2008)

In modern literature there seems to be a few reoccurring themes. The story of the immigrant is one that is vital to both literature and to the history of America. Documenting the places, products, fights and fears of the all who have come to America for a new beginning. Those who have found success and those who were not allowed to find success. Another theme is the struggle of the creative, the dream denied and then fulfilled. The writer who struggles to fund to his research and process, the artist who dreams to have his work displayed anywhere, the musician who plays to bar crowds in the single digits.

In Aleksandar Hemon's third book (first actually conceived as a novel) he manages to combine both of these subjects by essentially writing two books. You see, The Lazarus Project is both a novel about a young immigrant newly settled in Chicago in 1908 named Lazarus Averbuch, and a Chicago writer, Brik, in 2008 researching the life and travels of Lazarus. To tell both stories, Hemon decided to alternate the chapters between the two completely different yet somehow similar lives. This allows the pieces of both to unravel slowly, revealing only the essentials and building the tension. There are also a few sub stories or themes at work here, like the fear and hatred in the early 1900's towards Anarchy and immigrants and more importantly the importance of friendship. Brik travels, researching, with a photographer friend Rora who not only documents the trip, but adds the random joke.

If you are looking for novel about the journey, the struggle, the adventure of trying to live your dreams, no matter what they might be then check out The Lazarus Project. Aleksandar Hemon will be appearing at the Barnes & Noble in Evanston on May 1st @ 7:00pm.

Bell Bell ep (self-released, 3/08)

"Its so hard sometimes to carry on when the current carries so far from home." from "Brown Bear"

I must admit that I had almost written off Bell as just another Bjork imitation. A very good one, but an imitation nonetheless. You see the first track on her debut ep is a beautiful romp featuring looped hand claps and glitchy little quirks and bubbles, while Olga Bell's voice powerfully searches every inches of the soundscape in that breathy scream/whisper that Bjork perfected years ago. I loved it, but thought it had been done before. It didn't help that she also recently appeared on a Bjork tribute Album.

However, as I listen to the entire ep I realized just how wrong I was. Her music is so much more then I expected, ranging from delicate to near anthem as she covers many styles and emotions in just six songs. In the remaining five songs the electronics are present, but more understated giving the ep as a whole a very stripped down and organic feel. On my personal favorite "Brown Bear" there is a sudden explosion of full bodied grand rock not unlike something you expect from Annuals. Overall this is a wonderful debut from this Brooklyn musician.

We expect to be hearing more from Bell in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

Echinacea (mp3)/Housefire/Expanding File/Brown Bear/The Miner/Chunk


BradyDale said...

I'm always skeptical about approaches like that of Hemon's here. Twice told tales often just end up feeling like twice as long than they should have been. I get that it's a different perspective, but the two examples of much loved books I found tedious in this way were GOB'S GRIEF and THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS (both of which are only memorable in that they drove me crazy by continually returning to the same moments).

Is that how this book is, or is it too whole separate books?
This Too Will Pass

Jason said...

This book does seem stretched out at points, and in my opinion could have been more sparse or condensed. Then again I am fan of short chapters, and only giving the essentials and allowing the reader to fill in the details.

However, some of the details that I did enjoy were the repeated importance placed on candy. He describes the premium that was once placed on candy, mentioning rose candy and lozenges. It was a nice image, anyway. Also a lot of time is spent in various Vietnamese Cafes, and you know my feelings towards coffee.

Honestly, I think Hemon could have picked to tell the story of Lazarus through Brik’s research and not in separate chapters. This opinion has nothing to do with his recent refusal for interview, either.

Pete said...

Hemon's one of my favorite writers. I'm looking forward to starting The Lazarus Project during the next day or two.