Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Aleksandar Hemon

Yesterday, both the Northwestern Magazine (the alumni magazine of Northwestern Univeristy) and The New Yorker arrived in my mailbox. In the former was an article about Aleksandar Hemon, the by-now well-known Bosnian immigrant who arrived in Chicago in 1992, learned English, studied creative writing (at Northwestern) and has published two books, including the well-reviewed Nowhere Man. The point of the article was that Hemon was named recently the recipient of one of the MacArthur Foundation "genius" grants, and is thereby relieved of most of the pressure under which writers live. (There was a story not long ago in a Chicago publication about how hindsighted the MacArthur grants tend to be, since recipients rarely live up to the expectations that go along with "genius." But that's another story.) In The New Yorker was a story by Hemon, called The Conductor. In that story, the narrator, known only by the inappropriate nickname "Conductor," bears a great similarity to Hemon. A writer in his native Bosnia (of poetry, in the story; Hemon was a journalist), he finds his way to Chicago and manages to miss the war in his homeland while becoming a writer of stories. In the story, the narrator is jealous, or perhaps merely resentful, of another poet, named Muhamed (but later known as Dedo, or Old Man), who is far more successful. Despite his success, though, he spirals downward and the narrator, although he seems to try, cannot save him.

If this story were submitted to a workshop, I imagine it would be criticised for beginning too slowly. Indeed, it is only about halfway through that one gets a sense of drama, other than the coincidental drama of the war in the narrator's home. And while the narrator is present for some of the key events of the story, it is Dedo's life that seems to be central, and unlike Nick Carroway's telling of Gatsby's life, the narrator puts himself too much at center stage for a story in which he is, finally, a minor character.

I'd be interested in hearing other reactions to this story if anyone has seen it. (Sorry, but the links to both articles are unavailable.)

3 comments:

Mary Akers said...

I read it. I thought it was a bit bizarre, to say the least. I was also struck by the tangential narrator who is too much on the page. Either he should be there as the protagonist, or he should be a background narrator. As it reads, we don't really know whose story it is...

Clifford Garstang said...

It seems to be Dedo's story, doesn't it? Ultimately. And so you're right, the narrator is "too much on the page." I have an e-mail relationship with his mentor at Northwestern, Reginald Gibbons. I should offer him these gratuitous criticisms, don't you think?

Jai said...

Had never heard of him. Thanks for the insight. Sounds intriguing.