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Aleksandar Hemon On Chicago Places That Inspired Love and Obstacles

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Note: I lived in Ukrainian Village from 1994-19961, and Rainbo Room was one of my hang-outs as well.

“Love and Obstacles” (Aleksandar Hemon)

Nelson Algren Avenue

Aleksandar Hemon was visiting a friend in the Ukrainian Village section of Chicago in 1992 when war broke out in his hometown of Sarajevo. He extended his visit, eventually settling into an apartment nearby. “The area was completely devoid of glamour, and that suited me at the time,” the 45-year-old author says. “There was a war going on at home and my life was as far from glamorous as can be.” It was in Chicago that Mr. Hemon learned how to write in English, and he still lives there (in the Edgewater area). His 2008 novel “The Lazarus Project” was nominated for a National Book Award. His new collection of short stories “Love and Obstacles” centers on an unnamed narrator who moved from Sarajevo to Chicago in 1992. Mr. Hemon annotated a map of key places in his adopted city that influenced or inspired his fiction.

4. Rainbo Club at Damen and Division

In “Szmura’s Room,” Szmura and Bogdan go for a drink to this cult bar, which is perpetually going in and out of hipness. In the early ’90s it was one of those cool semidumps, before the neighborhood was despoiled by sushi bars and boutiques where falsely damaged clothes are sold, before studied negligence became fashionable. Nelson Algren used to drink there and brought along Simone de Beauvoir with whom he was having a famous affair. The locals fondly remembered her as Simon the Beaver.

[Click to continue reading Aleksandar Hemon On Places That Inspired ‘Love and Obstacles’ – WSJ.com]

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Rainbo Club

The book looks like a worthy addition to one’s library:

Aleksandar Hemon earned his reputation— and his MacArthur “genius grant”—for his short stories, and he returns to the form with a powerful collection of linked stories that stands with The Lazarus Project as the best work of his celebrated career. A few of the stories have never been published before; the others have appeared in The New Yorker, and several of those have also been included in The Best American Short Stories. All are infused with the dazzling, astonishingly creative prose and the remarkable, haunting autobiographical elements that have distinguished Hemon as one of the most original and illustrious voices of our time.

What links the stories in Love and Obstacles is the narrator, a young man who—like Hemon himself—was raised in Yugoslavia and immigrated to the United States. The stories of Love and Obstacles are about that coming of age and the complications—the obstacles—of growing up in a Communist but cosmopolitan country, and the disintegration of that country and the consequent uprooting and move to America in young adulthood. But because it’s Aleksandar Hemon, the stories extend far beyond the immigrant experience; each one is punctuated with unexpected humor and spins out in fabulist, exhilarating directions, ultimately building to an insightful, often heartbreaking conclusion. Woven together, these stories comprise a book that is, genuinely, as cohesive and powerful as any fiction— achingly human, charming, and inviting.

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Written by Seth Anderson

May 8th, 2009 at 11:39 am

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