The Question of Bruno

Aleksander Hemon was born in Sarajevo in 1964 and moved to Chicago in 1992 with only a basic command of English. He began writing shortly afterward, and his stories have since appeared in The New Yorker, Granta and Best American Short Stories (‘99) among other publications.

New to paperback, this book (winner of the LA Times Best Book and a New York Times Notable) is a remarkable collection of short stories about love and war that not only illuminate a common immigrant experience in this country, but also provide stylistically adventurous forays into war-torn life in Sarajevo, an existence that Hemon conveys with the force of a lug wrench to the stomach.

In one of the most powerful pieces, “The Coin,” wild dogs tear apart stray cats ("screaming loaves of fur and flesh") and bullets buzz by innocent bystanders like “rabid bees,” as a heart-wrenching story is told through the love letters of a woman working as a television editor (impregnated by a adventurous American cameraman who leaves her for his next exciting war gig). The woman risks her life walking “from Point A to Point B” each time she leaves her apartment—thanks to ever-present snipers—and spends her days saving grotesque, edited clips of shooting violence in a collection entitled “Cinema Inferno” (mocking the film Cinema Paradiso). She writes in her letters: “I dread the fact that life is always slower than death and I have been chosen, despite my weakness, against my will, to witness the discrepancy.”

Having already drawn comparisons to Nabokov and Conrad for his ability to turn a discordant note, Hemon has talent to burn. Whether examining a love affair in the blink of an assassin’s bullet or an exiled writer working an absurd job in a sandwich shop in Chicago, the writer shows great imagination and the rare ability to combine droll farce with the most horrifying themes of war. His eye for detail and the consequences of history is devastating. All this lends his fiction an air of importance, as if documenting the human condition through the eye of a war photographer. And the writing rings true with the clarity of a fresh ear to the English language and a fresh eye to a particularly American blend of prosperity and poverty. Hemon currently resides in Chicago with his wife, Lisa Stodder, a Chicago native.