Wednesday, May 23, 2018

NOWHERE MAN by Alexsandar Hemon

This book was more incomprehensible than incomparable, if you ask me.  It has several first person narrators, none of whom are the primary character, a Bosnian named Josef Pronek.  We witness several stages of Pronek’s life in no particular order, including his attendance of an ESL program in Chicago, his college days in the Ukraine, his time in the Bosnian army, his work in Chicago as a door-to-door solicitor for Greenpeace, and a stint as process server to another Yugoslavian.  He is fortunately in the U.S. during the war between the Croats and the Serbs, but his parents are still there, and his mother barely avoids being hit by a bomb.  The last section is the weirdest, as it concerns a Captain Pick who lived in Shanghai during WWII but also used the name Joseph Pronek.  What is that supposed to mean?  Was he our Josef’s father or a previous incarnation or not related in any way?  And does Greenpeace really solicit donations door-to-door?  This was perhaps the most entertaining section, as Pronek gives himself a new identity and nationality at each home he visits.  The title comes from the Beatles song, since at one point he and his buddy in Bosnia form a cover band that performs Beatles songs (in English), which then morphs into a blues band in which he passes himself off as “Blind” Josef Pronek.  This kaleidoscope of adventures may be semi-autobiographical in its juxtaposition of the comical and the doleful, but I would have preferred a more conventional rendering.

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