The Fictioning

Wednesday, September 25th, 2002


Nowhere Man

by Aleksandar Hemon

The Amazing Jozef Pronek

A review by Adrienne Miller

Now here's reason to get excited: a true work of art that's as vast and mysterious as life itself. Hemon, in just two books, and in just two years (if you haven't read The Question of Bruno, do), has quickly become essential in the way that, say, Nabokov is essential. The Nabokov comparison is not a facile one. The hero, if we may call him that, of Nowhere Man is "followed" by his doppelganger, his shadow, his shade -- a favorite Nabokovian theme. This character is Jozef Pronek, a young, itinerant Bosnian who "has the ability to respond and speak to the world." In each story, Pronek appears and reappears in different phases of life, and in different guises. There is Pronek as a baby ("during a diaper change, he peed in a perfect arc on an electric heater, discontinuing the arc just in time not to get electrocuted, the piss evaporating like an unfinished dream"); Pronek as a teenager, one who would have been a punk (the name of his high school band: Jozef Pronek and the Dead Souls) if he weren't so decent (the band plays Beatles covers); Pronek as a young man in wrecked Sarajevo, in Kiev, and speaking wobbly English in Chicago. Are these stories scenes from the same life? We believe so, and we think we know what Hemon is up to here, until the title story, the last piece in the book, when the device unravels and, like a Zen koan, becomes more elusive the more you think about it. This tender, devastating book is evidence indeed that Hemon is a writer of rare artistry and depth.

Adrienne Miller is Esquire's literary editor.

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