Monday, July 16, 2007

#45 - Nowhere Man

Aleksandar Hemon's Nowhere Man took me many weeks to finish, but like so many of the extra-ordinarily literary books on my Around the World in 52 Countries challenge that sit on the 1001 Books list, I've come to expect that I will work my way through these books like one would an art gallery in a foreign city: slowly, methodically, and with great patience.

The story of Josef Pronek as told from the point of view of many different narrators, Nowhere Man is a captivating novel that highlights the uncanny ability of the author to challenge conventional storytelling techniques while creating a character who ultimately glues the book together. Hemon, originally from Sarajevo, perhaps perfectly distills the idea of a splintered society, what war does to a person, to a people, in this novel. At times he merges the stereotypical (The Beatles as revolutionary charge and right of passage) with the nonsensical (Pronek's time as a canvasser for Greenpeace), but always manages to show how each narrator maintains that little bit of love and affection for Josef without losing the reader.

All in all, it's a powerful, moving book that I would recommend if only for it's wonderful use of form. In a way, it's a bit like learning a new language each time we switch narrators and see yet another sliver of Pronek's life. The syntax might be different in each section, but the end goals, communication, compassion, understanding, englightenment, remain exactly the same.

It's interesting too, how my reading life and my movie life have been tracing common themes of one another really without any conscious effort on my part. Recently, the RRHB and I watched The Secret Life of Words. Sarah Polley plays a young nurse also stunted by the war in Bosnia. The two characters intersect so nicely: Josef finally releases so much of the tension built up through the entire novel by falling in love with an American girl and, in a way, the very same thing happens to Hanna, Polley's character (she falls in love with an injured oil rig worker). It was a good experience reading and watching the two works somewhat in tandem, to get a male and female perspective, in art form, of the conflict.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: I finished the book one very foggy, very cool morning on the sun deck while my cousins slept in the cottage and I wasn't quite ready to start writing.

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