Chicago Reader

Best of Chicago Lit
Aleksandar Hemon

Best Book by a Chicago Author in the Last Year: The Lazarus Project, Aleksandar Hemon

Velibor Bo

Best Book by a Chicago Author in the Last Year

The Reader’s Choice: The Lazarus Project

Aleksandar Hemon’s backstory is well known by now: he came to Chicago for a visit in the early 1990s, stayed on when his hometown, Sarajevo, fell into chaos, improved his English enough to get a master’s in lit at Northwestern, and started writing books; in 2004 he scored a MacArthur “genius” grant. The best book to come out of Chicago in the last year is his second novel, The Lazarus Project, about one Vladimir Brik, a Bosnian-American writer fortuitously married to a Chicago brain surgeon.

Brik—who’s portrayed as having written a column about the immigrant experience for the Reader—stumbles upon an old Tribune story about Lazarus Averbuch, an eastern European Jewish teenager and suspected anarchist who (in real life as in the book) was gunned down by Chicago’s police chief in 1908. Brik is determined to uncover the truth behind the incident, and his research takes him—along with his earthy Bosnian photographer friend Rora—back to his homeland. As he tells the tale, Hemon alternates between the era of Averbuch’s death, detailing the anarchist insurgency in Chicago just before the 1886 Haymarket Riots, and contemporary Chicago and eastern Europe. The book is provocative and enlightening, a serious yet often funny work by a very gifted dude. Arrow Riverhead, $24.95 —Jerome Ludwig

Our readers’ choice: The Slide by Kyle Beachy

Arrow The Dial Press, $13, kylebeachy.com.

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