Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Roberto Bolano's Mauricio "The Eye" Silva and The Savage Detectives

Mauricio "The Eye" Silva is a strange short story that is not at all like I expected it to be from the title. When I hear the title, I envision a story about a boxer or something, although I realized before I even read it that that was unlikely. This story is about the relationship between himself and "The Eye", which leads into a weird story about one of "The Eye's" odd life experiences. I don't think it ever says why they call him "The Eye". The narrator and Mauricio meet in Mexico City and become friends. Mauricio is a homosexual. Eventually Mauricio leaves Mexico without telling the narrator. The narrator left a few years later and headed to Paris, which happened to be the last place "The Eye" was supposed to have been. The narrator looks for him there, but doesn't find him. Instead he finds him when he wasn't expecting to find him. Some years later he goes to Berlin for work, and while returning to his hotel one night he finds none other than Mauricio "The Eye" Silva waiting for him. They stayed up all night and went to bars and drank and talked. Mauricio feels bad about something and wants to tell the narrator a story that he had never told anybody else. They returned back to the hotel and he began to tell his story.

Apparently "The Eye" had gone to India for his work some time ago. He was supposed to photograph the prostitutes district in some city. He was offered the chance to sleep with a prostitute, which he refused. Apparently the pimp realized he was gay because he brought him to a brothel for males. The story gets weird when he starts talking about how some young Indian boys are offered to a deity as a sacrifice. The sacrifice is the young boys male parts. They castrate the boy for the sake of a ceremony, and then he is disowned afterwards. Most of them end up in a brothel. Long story short, Mauricio comes into contact with a young boy who had already been castrated and another young boy who was going to be castrated the next morning. He doesn't like this idea very much so he steals both of the children away and runs off with them to another town. He lives with them for a while and raises them, telling everyone in the community that they are his children. Sadly, "the disease" as it is called on page 119, hits the village and kills both children. Heartbroken, Mauricio returns back to the city where he originally steals the children from. He calls up an old friend and asks for a plane ticket, and the story ends with "The Eye" weeping uncontrollably.

The Savage Detectives is a longer story, so we only read an excerpt of the whole thing, but it was an interesting part. The narrator again meets a random person named Arturo Belano, this time in Africa. They were both photographers there for work. The narrator, Jacobo Urenda, sees Belano as someone who doesn't care about living and is looking to get himself killed. Urenda went back to Paris for a while, and meanwhile Belano heads for the interior of Luanda which is thick with gang wars. They don't meet up again until a couple of years later. Belano seems to have started caring about his life more now, though he is still working for the same newspaper he was working for. They part ways again, and Urenda heads back to Paris to visit his wife for a short time and then heads to Monrovia, Liberia. This is where the majority of the story takes place. He stays in a hotel with a bunch of other journalists. The nearby area is full of civil war and open rebellion, and rebels attack anything that moves in the area. Urenda looks for Belano in the area but does not find him. He tries to leave the country but is unable to go. He and a few other journalists decide they want to make an expedition into the surrounding area. As they are riding towards a few small towns called Brownsville and Black Creek, they start to think maybe they made a mistake in coming to that area. Urenda is talking to an Italian journalist the entire ride until they come under fire from the side of the road near a village called Black Creek. The Italian man is shot in the temple, and the guide is wounded. The Chevy they are riding in takes multiple gunshots to the hood, which cripples the engine. They sit around with the dead Italian man and wait for the guide to return. He eventually comes back with his family. They move the Italian man's body into a nearby house so the dogs don't eat the body after everyone leaves. They try to make it back to Monrovia, but the truck only makes it to the next town, Brownsville. They pull up into town and get confronted by a pair of armed men coming out of a house. The guide talks to them and arranges for all of the travelers to stay in their house. There are other armed soldiers in the house as well as a very famous photographer and none other than Belano.

They find out that they are basically surrounded by hostile forces in the area and come up with a plan to get back to Monrovia. Belano and the other photographer decide that they want to go with the soldiers, which is seen as a death wish by everyone else. Belano seems to have slipped back into his old 'wanting to get himself killed' stage and has apparently found a kindred spirit in the other photographer because Belano wants to go with him so he doesn't die alone. The narrator makes it back to Monrovia, and leaves Liberia for good. Just before leaving he tries to find out what happened to Belano and the other photographer and the soldiers, but he is unable to figure it out. The excerpt of the story ends without ever saying whether or not Belano survived his trip.

Some random thoughts I had while reading: both of these stories started out the same. The author randomly meets a guy from Chile somewhere else in the world and they hit it off and become friends. His style of writing is so conversational. I like it. It flows well. The narrator has a knack for running into people. Thats how he met the characters from each story and he randomly ran into each one again later on in each story and has a reunion with them. In the excerpt he randomly runs into Belano more than once. The people he meets never know how to say goodbye either. They all just leave without notice. Lastly, the stories both ended so abruptly. They left me wanting more, but more because they felt unfinished rather than an actual desire to continue reading these stories. All in all, they were very strange. One was about a homosexual who kidnaps little castrated Indian boys in order to save them from an even more pitiful existence. The other story was about a journalist who ventures into a war torn area of Africa in search of a long lost acquaintance and has a bit of an adventure there, while managing somehow to find the person he was looking for only to lose him again to an unknown fate. Interesting stories, but not my favorite content.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Love and Honor and Pity...

Nam Le's Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice has a long title. The title comes from a Nobel Prize acceptance speech by William Faulkner in 1950, in which Faulkner describes these virtues of man as the reasons man will prevail in the end rather than just endure. Faulkner says it is a writer's duty to write about these virtues to not only keep a record for man, but to "lift their hearts" and remind them of the glory of their past.

Anyway, this story is about a man named Nam who was born in Vietnam, but raised in Australia. His background is that of a "Vietnamese boat people", which he occasionally writes about. While living in Melbourne, Australia he had been a lawyer but he hated his job and hated that he was good at it so he quit, much to the disgrace of his father, and headed to the Illinois Writer's Workshop to become a writer. The story takes place here as a deadline is pressing on Nam. He has to have his final story written and turned in in a few short days, but he is struggling with writer's block and can't figure out what to write about. His father comes to visit him then. It was the first time Nam had seen him in 3 years. He finally decides to write about his father's past in a story he calls "Ethnic Story", which is ironic because he typically didn't write about ethnic topics. I think he sort of thought of himself as a sell-out if he wrote and ethnic story, but with his father reappearing in his life that's what he decided to write about. He and his father do not have a great relationship, made sometimes painfully obvious by the awkwardness and tension in their conversations. The father was hard on Nam. When he was a kid Nam's father made him develop a ten hour a day study plan in the summer. That's just ridiculous. I can't even force myself to do that every day while school is in, let alone the summer. I think it is just the asian culture. I have a few friends from the south pacific and their parents all ride them hard about school. It seems to be excessive to me, but I think they are just brought up that way. My parents don't get too involved in that kind of stuff. They ask about my grades because they want to know how I'm doing. But they don't get on my back about it because they know I am motivated on my own and don't need motivation from them. In my experience, asian parents seem to think they are the main source of motivation, and so they are pretty hard on their kids when it comes to that stuff.

Nam tells his girlfriend, Linda, that his father abused him as a child, but he defended him in his writing. On page 18 Linda says she thinks Nam is trying to make excuses for his father. I agree with her, but why would he do that? Perhaps he feels that if he excuses his father, then he can also be excused. Because his father had abused him, and because his father was excused, perhaps he can feel excused from the things he had done as a result of that abuse. Nam ran away from home when he was 16, and got wrapped up in a life of sex and drugs before coming back home over a year later. His mother was providing for him while he was gone, which his father didn't like and they separated because of it. When Nam returned home, his mother did too but they never spoke another word of it and so Nam points to that as the point where their relationships with each other were never the same. I guess he is struggling with some guilt about that. He probably feels like he is responsible for ruining his parents marriage. So if he can excuse his father, then somehow he can be excused.

Nam knows little about his father's past. The only details he has come from one drunken night when his father talked about it all to his friends and allowed Nam to sit there and listen. His father was involved in the My Lai massacre. His family and lots of people from their village were lined up along a muddy ditch and shot by a bunch of GI's. War is disgusting. It makes people do terrible things. Anyway, his father survives because his mother throws her body on top of him and shields him from the bullets. He eventually crawls out from underneath his slaughtered family, up out of the muddy ditch and walks away probably one of the few survivors. Nam writes about this and other experiences in his story, but his father tells him "There are mistakes in it" on page 22. Nam tells his father he wants to sit down with him and talk about all the mistakes. His father agrees and they do it the next day, with Nam taking 45 pages worth of notes on it. His father tells him "it's not something you'll be able to write" on page 24. Nam responds "I'll write it anyway." Apparently his father was thinking, 'no you won't' because Nam finishes the story with a day to spare on his deadline and goes to sleep. His father wakes up while Nam is sleeping and takes the story with him to read on a walk. He is gone for a long time after Nam wakes up, so he goes to find him. He ends up seeing him down by the river with the homeless man at the burning trash can again. He had burned the story. Why would he do that? Nam had written it on a typewriter. There were no other copies. He said some terrible things to his father at that moment. But he said at the very end of the story that he found out some things later that had he known them then he never would have said those things. I wonder what he found out? He mentions at the bottom of page 16 that he is writing a eulogy. Maybe that's what he is talking about.

This was a good story. While searching for the origin of the title online, I saw a lot about another one of his stories called "The Boat" which seems to be more popular than this one. I had heard of this before, but I thought it was because we were going to read it in this class. That is not true, so I guess I'll just have to check it out for myself.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Lazarus Project (241-292)

This last section of the book confirmed what I thought to be slowly building within the story and in my mind. The upsetting and inevitable reality set in, although not necessarily in the way I had expected.

This section began with a recollection of the attack on Lazarus and Olga's family that could be described in many ways. It was very chilling and suspenseful and scary. I thought about what it would be like, witnessing the horrific death of Mr. Mandelbaum as Lazarus had, and barely escaping the attackers himself. I imagined what it would be like to sit there, waiting and knowing that they were coming my way and would probably do something similar to me. After the attack, the politsyant claimed that they were all dead and it was time to move on. He had to have known that some of them were alive. He was reluctant to take their lives, just like he was reluctant to let his fellow attackers beat Lazarus to death or rape Olga. When she snaps out of her daydream, she is talking to Taube, and she asks him to do something for him. I suppose she was asking him to pick up Isador and help him escape.

Next we join Brik and Rora trying to make their way to Sarajevo. They plan on taking a cab to Bucharest so they can hop on a train to a city that will let them take a bus to Sarajevo. This section had a lot of foreshadowing in it. The first example I noticed came on page 253. Brik says "All we had left to do together, Rora and I, was get back to Sarajevo." He said it then as if they would part ways once they got there and never be around each other again. Anyway, they stayed up most of the night and talked before catching the cab the next morning. Their cab driver was a shady looking sex trafficker named Seryozha who basically used them to transport a young lady across international borders without getting caught. At first Rora said he thought Seryozha was planning on killing them. But he was just acting weird because he had to go pick up a sex slave. Seryozha speeds the whole time and drives haphazardly probably because there aren't too many cars on the road. After a while, he starts to fall asleep at the wheel. Brik doesn't know what to do because a part of him wants to say something but another part of him wants to continue to flirt with danger. On page 261 he says "Perhaps, I thought, a quick death would resolve this uncomfortable situation." Its like he doesn't even care whether or not he dies. I think his life is beginning to lose focus. He no longer knows what to do about anything. His marriage is struggling, he isn't having much success with writing as of then. He is struggling with morality issues. And he's not too sure if he wants to live through it anymore. The girl does not do anything either. Perhaps she is wishing that they do crash so she can somehow escape the life she is about to be forced into. But Rora saves the day when he wakes Seryozha up and talks to him until they can stop at a gas station.

Once they reach Bucharest Seryozha drops them off at the train station, but not before he tries to hustle them for more money. They blow him off and lurk behind a pillar until Seryozha goes to the bathroom. They follow him at a distance and wait just long enough for him to get into a stall and get his pants down. They then proceed to barge in on him and beat him senseless. Brik breaks his hand in the process. They leave, set the girl free, and send her off with a handful of cash.

The next chapter begins with Isador who is taken by Taube's men. They knocked him out and he woke up in a coffin with a dead body pressing against his chest. They take him to a basement and hide him for a while. Later Olga is told that they will try to get him to Canada so nothing will happen to him. It flashes over to Lazarus' funeral with Olga and Taube. Olga can barely handle the grief. Schuettler and Miller stay behind to try and pretend like they care about the situation. Of course the newspaper article portrays Schuettler as the good guy. It even says that Olga says things that she didn't say.

In the final chapter of the book, Brik and Rora arrive at Sarajevo. Brik is worried about the situation with Rora and Rambo. He keeps asking if Rora is worried about what is going to happen. This is some more foreshadowing. They go to the hospital where Rora's sister Azra is a surgeon. She checks Brik's hand and tells him it is broken. He goes down to get it X-rayed, and finds the room after a bit of a struggle. I thought it was funny that so many people smoked in the hospital. You are not allowed anywhere near a hospital with a cigarette in the U.S., and here the patients and workers were all smoking it up. Brik talks to the nurse about America. He neglects to tell her about his wife. She tries to convince him to stay in Sarajevo, saying that there is nothing in America for him. She says he needs to marry one of their women. He is always looking for attention from somewhere. If he talks to another woman, he doesn't tell them about his wife. He constantly talks about how Mary never wants to talk to him and likes being away from him, but he admits to being relieved when he tries to call her and can't get a hold of her on page 283. He likes touring around his homeland without Mary and realizes he really doesn't want to go back. He always acts like Mary doesn't want him, but its he that doesn't really want her. Brik leaves the hospital and tells Rora and Azra that he needs to take some time alone in his hometown. So for the next few days he reminisces about his childhood as he walks around the city, bumping into people he used to know and greeting everyone he passed. He seemed genuinely happy to be back.

After a few days he and Rora agreed to meet over a cup of coffee. Rora was sitting at the coffee shop doing what he did best: taking pictures and flirting. Suddenly a muscle-bound, tattooed individual walks up, pulls out a gun and shoots Rora seven times without saying a word. He picks up Rora's camera and walks off. You later find out that the guy is just a random druggie who wanted Rora's camera so he could sell it for drugs. The gun accidentally went off the first time and he just kept on shooting, or so he said. Brik arrives to see Rora's bloody corpse lying there in the coffee shop. Nobody claims to have seen anything. The cops don't act like they care that much. He says nobody seemed particularly upset by the murder on page 286. Brik spends the next few days trying to figure how to console Azra. At the same time, he expresses the will to write a letter to Mary explaining all his thoughts and feelings. He is scared to have children. He doesn't want to come back to America. He says he will never know her and that he is elsewhere now. And yet he can not bring himself to write the letter. He visits the hospital again to get his hand checked, which is worse than it was. Azra treats him and they begin to talk about Rora and Rambo. Come to find out that Rambo never killed Miller. Miller was still alive and well. Rora had been lying about the whole story the entire time. His death was completely unrelated to Rambo. He was killed by "a boy with a gun" (page 291). I didn't see that one coming. Rora was, however, telling the truth about Azra's husband. So that makes me wonder what else he was lying about. He lied about Rambo, so why not other things? Certainly all those stories weren't real now.

The book ends with Brik deciding to stay in Sarajevo for a while, at least until his hand heals. It doesn't say whether he ever goes back. Or whether he and Mary stay together. The only thing it assures is that he will be writing. After all, that is what he needed his hand to heal for. So in the end the story about Brik and Rora had been somewhat happy-go-lucky until it came crashing down at the end. Lazarus' and Olga's story had been the depressing, grief filled story, and yet things sort of turned out for the best at the end. Lazarus was dead, and Olga still had to deal with that, but the city laid Lazarus' soul to rest. There was no civil unrest and everything worked out in the end. Basically, the stories pulled a bit of a role reversal at the end. Maybe the moral of this story is that nobody gets to be happy.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Lazarus Project (123-164)

The first chapter of this section of the novel starts out once more with Brik and Rora continuing their journey through Lazarus's past via eastern Europe. The cab driver, Andriy, had dropped them off at a rundown, nasty hotel in a city called Chernivtsi. After a detailed description of the disgusting place, including the whores who stay there to tempt the travelers, he again goes into a series of stories relating to things he and Rora did while staying at the hotel. He talks about his dreams and the trouble he has sleeping sometimes. He imagines what Lazarus was doing while in the city of Chernivtsi. He wakes up from a nap and he and Rora go for a stroll and find another Viennese Cafe. He talks about Rora's grandfather, or dedo, who was a Viennese Cafe regular and why he is a regular, and his love for the empire. Brik reminisces about a trip to Vienna for his second anniversary with his wife, Mary. Soon, a man pulls up in a Mercedes SUV and makes a big show of coming into the cafe and ordering. Apparently he is a gangster of sorts, which inspires another story about a gangster in Sarajevo named Pseto. They return to the room, and Rora naps while Brik becomes aroused by watching TV. Soon, a prostitute comes to the door and tries to entice Brik to have sex with her by exposing herself to him. He considers it for a moment, but then refuses her and closes the door in her face. This begins what seems to be a sort of confession by Brik. He explains that a part of him wants to be the person who has no commitments, no cares, and just does whatever they want on a whim. But another part of him could not allow himself to do that. He says, "I was still too weak to pursue my pleasures at the expense of others...And I was not unselfish enough not to be tempted by pursuing pleasure with abandon. Forever stuck in moral mediocrity, I could afford myself neither self-righteousness nor orgasmic existence." from page 133. I think this sort of behavior is alive in all of us, or at least it is for me. Who wouldn't be tempted by a beautiful girl who is willing to give herself to you right then and there? Though personally, I wouldn't even consider letting a prostitute near me with those sort of intentions. I doubt I'd even think twice before slamming the door in her face. But what person doesn't have at least a small part of them that only wants to live for their self and do things for them and only them? Its selfish, yes, but in my opinion it is simple human nature. Everybody wants to get theirs. What makes you morally superior, rather than morally mediocre as Hemon chooses to call it on page 133, is how you choose to deal with those temptations. So I disagree with him there. But anyway, he begins to talk about how he is not a good husband to Mary. He loves her, her cares about her, and he apparently can refuse temptation for the sake of being with her, but he remains tempted by that other side of himself which prevents him from being fully committed. Unfortunately, I can identify with that. But I've learned that the self gratification way is probably not the best way to go.

The next chapter begins with Olga approaching the police station. She is trying to speak with Assistant Chief Schuettler. The journalist, Miller, is happy to show her to Schuettler's office in case he can get a good story out of it. When Olga comes face to face with Schuettler, she demands Lazarus' body back so she can have him buried properly. He refuses, and they clash leaving Olga to become very angry and leave. As she leaves the station she meets a man named Hermann Taube who is a lawyer, who tells her he wants to help her. He leads her to his office so they can talk without having to worry about the police detective who is following them. As they arrive in his office, the racism of the time is clearly shown on page 143. There is a photo of Lazarus on the front page of the newspaper. Then it highlights several parts of his facial features with a heading that says "The anarchist type". Clearly they are labeling anyone that is of Lazarus' lineage to be an anarchist. This is racial discrimination at its finest, and if something like this had been printed in this day and age it would be a big deal. Then Taube reads the article to go along with it, which describes an approaching "housecleaning" of all the anarchists. It says "undesirable foreigners will be deported". Isn't this the type of behavior we fought against in World War 2? I guess a big difference is that we probably wouldn't deport them to concentration camps and kill six million people because of their race, but its still pretty hypocritical. But at the time this takes place, none of that had happened yet. I guess that's irony. Anyway, Taube asks about Isador's location, and Olga lies to him and says she doesn't know anything about Isador because she doesn't trust Taube. In the end he explains to her that he represents several people who want to help her, but she is unwilling to go through with any of it for the time being. She leaves and is afraid that her life is slipping away from her.

In the final chapter for this section, we return to Brik and Rora who are starting a new day. They eat breakfast at the hotel restaurant(judging by the state of the rest of the hotel I wouldn't eat there if you paid me), and then spent a while in a brothel called Duran Duran, why not? Brik talks about how Rora couldn't do anything with the whores in the brothel. I guess the whole thing disgusted him. Brik never said what he did while at the brothel. Maybe he wasn't there at all and Rora just told him about it later on. They head for the Jewish Center in Chernivtsi, though apparently they really only want to go hang out in the cafe some more and drink coffee. They drink way too much coffee. They meet a man named Chaim Gruzenberg at the Jewish Center. Brik talks to him for a bit, while Rora takes pictures of the center and the old man writing at the desk in the corner. The discussion ends up leading to nowhere for Brik because Chaim says nobody is around who remembers the events he is looking for, and the only Jews who hadn't left the area were too old, sick, and/or crazy to answer any of his questions. On page 158 Brik talks about Lazarus' arrival on Ellis Island. Did all the immigrants that came through there get treated like he says Lazarus did? It didn't seem like it would be a good experience. Is Lazarus' name on the wall at Ellis Island? My great grandmother was German and she came through Ellis Island only a few years after Lazarus would have. Her name is on the wall. I hope she wasn't treated like that. Anyway, after the Jewish Center, they took a walk down the road to the Museum of Regional History and toured it for a while. It's interesting to think about history on the other side of a war. You walk into an American museum and see an American perspective. But for every war we fight in, our enemies have museums dedicated to that same war. They had heroes too. And stories of their own. And it was our soldiers whom they killed to have their names remembered amongst the history of their countries. It all seems somehow more real when you think about it like that, and more barbaric. After the museum they go to an internet cafe called Chicago to write to people. Brik writes to Mary, and asks about her father, which he calls her "dead". He describes her father as a mean old man totally down on life who hates the fact that his daughter chose to marry a foreigner. He is probably going to be in trouble with his wife after his message to her. This section ends with another one of Rora's tasteless jokes. Most of Rora's jokes, while tasteless, succeed in getting a laugh out of me.

I realize now that I could probably tie anarchism from this time period in to my capitalism research and use this book instead of Cowboy Chicken to talk about some of the historical events that happened around this time. But I hadn't read enough about it until now, and I am way too far in to start over. Oh well. I'm looking forward to the second half.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Lazarus Project (87-121)

This section of the book was not as enjoyable to me as the first two. Perhaps it is my lack of sleep that causes me to say that, but I had a hard time making it through this section. This section of the story begins with a description of Lazarus's autopsy report. I knew it had said that he was shot several times, but the full reality was just ridiculous. His body was mutilated. The assistant chief just stands nearby talking about how "They are creatures of a different world". This is in reference to Lazarus's different facial features and things. I think this quote just shows the depth of the discrimination of the Jews. Its like not only do they think they aren't like them, but they don't even consider them to be human. The next section of the story involved Olga and Isador. Olga is trying to write to her mother to explain that Lazarus is dead, but she cannot find the words. She keeps starting a letter over in a different way. This part really seemed real to me. Hemon caught the mood just right. Parts seemed to be randomly thrown together to simulate the rambling thoughts of Olga's distraught mind. Other parts gave off a frustrated or angry or even a little scared kind of vibe. She would be doing something, then randomly start thinking about something from the past involving Lazarus. It just all seemed like the line of thought of someone who had just experienced a serious loss. It was very real to me.

Olga goes out to the outhouse and finds that Isador is hiding down in the feces because the police are looking for him all over the city. They suspect he too is an anarchist. Olga wants to blame him for Lazarus's death. As an aside, I just want to mention that parts of this book that are heavy with dialogue can be hard to follow because Hemon does not use quotations a lot of times. Anyway, she eventually brings Isador a blanket and some bread to get him through the night. I don't know if I could hide out in all that for a night. That would be about as disgusting as it gets. Olga starts to think that "waking up dead" would be the best way to deal with the grief of losing her brother. She hears a knock at the door towards the end of this chapter and finds Lazarus standing there. I took it to be a dream based on the fact that he's supposed to be dead and he begins to speak gibberish at the very bottom of page 96, and it is all "L" words from the section of the dictionary they were studying together.

The next chapter picks back up with the narrator and Rora, this time on their journey toward Krotkiy where the narrator's grandfather is born. The infamous Ford Feces is introduced in this chapter, owned and operated by Andriy, who seems to be personally offended when someone tries to where a seatbelt in his car. To pass the time on their long car ride, the narrator describes some of the stories Rora was telling along the way. The narrator talks about how he sometimes tried to tell stories to his wife which were not entirely true, but that she would call him on it. He says reality is the fastest American commodity. He describes a time when they were at a wedding, and everyone is sharing stories about how they met or ended up together, but he tried to talk about a story about some Cold War rabbits. Mary, in front of everyone, said she didn't believe him. That was rough. They get to Krotkiy, and they enter this graveyard across from an abandoned school. They are looking for particular gravestones. They find a gravestone for a man named Mykola Brik, who Rora says looks a lot like the narrator. He is an old relative,distantly related. He talks about how Rora descends from a long line of famous or important people who all did important things.

Anyway, he wakes up in the car because he is hot and Andriy is smoking with the windows up. He begins to talk about America and his American wife, and he seems pretty proud of everything. This contrasts the first part of this book when he is talking about denouncing his American ties for a day during the independence day celebration with fellow Bosnians. But now he almost seems like he is trying to convince Andriy to come to America himself. Rora is a muslim, and Andriy doesn't believe it at first. He thinks it is funny.

The last chapter starts off with a meeting between Guzik, Miller and a little fat man. Miller is paying off Guzik for information and trying to use him to track down anarchists. He asks Guzik to take a look into Olga. Miller goes with the little fat man and attends what is supposed to be a secret anarchist meeting. At this meeting, they are calling Lazarus a martyr, and a man named Ben Reitman speaks and urges people to "respond armed with our righteous wrath." Miller gets Reitman's name from the little fat man and refers to him as the high priest of anarchy. He basicly labels him as an enemy, and the chapter ends.

I don't know if it was just because I was doing this really late and I was really tired and not quite following it clearly, but this section of the book seemed to be a lot of story-telling and reminiscing, but not much movement as far as the plot is concerned. Maybe I completely missed the point.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Lazarus Project (1-27)

The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon starts out with a story about a young foreign man walking about through the rich side of Chicago in 1908. He does not belong there. You aren't sure until the end of the first chapter, but he is a young Jewish man from the Jewish ghetto on the south side. He is on the other side of town because he wants to speak with the Chicago Chief of Police, Chief Shippy. He comes early in the morning, but the maid says Chief Shippy does not take visitors until 9. So the young man takes a walk down the streets to take in the sights and the sounds. He wanders into a store called Ludwig's Supplies, which he describes as the most abundant store he has been in since he was back home in Kishinev. Everything he sees reminds him of his family or something that happened to him back home. He remembers his mother, and Olga with her swollen veins. Later he remembers a time when he played hide and seek with his friends. They played a cruel joke on him and left without him knowing so that he sought them until late into the night. But for now, he is in Ludwig's Supplies. The store owner's do not trust him. Apparently nobody on this side of town does. He proves them wrong by buying a bag of lozenges for a dime. This allowed him to linger in the store for a little longer to look at a leaflet board. He departs, and sees something in the newspaper about a man named Pat Garrett who was killed in a gunfight. Pat Garrett shot Billy the Kid. Upon hearing the names, he immediately thinks about what kind of dog the names would suit. That's strange.

Anyway, the young Jewish man goes back to Chief Shippy's house to speak with him. Upon arriving Shippy instantly does not trust him. The young Jewish man hands the Chief a letter with his name and address on it. The Chief immediately thinks that this poor Jew has come to kill him, so he wraps him up and holds him and tells his wife to come in and search him. She does so and thinks he may have a pistol, so the Chief draws his revolver. Drawn by all the commotion the Chief's driver, Foley, and the Chief's son, Henry, come to see whats going on with weapons in hand. The Jewish man suddenly lunges at the Chief, or at least that's what they say. The chief shoots the Jewish man, then gets startled and shoots at Foley, then gets startled again and turns around and shoots at his own son. As a result, both Foley and Shippy shoot some more. As a consequence, Foley gets a broken wrist and Henry gets shot through the lung. Of course they tell the newspaper reporter that the young Jewish man shot at everyone before he was killed by the Chief. This is why the article, which is being read in conjunction with the real story, is such a twisted version of the true events. It never really said what the Jewish man's true intentions were. It was sad though, because I had begun to grow attached to this character in the nine pages that his life in the novel lasted. He seemed like he had real potential until his life was snuffed out.

After the crazy events of the first chapter, the second chapter made everything seem much more real. The narrator describes that he is a Bosnian-American living in Chicago. He describes a Bosnian Independence Day celebration that he attends with other Bosnian-Americans, and how he basically flirts with a seventy year old woman in order to get a grant to fund his writing projects. I think one of the writing projects he is talking about working on is this book about him/his research into the events of the murder in Chicago. He describes their conversations and says that for this one day every year he is a true blue Bosnian. After dancing with the old woman, Susie as she had come to be called, he goes to find the photographer who had taken his picture and finds out that it is one of his good friends from high school named Rora. He talks to Rora, but he is sad because he sees that it is all just small talk and will never amount to anything real just like every other conversation he had with old friends. At the top of page 18 he says, "The old film of the common past disintegrates when exposed to the light of a new life." I have found this to be true in almost all respects. Some people are worth holding on to, and for them, I hope that quote never becomes true. But for the most part, yes, that sentence says it all. Rora is a unique individual. Some people thought Rora was a spy. Some people just thought he was protected by his late father's friends in military intelligence. Either way, Rora missed a lot of school and traveled pretty much wherever he wanted to go whenever he wanted to go there. He always had some crazy story to tell. Eventually, the conversation ended just like all the other conversations with Rora: they just said their goodbyes and went their separate ways.

The third chapter is short. It describes the assistant chief of police arriving at the scene of the investigation of the murdered Jewish man. The only thing of consequence he found may have been a small piece of paper with 5 different sentences written on it. I'm not too sure what they mean. Maybe it will become clear later. They also determined whether he was Jewish or not by pulling down the pants of the corpse and looking at his genitals. Not much respect to the dead there. They said he was a Jew after that. I suppose he wasn't circumcised. The interesting part was that the assistant chief of police was named Schuettler, which was the name of the elderly couple at the Bosnian Independense Day celebration. I don't suppose there are too many Mr. Schuettlers in the world, so this must be the same guy. This makes me wonder how it is all connected now. I think I am going to enjoy reading this book.