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.

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