It is usually a sign of a good book when some people praise it while others detest it. I have been on both sides many times, quite often wondering what is wrong with people; how can someone hate/love this book? This time, however, I do not ask that question. I place my rating right between these two far ends. Aleksandar Hemon’s Nowhere Man has been praised by many, and the praising has been questioned by others. In a way I understand both sides, even though I do not agree with them.
The protagonist is Josef Pronek, a Bosnian-born John Lennon fan, who moves to Chicago in 1992. The choice of moving to Chicago was not his, since he got stranded there on his visit, because the war started in Bosnia. This actually happened to Hemon himself, so there is definitely autobiographical elements in the book.
The story moves back and forth in time as well as location. There are several persons narrating the story of Josef. The locations are mainly Chicago, Sarajevo and Kiev. Both the Protagonist and the author arrived in the States with a limited knowledge of English. People correct Josef’s English throughout the book, not always correctly though. He took English classes and tried to lead an American life.
Hemon’s writing have been compared to Nabokov’s narration. Indeed, Hemon’s English is splendid and witty at times, and he picked up the language quickly, and made it his own. I don’t care to make a comparison between Hemon and Nabokov, but Hemon is undeniably talented. I found an unexplainable connection between Nowhere Man and The Catcher in the Rye. There are some obvious similarities, for example both have a young male protagonist, the length of the books are quite short, and the titles have been inspired by well-known songs (well, originally a poem by Robert Burns in the case of The Catcher in the Rye).
The story itself did not make a tremendous impact on me. Quite frankly, this is a book I read, and once I’m finished, I forget about it. Two odd points I will most likely remember about Nowhere Man are Josef’s Beatles cover band, and when Josef worked as a fundraiser for Greenpeace.
The book is a mix of a novel and short stories, which works quite well. However, the last part of the book made no sense to me. It was out of context in every way, a story about a captain in Shanghai. This kind of ‘out of context’ stories at the end of a book is not to my liking – whether or not the book is considered to be a masterpiece.