The World and All That It Holds by Aleksandar Hemon review – an engrossing epic

4 days ago 6

Aleksandar Hemon’s caller caller is immense. Not due to the fact that it is inordinately agelong – it isn’t – but due to the fact that it contains astir arsenic overmuch arsenic its rubric promises: journeys that instrumentality years, and lives that span continents; falling empires and storied cities; truthful galore wars they blur and merge successful the characters’ memories; indelible loves, unbearable losses; dreams and songs and megalomaniac delusions; witty allusions, rude jokes. By turns lyrical and sardonic, it is arsenic emotionally compelling arsenic it is clever. I’ll beryllium amazed if I bask a caller much this year.

It begins successful Sarajevo. Hemon, a Bosnian present surviving successful the US, has written successful respective genres astir the 1990s siege of that city. This book, though, takes america backmost to 1914, erstwhile it was the mounting for the assassination that triggered the archetypal satellite war. Our witnesser is Rafael Pinto: Sephardic-Jewish, Vienna-educated, pharmacist, homosexual, opium-user. As Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his woman thrust into town, Pinto is successful his shop, planting a buss connected the moustachioed lips of an Austrian Rittmeister. It’s an audacious act, but this is Sarajevo, a polyglot, multifaith city, and unorthodox conjunctions are worthy daring. Until “the Holy One” – the being who “repeatedly creates worlds and destroys them” – puts an extremity to the satellite successful which Pinto grew up and sends him disconnected connected ft each the mode crossed the Eurasian landmass, yet bringing him, 35 years later, to Shanghai, and to a plangent Liebestod.

In the past paragraph I utilized 2 German words. No apology: Hemon’s readers person to judge unfamiliar vocabulary. This wandering epic of a caller is bound unneurotic by recurring motifs. Anecdotes, scraps of poesy and philosophical saws harvest up repeatedly, sometimes arsenic elemental reprises, sometimes arsenic ironic variations. One of those motifs is the communicative of Babel. This is simply a publication astir language, and its mean is simply a affluent linguistic stew.

Hemon (like Conrad, similar Nabokov) archetypal learned English arsenic an adult, and helium is attentive to the mode words and concepts interact. Into his substance helium drops tags from much languages than a scholar tin beryllium expected to cognize – sometimes translated, sometimes not. Pinto grows up speaking Bosnian, German and Turkish arsenic good arsenic Spanjol (the mentation of Spanish that his household speaks astatine home). As a lad helium wonders astatine the oddity of a acquainted happening specified arsenic a stork having truthful galore antithetic names. Later, aft helium has been travelling for years with a tiny child, helium realises that the connection the 2 of them speak, a mishmash of each the territories they person passed through, is theirs and theirs alone. Language binds; it besides excludes.

The child, Rahela, is Pinto’s by close of devotion, but biologically she is the girl of the antheral Pinto loves – Osman, a Muslim whom helium meets erstwhile some men are drafted into the Austro-Hungarian service and sent eastbound to combat the Russians. Partway done their wanderings Osman goes missing arsenic a flesh-and-blood person, but remains successful the communicative arsenic a voice, a ghost, a communicative device, a guardian angel. This is simply a humanities novel, but 1 successful which information mingles with the fabulous. A shadiness detaches itself from the idiosyncratic who casts it. There is simply a carp who prophesises pogroms successful fluent Hebrew. When Pinto has been smoking opium, the communicative becomes muzzy and phantasmagorical. Religion matters. Miracles occur. Sacred texts of galore denominations echo passim the story. The “Holy One” looms large, due to the fact that helium is everyplace oregon – much frighteningly – due to the fact that helium is obscurity astatine all.

Mostly we are with Pinto – sensitive, poetic, uncomplaining adjacent erstwhile destiny is bludgeoning him unmercifully. Sometimes, though, a precise antithetic communicative dependable enters. Major Moser-Etherington, oregon “Sparky”, is simply a British concealed agent. Like John Buchan’s Sandy Arbuthnot, helium has a knack for disappearing, and past popping up again thousands of miles distant successful an wholly antithetic persona. The Major has written galore self-mythologising memoirs. He is simply a seasoned of the Great Game, the struggle betwixt Russian and British imperialists for southbound Asia, and adjacent though the Bolsheviks person radically altered the game’s rules, helium is inactive active. An enthusiastic huntsman, helium kills easily. As romanticist arsenic helium is ruthless, helium tells yarns astir 20th-century conflicts successful connection borrowed from Marlowe’s Tamburlaine oregon Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. Hemon’s prose, delicate and discursive erstwhile helium is penning from Pinto’s constituent of view, takes connected a terrific full-throttled gusto erstwhile helium adopts Moser’s.

There is simply a 3rd voice. Someone from our ain epoch speaks occasionally. After Pinto has walked crossed mountains and deserts with small Rahela connected his back, enduring Cossacks’ attacks and sandstorms, aft helium has survived a Sino-Japanese warfare and the onslaught of Chinese communists, adjacent aft his ain ending, the caller concludes with an epilogue acceptable successful 2001, a week earlier 9/11.

A first-person narrator reveals himself. He is an author. Perhaps helium is Hemon himself. He is successful Jerusalem for a literate festival. He meets radical who were successful Sarajevo during the siege. A frail aged pistillate sings to him successful Bosnian. She is Rahela. She tells him the communicative of her 2 fathers. And so, arsenic we decorativeness speechmaking this magnificent novel, the writer is fixed the thought of penning it.

I didn’t similar this ending. It is simply a small pat, a small excessively modishly autofictional. But my unhappiness with it is simply a compliment to Hemon. The historical-fictional illusion helium has created is truthful engrossing, truthful generous successful the abundant pleasures it offers the reader, that being yanked retired of it cannot but hurt.