Love and Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon

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Love and Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A collection of linked stories with a young poet and his tribulations, concerning women, emigration, poems, freezer collection... The style is singular, the breadth laudable, but the end result still stuck in a middle ground.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: August 2009
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-0330464437

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We start with the young narrator away from home, and in Africa, due to his diplomat father. He's left behind home, a potential girlfriend, and more, but finds company with an older, chancer character and his junkie girlfriend, and their pot, drinks and 70s rock. Closer to his roots, but still a young man abroad, the second story sees him travelling across his homeland on an errand - to deliver payment for the biggest chest freezer his father could find. But poems, losing his virginity, keeping his money, and various other fantasies might just put a cooler on that unusual task...

This is a hard to define book, in that it is semi-linked stories - for the most part seemingly concerning the same, first-person narrator - which might be autobiographical, faction, pure fantasy, metaphor - you name it, there is that possibility. We move to America, sell magazines under unlikely circumstances, and reflect on a homeland poet and his circle that were annoyingly cliquey for the young aspirant.

This book is mired in a welter of opposites, typified by the two men met in the train carriage when buying the freezer. Are they comic, or threatening? The whole volume can be amusing, and tragic, mystical, yet everyday, using highly wrought poetic writing regarding the mundane. It concerns love and war, family and isolation, home for the immigrant, real-life family history fictions...

This is never forced down our throats, but at the same time I found it so striking, that when I considered my thoughts on it I found it falling into a middle ground too much of the time. Yes, I always enjoyed reading this - the Hemon essence is one of alienation among the common, and however he writes about it it remains pleasant to discover, and the breadth of the stories here makes this well worth the price of admission, but I felt it had too much dichotomy for anything to strike out on its own and make itself a stand-out feature.

Towards the end we see the effects of someone using the (older) narrator's own experiences in fiction, and we end up swallowing the tail. This only further befuddles my opinions - proving this to be one of the richer, broader, and potentially more divisive, books currently in the Bookbag.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

This put me in mind of the two best emigrant stories I've read recently, the brilliant Songs for the Butcher's Daughter by Peter Manseau and the even more brilliant The Arrival by Shaun Tan.

Buy Love and Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Love and Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Love and Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Love and Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon at Amazon.com.

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