Coming-of-age stories

2009-11-18 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Love and Obstacles

Aleksandar Hemon

Riverhead

LOVE and Obstacles is a collection of loosely related short stories by ­Aleksandar Hemon, a Slovenian-born writer who, like the main character in these stories, moved to the United States. He also appears to have spent time in Africa.

The narrator of the stories begins as a sixteen-year-old adolescent ­attempting to find his own identity in the world. He tolerates what he ­regards as the parochial attitudes of his parents, who take with them wherever they go the traditional world view of their home land, Yugoslavia. Their expectations of him do not stretch beyond their vision of him as their child. His younger sister is an ­inevitable but not particularly welcome intrusion into his adolescent world of possibilities and dreams.

In this world of semi-independence, the narrator retreats from the confines of family into a world of books and his rich imagination. His assumed air of indifference allows him to pretend he is above the tedium of domestic life. Whenever he is able, he stretches his leash as far as he is able.

Each story is about one of his forays into the outside world. As he grows older, these encounters take him further away from the world of childhood.

He encounters mavericks such as Spinelli, a drummer with a penchant for heavy drugs and easy women; he discovers the bald loneliness of anonymity and thwarted desire in a hotel room; he experiences disillusion when an adolescent hero exposes his feet of clay; he explores the harsh ­realities of being a Third World immigrant in a First world country.

Hemon is an exceptional writer who uses language with a freshness which sometimes takes one’s breath away. These coming-of-age stories are interesting in an academic way but unfortunately I wasn’t moved by them.

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