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Nowhere Man: The Pronek Fantasies by…

Nowhere Man: The Pronek Fantasies

by Aleksandar Hemon

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English (15)  Dutch (1)  All languages (16)
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
I discovered this novel at a bookshop where I also purchased two other novels written (respectively) by Chinese-American and Cambodian-American women. After reading several international authors, in addition to the classics, I have recently purchased books by authors either translated into English or written by authors with English as a second language. This is one of the most recently-written novels I have read, published in 2002. What I find remarkable is that Hemon arrived in the United States in 1991, and began writing in English in 1995, echoing Nabokov (one of my favourite authors). The plot encompasses the experiences of Jozef Pronek, a Bosnian stranded in the United States by the war in the former Yugoslavia. (A refugee but not really a refugee.) The character comes from "Blind Jozef Pronek & Dead Souls" in Hemon's first work, a short story collection entitled The Question of Bruno (which I haven't read). Different narrators take up the story of Pronek as he moves between an English course, working as a private investigator and a Greenpeace canvasser, with flashbacks between his experiences in Sarajevo and the Ukraine. The different narrators are an interesting device, providing different perspectives of Pronek. At times, however, I found this a little confusing, assuming the first narrator was the protagonist who would reappear sometime later in the story. Instead, a seemingly unrelated story of Captain Pick in Shanghai some 100 years earlier echoes the events of Pronek's experiences, culminating in a wonderfully layered finale. The subtitle of the novel, The Pronek Fantasies (which I didn't notice until after I had finished the novel), makes a little more sense of the unusual intertwining of plot devices. Before I wrote this, I checked reviews of this book from The Guardian and the New York Times. Maya Jaggi (The Guardian) points out the obvious economy of words and the interesting use of the English language. Gary Shteyngart (NYT) points to Pronek's broken English and Hemon's constant references to how everything smells. This I found most interesting. Ernest Hemingway (Death in the Afternoon, 1939, p. 225) was a master in describing the sensual experience. For example:If qualities have odors the odor of courage to me is the smell of smoked leather or the smell of a frozen road or the smell of the sea when the wind rips the top from a wave...But Hemon captures the feel of the Soviet Union towards the end, with the train "much too salty" (p. 85), references to the smell of sweat and armpits, and the endless "socialist grease" (p. 94) on everything. But my favourite quote captures the imagination and (I imagine) what it was like immediately before the Soviet Union collapsed (p. 85):I thought that if another revolution were ever to break out in the USSR, it would start on a train or some other public transportation vehicle - the spark would come from two sweaty asses rubbing.It is true that you can actually smell this novel (more so than any I have read before) and for that alone it is clever. But on finishing the work, I had to sit and wonder. Both Jaggi and Shteyngart point to some of the novels shortcomings, and I have other reservations. But I was glued to the chair as I read the work, and elements of the iceberg theory are evident in that as I write I am still asking questions of the characters and the historical story. I can imagine the experience of being an immigrant, even though my monolingual self would struggle much more than Pronek ever did. So what did I get from this work? First, being competent in a language does not a story-teller make. Hemon proves this and I am envious. Second, there is something in such works that one cannot get from a classic novel written in a person's first language and culture. This is clear to me, and it is why I am broadening my reading horizons to capture much of the new work that is appearing from authors with immigrant backgrounds and also from international authors only recently being translated into English. For poor, mono-cultural me, this is the closest I can get without having to go through the experience myself. I think, too, that reading Hemon's first work would be useful, and I will endeavour to buy a copy of Bruno in the near future to test this theory. Otherwise, I enjoyed my break from St Theresa and her "vain modesty" trope, but I may need a little more before I can get back to the good saint's crystal castle. Hopefully with less of the olfactory saltiness of Prenok's past to haunt my nostrils. ( )
  madepercy | Dec 26, 2018 |
Jozef Pronek is a young man from Sarajevo who left to visit Chicago in the United States in 1992, just in time to watch war break out in his hometown on T.V. He has a series of global adventures throughout the book and his travels are told to us by multiple narrators with different points of view. The final episode illustrates to us what it means to be a Nowhere Man. With the authors use of extraordinary similes, he shows us the caliber of his writing. With an engrossing narrative, engaging warmth, and refreshing humor, Nowhere Man brings to life a protagonist whose very way of looking at and living in the world provokes an exhilarating sense of seeing everything new again. The novel was a bit choppy in some areas and needed some editing but otherwise I did enjoy the book. Looking forward to reading more from this author in the near future. I would recommend this book to those who are interested in the Balkan War from the early 90's. ( )
  EadieB | Jan 17, 2018 |
I finished this over a week ago but hadn't had a chance to write about it.I probably should have read Hemon's Question of Bruno first but I found this one at City Books and not the other. Well, basically, his book could have been five/five stars if he had just ended it earlier. It seems strange but (without giving away too much) the second to last chapter is intense, challenging, and honest. It is s confrontation which is successful in getting the characters and the reader to be really engaged in what is happening and would have made for an uneasy but still more satisfying conclusion. Instead, Hemon wraps up some of the characters in a completely different setting and time period in a way that feels disjointed and completely disconnected from anything else earlier in the book. In a way, it's probably best to just consider the last chapter to be some add on short story not in connection with the rest imo...though perhaps that is just me. ( )
  kirstiecat | Mar 31, 2013 |
Hemon is a favorite author of mine. ( )
  dagseoul | Mar 30, 2013 |
I can understand why this guy's been compared to Nabokov. He's a fantastic wordsmith, who captures frustrating gray zones without falling into woeful navel-gazing. ( )
  KatrinkaV | Aug 9, 2011 |
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Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Als ik had gedroomd dan was ik in die droom niet mezelf geweest maar een klein wezentje in mijn binnenste, krabbelend aan de wand van mijn borstholte - een terugkerende nachtmerrie.
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This LT Work, Nowhere Man: The Pronek Fantasies (2002), is Aleksandar Hemon's novel as published in book form. Please distinguish between this Work and Hemon's related -.pdf download retrieved from aleksandarhemon.com, Nowhere Man: The "Lost" Pronek Fantasies (Dawn; The Drawer) (2002). Thank you.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375727027, Paperback)

Following his critically acclaimed short story collection, The Question of Bruno, Aleksandar Hemon's debut novel Nowhere Man confirms that an important new voice has arrived. Unlike other Eastern European coming-of-age novels, Nowhere Man bucks chronological order, spanning the 1990s and sometimes reading like a memoir. Jozef Pronek, who grew up dreaming of hitting it big with his Beatles cover band, wanders through his adopted Chicago while the Bosnia conflict rages on, working as a process server and for Greenpeace, where he meets his girlfriend, Rachel. Jozef spends time in Kiev with American graduate students, such as the uncannily depicted Will, "blonde and suburbanly ... [as if his] family procreated by fission," and Vivian, "pale and in need of a carrot or something." He rooms with Victor Plavchuk, a conflicted doctoral student in literature who develops a crush on Jozef (and who is reminiscent of a subdued Charles Kinbote from Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire). Jozef is sublimely complex, embodying the listlessness and frank practicality of expatriates whose homeland is being shredded by violent conflict. Jozef wonders, "Why couldn't he be more than one person? Why was he stuck in the middle of himself, hungry and tired?" while a woman "[keeps] her hands in the pockets of her formerly blue jacket, as if despair were a marble in her pocket." Hemon's wit is also present: "The only thing that distinguished Pronek in school was that he never, ever volunteered to do anything." Nowhere Man is a somber, saddening, yet vibrant and warm debut novel. --Michael Ferch

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:25 -0400)

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"This is what we know about Jozef Pronek: He is a young man from Sarajevo who left to visit the United States in 1992, just in time to watch war break out at home on TV. Stranded in the relative comfort of Chicago, he proves himself a charming and frankly perceptive observer of - and participant in - American life. With Nowhere Man, Pronek, accidental urban nomad, gets his own book. From the grand causes of his adolescence - principally, fighting to change the face of rock and roll and hilariously struggling to lose his virginity - up through a fleeting encounter with George Bush (the first) in Kiev, to enrollment in a Chicago ESL class and the glorious adventures of minimum-wage living, Pronek's experiences are at once touchingly familiar and bracingly out of the ordinary.". Summary Note "But the story of his life is not so simple as a series of global adventures. Pronek is continually haunted by an unseen observer, his movements chronicled by narrators with dubious motives - all of which culminates in a final episode that upends many of our assumptions about Pronek's identity while illustrating precisely what it means to be a Nowhere Man."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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