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a man without a country

Published: September 27, 2002 (Issue # 807)


A few words like "mizzle," "tubernose," "nuncle" and "minikin" soon warn the reader here that "Nowhere Man" is no ordinary book. The author has come to the United States very recently from what I guess we would still call the former Yugoslavia, and he has already been compared, in linguistic terms, to Nabokov and Conrad.

It might be better to look at "Nowhere Man" more simply as a novel, without the decorative wordplay. Aleksandar Hemon has created a fictional alter ego, a fellow named Pronek, born into Marshal Tito's made-up country, a sweet place of summer resorts "where pines gave off bounteous resin smells, when the breeze of the sea brought forth tickling sultriness, when warm bodies exuded coconut-milky sun-lotion scent." And the Bosnian capital, still poignantly untouched and alive: "They heard a hum, a gigantic hum, like the Big Bang echo. It was the sum of all the life noises Sarajevo produced, his father said: the clattering of dishwashers and buses; the music from bars and radios; the bawling of spoiled children, doors slamming: engines running." Altogether an enchanted country, a place that the reader knows - with an all-too-sickening feeling - is headed inexorably for historical disaster, chaotic civil war.

But, growing up, Pronek doesn't know. He's just a kid, meeting another kid - Mirza, who will remain his lifelong friend - the first day of kindergarten, waking up one night to find his beloved grandma dead, growing into puberty, falling in love with the Beatles, purchasing his first guitar, spending long afternoons in a series of bad garage bands, writing a slew of embarrassing songs, going on dates and finally getting lucky.

There's no way to prepare for the future if we don't know it's coming. Pronek can only grow up and live his life. He's conscripted into the army, hates it, gets out. He's part of a delegation to the Soviet Union, where he enthralls other foreign students by talking trash to the listening devices installed in every room. He takes vacations with his parents and is mildly revolted by the fact that they still want to have sex. In other words, Pronek is just a guy. But he's worth noticing, worth falling in love with, even, because he's human.

Then, the war. By a fluke, Pronek finds himself in the United States. His best friend, Mirza, remains home, caught in a ghastly nightmare: "One time I was with my friend Jasmin," Mirza writes, "and we are talking ... and one second later his head explodes like pomegranate. That second when I see it but I cannot say nothing, because the death is very fast, that second is the worst second of my life." Then Mirza goes on to tell the story of a horse who's looked at this nightmare world and had enough: At a clifftop military camp, "the horse goes slowly to the edge, we think he wants some grass there ... . He turns around, looks at us directly in our eyes, like person, big, wet eyes and then just jumps - hop! He just jumps and we can hear remote echo of his body hitting stones. I never saw anything so much sad."

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Oct. 24


SPIBA’s ongoing “Breakfast with the Director” series continues today, featuring Tomas Hajek, Managing Director of the Northwest Division at Danone Russia. Hajek will be discussing collaborations between businesses from different cultures. The meeting is at 9 a.m. at the Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel and all who wish to attend must confirm their participation by Oct. 23.


Get your gong on at “Sounds of the Universe,” a concert at the city planetarium this evening incorporating six different gongs to create relaxing songs that will transport you upwards into the stratosphere. Tickets are 700 rubles ($17).



Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop culture, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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