From Sarajevo to Chicago: “The Making of Zombie Wars” by Aleksandar Hemon

zombie-warsOriginally published at Bookpage.

Bosnian-born author Aleksandar Hemon’s fiction has always been a sobering, sometimes bleak look at the lives of immigrants and exiles in Chicago who are not unlike the writer himself (see The Lazarus Project and Love and Obstacles). But in a dramatic change of pace and tone, his new novel, The Making of Zombie Wars, is an eccentric comedy, albeit one with the same level of subtlety and resonance we’re accustomed to from Hemon, a MacArthur “genius grant” winner.

An aspiring writer from an affluent Chicago suburb who never finishes anything he starts, Joshua Levin has never had to suffer much. His life is “a warm blanket,” in contrast to the lives of the immigrants he teaches as an ESL instructor, and his creative endeavors have been as futile and disheartening as the Cubs at nearby Wrigley Field. That is, until Joshua comes up with an idea for a script called Zombie Wars that could be his big break, and the sad but beautiful Bosnian woman in his class, Ana, starts to seduce him.

When he looked up, Ana was shutting the door, foreclosing all retreat routes. She stood in front of him, taking deep breaths.

“My heart hits very much,” she said.

“Beats.”

“My heart beats, Teacher Josh.”

“Joshua,” Joshua whispered, but only because all the wind was gone from his windpipe.

“Joshua,” she repeated. “You want to touch it?” She took his hand and put it on her left breast.

Of course, Ana is married, and Joshua just moved in with his girlfriend. As Ana turns his life upside down, Joshua finally has some real-life drama to funnel into his writing. Excerpts from Joshua’s script draw parallels between a zombie apocalypse and the culture-cannibalizing effects of war and exile, be it in Hemon’s native Bosnia or in Iraq, which U.S. forces have only just begun to invade when the novel opens in 2003.

As the story oscillates between hysterical and heartbreaking, Hemon once again renders the city of Chicago authentically, forgoing the whitewashed suburbs of John Hughes movies and invoking the city’s social and cultural realities as faithfully as Alex Kotlowitz. The wit and intelligence of The Making of Zombie Wars should please Hemon fans and entice new readers.

FICTION: LITERARY FICTION

The Making of Zombie Wars by Aleksandar Hemon (FSG Originals)

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