The Lazarus Project

Written by Alexander Hemon

On 2 March 1908, Lazarus Averbuch, a recently arrived East European Jewish immigrant, attempts to deliver a letter to George Shippy, Chicago’s Chief of Police. Instead, Shippy shoots and kills him claiming he is an anarchist assassin intent on destabilising the USA.

Nearly 100 years later, Vladimir Brik, a disillusioned Bosnian writer living in Chicago, becomes fascinated with the case. Accompanied by his old school friend, Rora, Brik sets out to investigate Lazarus’s past.

The book alternates between Brik’s re-imagining of the events leading up to and immediately following Lazarus’s death, particularly as they affect his sister, Olga and Brik’s physical and psychological journey. A third strand to the narrative is provided by Rora’s (possibly untrue or embellished) tales of surviving in the gangster underworld of war-torn Sarajevo.

The parallels between the paranoia in the early 20th century against East Europeans and Jews in particular and the current climate of fear of extreme forms of Islam are never laboured but cannot be overlooked. Though not primarily a historical novel as such, paradoxically, I believe this novel will grow more historical with the passage of time. Whether or not Rora’s war stories can be taken at face value, they are still testimony about events that changed the course of history and which could still have far-reaching consequences.