On March 2, 1908, nineteen-year-old Lazarus Averbuch, a recent Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe to Chicago, knocked on the front door of the house of George Shippy, the chief of Chicago police. When Shippy came to the door, Averbuch offered him what he said was an important letter. Instead of taking the letter, Shippy shot Averbuch twice, killing him. When Shippy released a statement casting Averbuch as a would-be anarchist assassin and agent of foreign political operatives, he all but set off a city and a country already simmering with ethnic and political tensions.
Now, in the twenty-first century, a young writer in Chicago, Brik, also from Eastern Europe, becomes obsessed with Lazarusas story — what really happened, and why? In order to understand Averbuch, Brik and his friend Rora — who overflows with stories of his life as a Sarajevo war photographer — retrace Averbuchas path across Eastern Europe, through a history of pogroms and poverty, and through a present-day landscape of cheap mafiosi and cheaper prostitutes.
The stories of Averbuch and Brik become inextricably entwined, augmented by the photographs that Rora takes on their journey, creating a truly original, provocative, and entertaining novel that will confirm Hemon once and for all as one of the most dynamic and essential literary voices of our time.
The Lazarus Project reveals that history is a web upon which everything happens at once. Aleksandar Hemon weaves together the 1908 shooting of Lazarus Averbuch, the late 20th century madness of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the razing of the Twin Towers, the War on Terror, and our million-year addiction to racism and fear-mongering. The warp and weft of this astounding novel is so tight, so sure that one cannot leave Hemon's pages unenlightened to the truth—as one of his characters sees it—that “Every time, you think maybe this here is a different world, but it's all the same: they live, we die. So here it is again.”