The late, great writer and World War II veteran Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was captured by the Germans and confined to a prisoner-of-war camp in Dresden. When an American air raid destroyed the city, he was put to work carrying civilians’ corpses. The apocalypse haunted Vonnegut ever after. “Believe me,” he wrote, “it is not easy to rationalize the stamping out of vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored when gathering up babies in bushel baskets.”
A similar sense of the indefensibility of bloodshed underlies Aleksandar Hemon’s stunning new novel, “The Lazarus Project.” The book opens on March 2, 1908, but the date could be a century later. A “slim, swarthy young man” with cold eyes turns up at the door of Chicago’s police chief, and thrusts an envelope at him. Taking the stranger for an anarchist, the lawman restrains him, summons the missus, and orders her to do a pat-down. A struggle ensues; she thinks she feels a pistol. Soon the man is dead, his blood spattered across the room. The assistant chief pulls down the victim’s pants to verify his ethnicity. ” ‘He’s a Jew all right,’ he announces, leaning over the young man’s crotch. ‘A Jew is what he is.’ ”
The deceased is one Lazarus Averbuch — a fitting name, given that Hemon has resurrected a real man, an immigrant who escaped a brutal Kishinev pogrom only to be gunned down in the Land of Opportunity.
You can read the rest in the Globe. And at the author’s site, peruse a collection of related photos from the Chicago Historical Society, and many more recent ones taken by Hemon’s photographer friend Velibor Bozovic on their trip to Averbuch’s birthplace.