Raw, high-contrast black-and-white photography adorns the pristine walls at Stop Smiling Studio on Milwaukee Avenue. Just a few blocks from the Six Corners, trendy Wicker Park women in pashminas mingle with men in cable-knit sweaters and mussy-haired, hip college boys. “I’m a huge fan,” says Zohra Sakwall as she takes her seat. “He writes about the immigrant experience with humor and sincerity.”
Sakwall has arrived at the launch party for Aleksandar Hemon’s new novel, “The Lazarus Project.” Hemon, the local author who won praise for his previous works, “A Question for Bruno” and “Nowhere Man,” collaborated with his good friend of twenty-three years, Velibor Bozovic, on the novel.
Bozovic traveled through Poland, Ukraine and Bosnia with Hemon while researching the new book; twelve of his photographs from the trip appear in its pages. “I have always secretly been a photographer,” Bozovic explains, lighting up a cigarette just outside the studio. “When I was in high school, during the siege…I took pictures. Then one year ago I quit my job [as an aerospace engineer], left the corporate world and became a photographer officially.”
Hemon’s voice carries lingering traces of Eastern Europe, an almost inaudible monotone. “The Lazarus Project” pictures two large, graphic eyes on both covers, and when Hemon reads, it is as if the book itself is ogling the audience. “Our President once said, ‘Books are great because they sometimes have fantastic pictures in them,’” Hemon laughs. “So I felt I had to put pictures in ‘The Lazarus Project.’ Maybe now the President will read it!” (Laura Hawbaker)