The one thing I have most appreciated about Hemon’s writing is his uncanny ability to somehow twist English words and phrases into a way which shows he doesn’t quite grasp English the way a native speak would, yet has a mastery of the language that far exceeds my own. For those who are not familiar with Hemon’s story, let me quickly say that Hemon had only a basic understanding of English when war stranded him in the United States at the age of 27. Within eight years, Hemon had written his first book in English, The Question of Bruno, a collection of short stories. This collection shows a fluency that my own writing lacks. Hemon’s writing is breathtaking.
Being a collection of Hemon’s earliest writings in English, I expected The Question of Bruno to parade some of Hemon’s most absurdly enjoyable turns of phrase. There is a cadence in what I’ve read of Hemon that is beautiful and unusual, a device that perhaps only a native-native speaker could use so effectively. Yet, I missed that in this collection. Perhaps I’m way too lazy or I’ve grown too familiar with Hemon’s style of writing and didn’t notice, or maybe early editors were quick to point out the “flaws” of Hemon’s English (“You can’t do that!”) Whatever the reason, The Question of Bruno didn’t resonate the same way with me. That’s not to say the collection isn’t stellar and certainly well-written—it is—but it lacks a certain musicality that I greatly anticipated.
Of the Hemon I’ve read so far, I will say each book has it stellar moments and traits, but that none have quite come together for a book that knocks me off my feet. The thing is, however, I believe Hemon has the ability to do it. Either I have yet to read that book, or he hasn’t written it quite yet. It’s in there though. And one day, hopefully soon, Hemon’s going to whip out an award winner that will catch the attention of the people.