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Daniel Soar

  • The Question of Bruno by Aleksandar Hemon
    Picador, 230 pp, £12.99, April 2000, ISBN 0 330 39347 2

The Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot in Sarajevo in 1914 by a young Serb called Gavrilo Princip – and so the First World War began. Jaroslav Hasek, writing in the early 1920s, added a soldier called Schweik, who discusses the assassination over a drink in a tavern in a far-flung part of Austria-Hungary, remarking how well the job had been done, because it isn’t easy to shoot an archduke, though it’s not so bad if he’s fat, since the target is larger; he is promptly hauled up before the police. Schweik blunders his way through his novel and the history of his times, always on the sidelines, but somehow causing more trouble than he’s aware of. Now we have an accordion player called Hemon, who features (twice) as one of the adoring crowd watching Franz Ferdinand’s progress through Sarajevo – and as Aleksandar Hemon’s possibly mythical, possibly fictional great-grandfather.

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