wood on hemon


In Joseph Roth’s novel of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, “The Radetzky March,” there is an extraordinary scene in which the varied soldiers of that vast, improbable portmanteau parade in Vienna before the Hapsburg emperor, Franz Joseph. Uniformed men stream by, Austrians, Italians, Hungarians, Slovenians, and—most remarkably and most exotically—Bosnians, vivid in their “blood-red fezzes,” which seemed to glow, Roth writes, like bonfires lit by Islam in tribute to the Emperor himself. Those blood-red fezzes are all Roth needs to conjure the distant romance of the Bosnian subjects, who disappear from the novelistic pageant as quickly as they flashed by.

Nearly seventy years after “The Radetzky March” was published, Aleksandar Hemon, who was born in Sarajevo and now lives in Chicago, seems to return Roth’s compliment when, in his story “The Accordion,” he uses the same phrase: Archduke Franz Ferdinand is riding in a carriage through Sarajevo, and he sees “the blood-red fezzes—much like topsy-turvy flower pots with short tassels—and women with little curtains over their faces.” The Archduke has an appointment with history: any moment now, he will be assassinated, and the long fuse that ignited the First World War will be lit. But, before that encounter, the Archduke’s attention is caught—in Hemon’s spirited telling—by a man with an accordion.

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