No one knew why Averbuch was visiting Shippy, or exactly why or how he died, but for many Chicagoans his supposed involvement with anarchist circles solved the mystery: he had obviously intended to assassinate the prime representative of law and order. There was a hysterical fear of anarchism at the time, frothed up by the newspapers—“The war against anarchism was much like the current war on terror,” Brik tells us. The Chicago Historical Society has a number of photographs of Averbuch, and Hemon reproduces them and other photographs throughout his novel, including a shocking one in which a policeman stands behind the recently deceased Averbuch, who appears to be sitting in a chair, his head kept from lolling by the policeman’s hands, which are placed on the top of his victim’s head and underneath the chin, as if exhibiting a rare archeological find. Averbuch’s eyes are not quite closed, his lips are pursed in vague puzzlement, and he looks not dead but, rather, slightly disgruntled at the prospect of being woken.
The New Yorker‘s James Wood looks at Joseph Roth and Aleksandar Hemon.