Aleksandar Hemon is a Bosnian who was born in Sarajevo, the capitol of what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina, in 1964. He was interested in soccer and spying as a child, among other things, and later he worked as a journalist. In 1990, he received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Sarajevo, and in 1992 he came to Chicago as part of a government-sponsored journalist exchange program. He had only a basic command of English and intended to stay for only a short time, but when war erupted in his country he applied to stay in the United States as a refugee. His application was successful, and Hemon held a series of part-time jobs while improving his English, including a kitchen worker, a bicycle messenger, and a fund-raiser for Greenpeace.
Hemon began writing in English within three years of his arrival in the United States, and he earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University in 1995. “Islands” was originally published in the spring 1998 edition of Ploughshares, and it was included in Hemon’s collection of short fiction, The Question of Bruno (2000). His short stories have also been published in magazines, including the New Yorker, Esquire, and Triquarterly, and “Islands” was included in Best American Short Stories 1999. In 2002, Hemon published his first novel Nowhere Man, which follows Josef Pronek, the protagonist of a story in The Question of Bruno, through his adolescence and his move to Chicago as war is breaking out in Bosnia. Critically acclaimed, the novel has been compared to the work of Vladimir Nabokov, the famous Russian emigré to the United States, and praised for its imaginative treatment of political and psychological themes. Hemon has received numerous awards for his writings, and in 2004 he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.