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Issue 115 - Music and spies

Whisky Magazine Issue 115
October 2013


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Music and spies

The tale of a bored teenager who finds music and a possible spy

For the next couple of issues, I thought it might be interesting to look at writers with ties to three or more countries. And as backgrounds go Aleksander Hemon's is a pretty good one. The son of a Yougoslav diplomat who spent time in Africa, he was stranded in Chicago by the Balkan War in 1992, where he began writing fiction in English.

Hemon's 2008 short-story collection Love and Obstacles starts with a bang. The opener “Stairway to Heaven” has the teenaged protagonist spending a boring summer in Kinshasa with his diplomat father. Boring, that is, until he starts hanging out with his upstairs neighbor, an American named Spinelli who's a huge music fan and who may or may not work for the CIA: Most of all I enjoyed his narratives: he delivered them slouching back on the sofa, blowing cigarette smoke toward the fast-spinning ceiling fan, sipping J&B, interrupting his delivery for a solo in a Led Zeppelin song. There might be a taint of death, a flavor of mortality, in lies, but Spinelli's were fun to listen to.

The setting may be exotic, but who can't relate to the thrill of a teenager chilling with an adult and rocking out to Zep?

Spinelli introduces the narrator to his beautiful and mysterious girlfriend, and for a few weeks the three are inseparable. During that time, our youthful hero learns how to party – which, as we all know, can be a school of hard knocks. One evening he gets so stoned that his father has to haul him back home.

Walking downstairs ...

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