‘The World and All That It Holds’ traces the tragic journey of a gay Jewish refugee from Sarajevo

“The World and All That It Holds” is surely one of the more audacious titles of any book I’ve read. But Aleksandar Hemon’s sprawling novel, which traces the long and tragic journey of refugees displaced by conflicts that stained the first half of the 20th century, has an epic quality that justifies the title.

The novel’s central character is Rafael Pinto, a Sarajevan Jew with a penchant for poetry and opium. He feels distanced from the traditional Judaism in which he has been steeped, and his alienation is compounded by the fact that, while his family attempts to find him an appropriate bride, he is sexually attracted to other men.