This is the third book of essays by Ms. Ugresic that I've read, and I would recommend starting with either of the other two: The Culture of Lies or Thank You for not Reading. Not that I disliked this book, simply that half of it consists of 800 word riffs on anything she wanted to write, published over a three year period in a Swiss newspaper. Read once a week in my local paper, they might be interesting. Piled on on top of one another, they are less so. It takes a particular type of writer to write a coherent essay in three pages, and that is not her strong suit. That lies in the longer essays that comprise the second half of the book, particularly Europe, Europe, What is European about European Literature and The Souvenirs of Communism (which was one of my favorite essays from another Open Letter book, The Wall in my Head).
What I appreciate most about this writer is her eternal grumpiness. The Wall in my Head (mentioned above) is a set of essays about the end of communism, and the before and after changes. In some of these there is a nostalgia for a world lost, but it is only grumpy Ugresic who calls into question the basic assumption that things have gotten better. This is a reoccurring theme in many of her books, including this one. Comparing the service industry in her native Croatia to her present home of Amsterdam she finds the ex-Communist countries striving to master the secrets of democracy that will result in more money and therefore a purportedly better life. Thus while service (buying bread, getting a birth certificate) under communism was characterized by petty rules completely without logic, these same inanities have morphed westward to places such as Amsterdam.
I must jointly credit Ms. Ugresic and Ellen Elias-Bursac, the translator, for some vividly descriptive phrases: tutti-frutti ideologues, diplobrats, Big Brother the household pet, ficus the communist flora. And the endless paradoxes that we in the West fail to understand about life in Eastern Europe under communism, and after. Women in 1960s Yugoslavia had many rights not enjoyed in the West, but few choice of tampons. Endless Eastern Europeans have moved to the West since 1989 to take crappy jobs. Does that mean the West has conquered the East, or the other way around?