Nobody's Home Hardcover – Sep 26 2008
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About the Author
Dubravka Ugresic is the author of several works of fiction and several essay collections, including the NBCC award finalist, Karaoke Culture. She went into exile from Croatia after being label a witch" for her anti-nationalistic stance during the Yugoslav war. She now resides in the Netherlands.
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"[E]xiles live submerged in trauma. ... The only way exiles are able to leave trauma behind is to not leave it behind at all, but to live it as a permanent state, to turn their waiting room into a cheery ideology of life, to live the schizophrenia of exile as the norm of normalcy and to revere only one god: the Suitcase!"
The first part of this five-part collection contains brief, personal musings on topics ranging from flea markets to birdhouses. This part is the most charming of this collection because it is the most personal. Here is where Ugresic calls tourists "those industrious airline consumers" and remarks that "[h]istory and culture are the most reliable 'banks' for laundering a dirty conscience." Every page gives a new perspective.
The later parts of this collection are filled with insights into East-West cultural clashes and literary politics. In contrast to the first part, these parts are more strident and argumentative. There are plenty of interesting ideas here, but Ugresic becomes a bit more repetitive in the second half of the book. Overall, Nobody's Home is a worthwhile and thought-provoking read.
Nobody's Home is the first publication of Open Letter Books, the University of Rochester's new non-profit publishing house for works in translation.
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?
Dubravka Ugresic writes matter-of-factly about many topics, but mostly turns a rather sharp gaze on our definitions. She discusses "immigrant" topics at length, the matters of identity and national pride, and the way the world works in a way that makes a lot of sense. Even though I didn't always agree with Ugresic's bold declarations, I respected them. I learned from them. I appreciated them.
"Nobody's Home" is unlike most other essay collections you'll read. There's some dark humor sprinkled here and there, but these are not essays to be read for pure entertainment. These are clever, sharp essays that will make you think about topics that may never have occurred to you, and may offer you alternative opinions on those you've encountered. Full of brilliant and thoughtful remarks, "Nobody's Home" is a good essay collection. It just needs to be taken in small bites.