Books by Slavenka Drakulic

Released: Feb. 22, 2011

"It's no coincidence that the epigraph of this fiction is from George Orwell, for Drakulic is similarly aware of moral failure and political excess. "
In a series of fables set in Eastern Europe, Drakulic (Two Underdogs and a Cat: Three Reflections on Communism, 2009, etc.), a native of Croatia, explores with wit, grace and humor the collapse of communism. Read full book review >
FRIDA’S BED by Slavenka Drakulic
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 1, 2008

"Elegant portrait of an artist that grants Kahlo a vulnerability and complexity often missing from the kitschy images of her that abound today."
The final days of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, as imagined by the Croatian-born author (They Would Never Hurt a Fly, 2004, etc.). Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Aug. 9, 2004

"Take it from Drakulic: Ordinary people suck."
Croatian expatriate Drakulic (S., 2000, etc.) offers a philosophically charged indictment of onetime Yugoslavians now standing before the International War Crimes Tribunal. Read full book review >
S. by Slavenka Drakulic
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Feb. 1, 2000

Justly acclaimed as a journalist and an essayist, Drakuli—chose the novel for her latest tale of the terrors of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. While the author's reputation in the US is largely based on her reporting (Cafe Europa, 1997, etc.), work typically marked by a certain dry, black humor, her fourth novel (after Holograms of Fear, 1992, etc.) is somber, relentlessly bleak, until its disappointingly predictable life-affirming close, which is regrettably rather flat. S., the title character, is a young schoolteacher living and working in a small Bosnian village when the Serbs overrun it in late May 1992. She and all of the town's women are taken prisoner and removed to a concentration camp, where she's raped repeatedly by Serb soldiers. When the survivors of this nightmarish experience are exchanged for Serb prisoners, S. finds herself pregnant, goes to Sweden, and gives birth to a boy whose father could be any of the many men who brutalized her. The story opens in the hours after the infant's delivery, as S. fights against her nurturing instincts toward the child, whom she plans to put up for adoption. This grim account will be familiar to anyone who's been reading the newspapers in the past decade or who's dipped into the copious literature of the Holocaust. Sadly, Drakuli— is unable to give voice to S.'s plight in a fashion that doesn't continually remind you of other, better works of this sort. S.'s narrative, in first- as well as third-person, never rises above the clichÇs of the genre, and Drakuli— is ill-served by a translation that is both banal and clumsy. It's always depressing when a serious book by a gifted author on an important topic is a failure. This one is more painful than most. Read full book review >
THE TASTE OF A MAN by Slavenka Drakulic
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Aug. 1, 1997

Widely known journalist Drakulic (The Balkan Express, 1993, etc.) tries her hand at a second novel (Holograms of Fear, 1992) with results that seem unlikely those she intended. Her tale of a love match that fulfills itself in murder and cannibalism is more risible than moving. Coming from Warsaw for graduate study in literature, 30-year-old Tereza meets—across a study table at the New York Public Library—the Brazilian JosÇ, on a three-month grant in NYC doing research on cannibalism and religion. Love at first sight (``as if my body had already surrendered to his touch'') brings the two together again, and soon they're living in Tereza's apartment, united by a love so passionate that words are unnecessary, where ``nothing but the senses exist.'' Too bad JosÇ has a wife and child—who both come from Brazil for a visit to San Francisco so that he's got to fly out to see them. Tereza follows, deciding more or less then that she'll never ``let us part''—but instead will internalize JosÇ in a union forever by killing and then eating him (there are references to the Andean plane crash whose survivors found Christian symbolism in eating their dead comrades). As Tereza plans JosÇ's death, the novel slides helplessly (``My eye was caught by a set of six large knives. . . which said `all purpose' '') toward comedy. Poor JosÇ, after ingesting vodka, pills, and being smothered, still has to be tasted and cut up for disposal (Tereza's bought an electric saw). Even then, he's still in the way (``I stood under the shower. JosÇ was still lying in the tub. Without his legs he took up only three quarters of it, so there was room for me as well. Nevertheless, I had to be careful not to step on him''). If intended as political satire or an allegory of love or madness, the point is missed, leaving just highbrow hooey. (First printing of 50,000; $50,000 ad/promo; author tour) Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Feb. 1, 1997

Drakuli's eloquent and brave essays demand that the citizens of post-Communist Eastern Europe take personal responsibility for their roles in the new civil society. Over the past five years, Croatian journalist and novelist Drakuli (The Balkan Express, 1993; Holograms of Fear, 1992) has emerged in the English-speaking world as a consistent, honest, stylish, and canny interpreter of Eastern Europe and ex-Yugoslavia. Her latest contribution continues that tradition (some may argue to the point of repetition), offering Drakuli's trademark essays that reach for the pulse of a country or an era by homing in on everyday events and encounters. Like her previous work, Cafe Europa serves as a protest against an East European tendency, based on decades- long experience under paternalist dictators, to shirk civic responsibility. ``How does a person who is a product of a totalitarian society,'' she asks, ``learn responsibility, individuality, initiative? By saying `no.' '' Although her canvas encompasses all of the Balkans and Eastern Europe, her own Croatia bears the brunt of Drakuli's penetrating criticism. One unforgettable essay depicts Croatian president Franjo Tudjman as an object of vitriolic contempt. Both the everyday and the political milieu of post-Communist Croatia are ready subjects for Drakuli's combination of wit, scorn, and introspection. From the renaming of the streets and cutting down of trees in Zagreb, to a colleague's uncritical interview with an unrepentant Croatian Fascist, to the author's own experiences as a consumer in America and as a Croat in Israel, the Croatian essays form the backbone of this collection. Nevertheless, these 24 essays, written between 1992 and 1996, are informed by the author's image of the lands of Eastern Europe as the ``infantile nations of our continent,'' sharing a common desire—``our longing for Europe and all that it stands for.'' General readers interested in understanding the gritty realities of post-Communist Eastern Europe should grab a coffee and sit down with Cafe Europa. (Author tour) Read full book review >
THE BALKAN EXPRESS by Slavenka Drakulic
HISTORY
Released: May 24, 1993

Drakuli (How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed; Holograms of Fear—both 1992) writes, in these terse, focused pieces, about how she—and every other former Yugoslav—became a Croat (or Serb or Muslim)—and how dizzyingly fast it happened. Communism was barely two years dead when a population utterly unused to politics became its pawn—and Drakuli gives over a fine sense of how the resulting ethnic identification has stripped her of her individuality—``the most precious property I had accumulated during the forty years of my life.'' Forced to flee bombed-out Zagreb for Ljubljana in Slovenia, she discovered the meaning of exile—owning nothing, not even familiar sensations. And, however unwillingly, she became a Croat not just by birth but- -``overcome by nationhood''—by force of historical demand. Filling out the text are interviews with young gunmen (``What Ivan Said'') and an analytical letter to the author's daughter (``We didn't build a political underground of people with liberal, democratic values ready to take over the government; not because it was impossible, but on the contrary, because the repression was not hard enough to produce the need for it. If there is any excuse it is in the fact that we were deprived of the sense of the future. This was the worse thing communism did to people''). An admirable, deeply felt, mosaic-like portrait of one of the most appalling grotesqueries of modern history. Read full book review >
HOLOGRAMS OF FEAR by Slavenka Drakulic
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: May 25, 1992

From Croatian journalist Drakuli (How We Survived Communism, 1991—not reviewed), her first novel to be translated into English. Here, illness, its sensation and its isolation, is the theme—about a diabetic Croatian woman who's living in New York more or less alone (her daughter's been left back in Europe), waiting for a call to Boston and the summons to a kidney transplant that will perhaps save her life. As the book begins, this call has come, and what follows is a nearly moment-by-moment account of the sensation of dread, physical discomfort, mental dissociation, and spiritual need that the malfunctioning body imposes on a person: ``I must weave circles around myself and maybe that way I can enclose time. Little ones to begin and then larger. Time passes through me. I feel it making me heavy. But I can't hold on to it. I am not in it. There is no Me.'' Phenomenologically accurate as all this is, be warned that it makes for sludgy fiction: claustrophobic, repetitious, and thoroughly dispiriting. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: March 23, 1992

A poignant and truthful look at what living under Communism was really like, by Croatian journalist and novelist Drakuli. The author, daughter of a former partisan who was a high- ranking Communist army officer, was never a member of the Party herself. Here, she conveys the reality of life under Communism through ordinary but telling detail: the wonder of a man who, for the first time in his life, was able to eat a banana—and ate it skin and all, marveling at its texture; Draculi's own bewilderment at finding fresh strawberries in N.Y.C. in December; the feel of the quality of the paper in an issue of Vogue; the desperate lengths to which women under the Communist regime would go to find cosmetics or clothes or something that would make them feel feminine in a society where such a feeling was regarded as a bourgeois affectation. Drakuli dismisses the argument that Western manufacturers have manipulated these needs: ``To tell us that they are making a profit by exploiting our needs is like warning a Bangladeshi about cholesterol.'' Though herself a feminist, she willingly turns amusing in describing the uncomprehending questions sent to her by a New York editor who asked about the role of feminism in political discourse in Eastern Europe, when there was no political discourse and when feminists were—and apparently still are—regarded as enemies of the people. ``We may have survived Communism,'' Drakuli writes, ``but we have not yet outlived it.'' To the author, Communism is more than an ideology or a method of government—it is a state of mind that is yet to be erased from the collective consciousness of those who have lived under it. A sometimes sad, sometimes witty book that conveys more about politics in Eastern Europe than any number of theoretical political analyses. Read full book review >