A rather jaundiced look at American culture by a highly regarded Croatian novelist living in exile. In a torrent of metaphors, Ugrei (Fording the Stream of Consciousness, not reviewed) compares her embattled native country, the war-torn former Yugoslavia, to what she found on a busman's holiday in the United States. Invited to teach at Wesleyan University, she divided her time between New York City and sleepy Middletown, Conn. Much of the book centers on the contrast between placid America, with its instantly disposable pop culture, and the brutalized Balkans, where civil war is taking its toll on ancient civilizations. The book is designed as a series of brief essays, etymological examinations of how America perceives concepts like ``harassment'' or invents new ones like ``couch potato.'' Ugrei repeatedly likens herself to Alice, slipping through the looking glass into a fantastical American landscape of fast food, TV talk shows, and the obsessive need to organize one's time. The resulting book is, as the title suggests, relentlessly mordant and often bitter. In a sotto voce response to a photographer who doesn't know where Zagreb is, she writes: ``In Croatia. In a country which does not yet exist. And where is that? In Yugoslavia. In a country which no longer exists.'' Many of her observations are original and witty (``Americans shop as if they were taking an important exam''), and it's hard to argue with her characterization of the US as ``a deeply infantile culture,'' but Ugrei often assumes a tone that is both insulting and uncharitable to her seemingly benign hosts. She now lives in Berlin. Given the nature of the ``real world'' she left behind in Zagreb, it's perhaps understandable and even forgivable that Ugrei is angry much of the time, but it doesn't always make for easy reading. A noteworthy book, but a disagreeable one.

Pub Date: April 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-670-86016-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1995



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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