Croatian novelist/essayist Ugresic (The Ministry of Pain, 2006, etc.), now a resident of Amsterdam, offers discerning, sometimes grumpy commentary on a rapidly changing Europe—and a rapidly changing world.
The author admits that she “bickers” throughout this collection composed largely of previously published newspaper columns—and so she does. She rails against the globalization of sex slavery and notes wryly that a former Yugoslav prison for political enemies is now a favorite setting for gay-porn films. She marvels at the vapidity of popular culture: Britney Spears et al., do not come off well; those who care about them come off worse. She chides the Catholic Church for its corruption and wonders, in an essay that begins with the provocative image of Vladimir Putin kissing a fish, at the human yearning for the limelight. She comments continually about the dislocation of people. More than 200,000 Poles populate Ireland; people from the Balkans have scattered everywhere; Amsterdam swells with immigrants from the Middle East. Ugresic finds the flea market a perfect metaphor for a world whose borders are evanescing, and she cites the now-ubiquitous Vietnamese nail salons as evidence of global population shifts. Everywhere, she notes, current residents complain about the influx. The author sprinkles her text with literary allusions, as well. Surprised that a ten-year-old acquaintance has never heard of Anne Frank, she promptly takes him to the family’s hiding place in Amsterdam—but notes that many Dutch were eager to turn in Jews for cash. In a very fine essay she explores that recent publishing phenomenon, the memoir, calling it “a kind of literary karaoke.” She describes, too, the odd nostalgia that many feel for old communist Europe.
Taut, timely pieces by a writer who sees the cosmic in the quotidian.