Sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet, always intelligent and graceful.

A Croatian novelist and essayist (Have a Nice Day: From the Balkan War to the American Dream, 1995) now living in voluntary exile o’erglances the current literary landscape and does not care for the view.

In these 31 essays (completed between 1996 and 2000), Ugresic looses a variety of arrows from her rhetorical quiver, among them a sharp sense of irony, a keen sense of humor, and an edged contempt for the banality (and pervasiveness) of contemporary American culture. Some of the pieces are crisp and concise (especially early in the volume); others proceed at a more leisurely pace. And she has a number of points she makes repeatedly. Examples: There is no longer a distinction between “high” and “low” literature (only between literature that sells and literature that doesn’t). Writers are no longer a distinct species, not when celebrities (Joan Collins, Monica Lewinsky) and criminals and crackpots can write their ways to the top of the bestseller list. (Ugresic alludes three times to Collins’s oeuvre.) Writing today has become ever more outrageous, violent, sexually explicit (she notes that the Marquis de Sade now seems, by contrast, a writer for children). The earlier pieces provide some nasty fun (Ugresic compares Ivana Trump’s Jolie-esque lips to “fresh hot dogs”), and she imagines how today’s less-than-literate editors might reject book proposals for classic titles—e.g., Madame Bovary (“And forget the suicide at the end! No one would believe that”). Near the close, the essays acquire more gravity. She reminds us more than once how the Serbs destroyed the National Library in Sarajevo and how despots use books both to preach their gospel and crush their opponents. There is a powerful piece about exile and its many meanings (and consequences), and Ugresic concludes with the best essay of all about a carpenter named Roy who helped remodel her Amsterdam apartment and who had also begun writing a novel called The Seventh Screw.

Sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet, always intelligent and graceful.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2003

ISBN: 1-56478-298-0

Page Count: 220

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2003



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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