bookshelf

Europe in Sepia

(Open Letter Books 2014)

Europe_in_Sepia_largeHurtling between Weltschmerz and wit, drollness and diatribe, entropy and enchantment, it’s the juxtaposition at the heart of Dubravka Ugresic’s writings that saw Ruth Franklin dub her “the fantasy cultural studies professor you never had.” In Europe in Sepia, Ugresic, ever the flâneur, wanders from the Midwest to Zuccotti Park, the Irish Aran Islands to Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim, from the tristesse of Dutch housing estates to the riots of south London, charting everything from the listlessness of Central Europe to the ennui of the Low Countries. One finger on the pulse of an exhausted Europe, another in the wounds of postindustrial America, Ugresic trawls the fallout of political failure and the detritus of popular culture, mining each for revelation.

Infused with compassion and melancholic doubt, Europe in Sepia centers on the disappearance of the future, the anxiety that no new utopian visions have emerged from the ruins of communism; that ours is a time of irreducible nostalgia, our surrender to pastism complete. Punctuated by the levity of Ugresic’s raucous instinct for the absurd, despair has seldom been so beguiling.

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In her previous essay collection, “Karaoke Culture,” which was a finalist for a 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award, Ugrešić counted herself as a member of the “dubious guild” of critics who are “prepared to see more” behind our cultural enthusiasms than mere passing fads. (…) The essays are loosely united around the theme of nostalgia—the “unnerving premonition that the world” is “about to suddenly vanish”—but they delve into history, politics, entertainment, and sometimes take off into personal flights of fancy. Ugrešić’s writing is lithe and passionate, but maintains a strangeness and humor that make it endlessly intriguing. —A.D. –The New Yorker , February 3rd, 2014.

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Ugrešić’s writing is unified by her sharp wit, cunning mind, absurdist sensibility, and its fragmentation. (…) Ugrešić’s essays are just as fragmented, with her mind racing the hyperkinectic speed of her travels, it seems.— The Millions 

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Yet these acerbic, angry essays lay bare what shapes our world and ourselves: envy, greed, and the forces they unleash—anarchy and revolution. And as Ugresic states, “What was once a satire on a possible reality has today become reality.” So, finally, her scalpel cuts too deep for laughter.— World Literature Today

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“Dubravka Ugresic /…/ is our present-day Kafka. In her excellent new book of essays, ‘Europe in Sepia’, she invokes the comedy and melancholy of being a writer in a world without ideology or ideals”. — Amit Chaudhuri

 

Karaoke Culture

(Open Letter Books 2011)

karaoke cultureUgresic never commits a sloppy thought or a turgid sentence. Under her gaze, the tiredest topics of the “tired” continent (migration, multiculturalism, “new Europe”) spring to life. 
—The Independent

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Ugresic, (…) is one of the most stringent and wide-ranging commentators at work today, bringing an ironic sensibility honed under communism to global pop culture. In the pieces collected here (…) she sounds like the fantasy cultural-studies professor you never had, making crazy connections between unlikely ideas that turn out to be brilliant.. — The New Republic

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Ugresic writes in short, episodic sections, making surprising leaps. An essay that begins with a Hemingway look-alike contest hops quickly to the arrest of Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic. The connections are electric: It’s an intellect in action, ideas zapping across the page.(…) “Karaoke Culture” is an essential investigation of our times.— Los Angeles Times

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(Ugresic) remains one of the funniest, shrewdest, most uplifting writers that Europe can boast. Her new collection of essays, Karaoke Culture ought to find its way onto the desk of every pundit and politician who rushes to pass judgment on the ex-Yugoslav inferno. With its deadpan humour just this side of heartbreak, the 50 pages of “A Question of Perspective”, which recounts her heresies, persecution and flight from the madness of Croatian nationalism – counts as a classic testimony of our times. — The Independent

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The essays are humorous, poignant, angry, insightful and always well written. Read them, then go and read her other collections, The Culture of LiesNobody’s Home and Thank You for Not Reading – and see if you ever look at the world in the same way again.— Irish Times

 

Baba Yaga Laid An Egg

(Canongate 2009; Grove Press 2010)

baba yaga laid an eggUgresic’s retelling may be blisteringly postmodern in its execution but at its heart is a human warmth and even a silliness that infuses it with the sweet magic of storytelling. — The Times

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Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugrešić is on the simplest level about the adventures of four old hags, plus their families and friends, adventures seen through the palimpsest narration of ur-witch Baba Yaga—the greatest hag of ’em all. I don’t use the word hag impudently here. The author not only invites the term; in this strange and wonderful book, she owns it. — Mary Gaitskill

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Baba’s story is made up of three parts: a writer dealing with an ailing, removed mother, a group of women at a longevity and health spa, and an academic folklorist’s interpretation of the previous stories. This is no dull academic exercise—Ugresic’s style is eminently readable, and the novel is as ambitious as it is rewarding. — Library Journal

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Dubravka Ugresic is a whistler in the dark, a thinker and storyteller with one foot in the absurd, another in surreal, and the third foot… elsewhere, just elsewhere (…) Ugresic meets Yaga and takes the reader on a glorious romp that doubles as confrontation of the values we attribute to youth and aging — Helen Oyeyemi

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Ugresic has created a wise, sharp fairy tale of her own. And like one of those mythic stories, it’s slow to reveal its secrets. Every element has hidden meaning, and repeat readings are rewarded. The three parts, each one substantial on its own, feed in to one another to create something majestic. It’s a work worthy of any crone. And I mean that as a compliment.Jessa Crispin

 

Nobody’s Home

(Telegram/Saqi 2007; Open Letter Books 2008)
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This series of thought-provoking and incisive essays from Dubravka Ugresic explores the full spectrum of human existence. From life in exile to life in prison, from bottled-water drinking tourists with massive backpacks to the Eurovision song contest, Ugresic’s unfailingly sharp critical eye never fails to reveal what has been hidden in plain sight by routine, or uncover the tragic, and the comic, in the everyday.

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This book is part memoir, part shrewd observation, part travel writing at its best. Each section opens with a loving quotation from the Russian satirists Ilf and Petrov, and Ugresic writes with something of their impish genius. —Telegraph

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Dubravka Ugresic is Walter Benjamin’s Baudelaire, the poetic sojourner who finds himself at the whim of the crowd. She is the flaneur cast into the streets, nowhere at home. And like Baudelaire, Ugresic is a writer in full view of and at odds with the forces of commodity culture, a writer whose mission is to give form to modernity. But if Baudelaire’s poetry is permeated by melancholic doom, Ugresic’s diagnosis of life’s illusory qualities is delightfully judgmental and cheerily pessimistic. Or as she tartly concludes in Nobody’s Home, her new collection of essays, “this book breaks the rules of good behavior, because it bickers.”– Nicole Rudnick

 

The Ministry of Pain

(Saqi 2005; Ecco Press 2006)

the ministry of painDubravka Ugresic’s novel — if you care about language and how it fails and sometimes succeeds at defining the human condition — approaches perfection. The translation, the handling of dialects and nuances of what is essentially the same language in five or six different versions, is masterly. “The Ministry of Pain” will put the fear of God — or more likely man — into you. –The Washington Post

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This edgy, extraordinary novel … vividly exposes the isolation, fear and confusion of enforced exile.’ — The Sunday Times

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A profound and beautiful meditation on lost homes and territories, on the broken syntax of memory, on the self-inventions of rehabilitated refugees and on the capability to return and find what we left behind. — The Independent

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A brave, accomplished, cultured novel, sombre and witty … This is Ugresic at her best … There are very pure pleasures in Ugresic’s honesty, her lightsome, moving prose —The Guardian

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Her short, trenchant metaphors, her particular use of verse, fable, story, nightmares and dreams, neatly conjure up and fix the images of displacement … Ugresic’s poignant and uncomfortable metaphors stay long in the mind. — Literary Review

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A disturbing read that should have you in its thrall.— The Times

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[Ugresic] has produced a novel of insights and shocks for those of us who have not endured either. It is one that is both profound and brilliantly illuminated by a very humane clarity. — Daily Telegraph

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The Ministry of Pain is a novel of questions … its indeterminacy, its refusal to accept absolutes, is one of its strengths — Times Literary Supplement

 

Lend Me Your Character

(Dalkey Archive Press 2004, Second, revised, edition; First edition: In the Jaws of Life, Virago Press 1992; In the Jaws of Life and Other Stories, Northwestern University Press 1993)

05-lend_me_your_characterThe stories collected in Lend Me Your Character — the novella “Steffie Cvek in the Jaws of Life” and a collection of short stories entitled “Life Is a Fairy Tale” — solidify Ugresic’s reputation as one of Eastern Europe’s most playful and inventive writers.

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Ugresic must be numbered among what Jacques Maritain called the dreamers of the true; she draws us into the dream.” —The New York Times

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Ugresic’s wit is bound by no preconceived purposes, and once the story takes off, a wild freedom of association and adventurous discernment is set in motion. Open to the absurdity of all pretensions of rationality, Ugresic dissects the social world, especially the endless nuances of gender and sexuality.” —World Literature Today

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Readers of Borges will nod knowingly, fans of Alfred Jarry will recognize an accomplice. The archeologists of Yugoslaviana will not leave empty-handed, either. Feminists will feel at home. Everybody will laugh reading Hot Dog in a Warm Bun, the story in which all things phallic get, well, slightly unhinged — but those interested in psychoanalysis will have a field day. (…) A good read is precisely this extended travel through texts other than the one read, and Lend Me Your Character asserts this as our right. This is arguably the best book by Dubravka Ugresic available in English, and it deserves the type of praise that Ugresic is usually uneasy about: sexy, hip, funny.  —The Globe and Mail

                                                                           

Thank You For Not Reading

(Dalkey Archive Press  2003)

thank you for not reading“The writer and his reader are more isolated than ever,” declares Dubravka Ugresic on the first page of these “essays on literary trivia”, as she subtitles them. The book arose from a conflict between two feelings, she writes, that “self-respecting writers should not write about things that wise people prefer not to discuss” and then that, on the contrary, self-respecting writers should never try to be too wise.

This intellectual spat with herself has produced a fast-moving, brilliant compendium of reflections and polemics about contemporary literary culture; a book to be compared with, perhaps preferred to, Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death.  — The Guardian

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As long as some, like Ugresic, who can write well, do, there will be hope for literature. – Tess Lewis

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We may take it for granted that someone such as Jackie Collins makes more than John Updike does. Ugresic doesn’t — and the freshness of her outrage,  peppered with her acerbic wit, is the salient virtue of “Thank You for Not Reading.” — Los Angeles Times

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She is also, unlike most higher-profile literary commentators, blessed with an ample supply of sly and self-deprecating wit. — The Washington Post

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Dubravka Ugresic, whose name deserves to be more widely known, is not only a gifted Yugoslav novelist, author of The Museum of Unconditional Surrender (…) she is also an assured polemicist whose lucid commentary on the international, especially American, world of books is savage, quotable and perceptive. —The Observer

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Ugresic is a demanding writer — highly literate, complex, self-consciously postmodern — but she is also brisk and funny, and a keen observer of the various cultures she has encountered in her peripatetic life since the beginning of the Balkan wars. (…)Anyone interested in good writing should disregard the title of this book and read Thank You for Not Reading. —The Globe and Mail

 

The Museum of Unconditional Surrender

(Weidenfeld&Nicolson 1998; New Directions 1999)

the museum of unconditional surrender[A] brilliant, enthralling spread of story-telling and high-velocity reflections….She is a writer to follow. A writer to be cherished. — Susan Sontag

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An epiphany of literature conditioned and shaped by social interaction and emancipatory in its responses. — Context

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Like Nabokov, Ugresic affirms our ability to remember as a source for saving our moral and compassionate identity. — Washington Post

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Ugresic pries deeply into the lives of her subjects…to make this muralistic work all the more affecting. — Publishers Weekly

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The book is a collection of collections, a tour of exhibits and tiny personal museums such as her mother’s handbag from 1946, or a box of jumbled photographs: “We are the children of Bouvard and Pécuchet,” comments a colleague. Each collection is a fragile system erected against an overwhelming feeling of disorientation and loss. (…) Ugresic steps through the wreckage of war, picking up objects, searching for metaphors, attempting to lend narrative coherence the chaos she experienced first hand. — ArtMargins

 

The Culture of Lies

(Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1996; The Penn State Universityy Press 1998)

the culture of liesThe Culture of Lies is one of the most intelligent and lucid accounts of an appalling episode in history. It shows us the banality and brutality of nationalism and the way that nationalistic ideology permeates every pore of life. Ugrešić’s acerbic and penetrating essays cover everything from politics to daily routine, from public to private life.

With a diverse and unusual perspective, she writes about memory, soap operas, the destruction of everyday life, kitsch, the conformity of intellectuals, propaganda and censorship, the strategies of human manipulation and the walls of Europe which, she argues, never really did fall. Shot through with irony and sadness, satirical protest and bitter melancholy, The Culture of Lies is a gesture of intellectual resistance…

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The Culture of Lies can be placed in the company of such landmark chronicle of dissent as Czeslaw Milosz’s The Captive Mind and Vaclav Havel’s Living in TruthLiterary Review.

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Her vivid, impassioned, highly intelligent essays were acts of real courage for she had and has all the right moral and political sympathies… — Susan Sontag.

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Ugresic is sharp, funny and unafraid in the face of the little dictators who have torn apart her former country. Orwel would approve. – Times Literary Supplement.

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Her book is a cautionary tale for anyone who might think he can guess something about the Balkans without having been there. The Culture of Lies is really a collection of observations, many of them focused on the official abuse of language: the ghost in the background is Karl Kraus. What Kraus did for Austria and Germany in the pre-Nazi period, Ugresic does for Croatia in the Tudjman period, with the Bosnia of Milosevic looming in the wings; and she does it at least as well. — Clive James

 

Have A Nice Day: From the Balkan War to the American Dream

(Jonathan Cape 1994;Viking Penguin 1995)

 have a nice dayIt takes a stranger to see how dark this world is: Dubravka Ugresic is that stranger.— Joseph Brodsky

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Ugresic’s quirky, razor-sharp essays comprise a wry look at American life and a jolting, sensitive self-portrait in cultural dislocation (…) Her nervous, precise prose is a pleasure to read. — Publishers Weekly

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(…) Her wry observations on Western culture are insightful and amusing, they reveal as much about this particular exile’s internal life as they do about American society’s shallow obsessions. Ironic and pointed, Ugresic’s short essays (…) illuminate the differences and similarities between two cultures as seen through the eyes of a refugee. — Library Journal

 

In the Jaws of Life and Other Stories

(“In the Jaws of Life”, London: Virago Press l992; “In the Jaws of Life and Other Stories”: Northwestern University Press 1993)

Jaws,USA_2The title novel, “Steffie Speck in the Jaws of Life”, charts the life of a typist for lonely hearts column. Laid out like a sewing pattern, with instructions, diagrams, and helpful hints in the margin, it juxtaposes the cliches and trite advice of stereotypical women’s magazines and popular culture with the genuine despair of the marginalized heroine (…) Ugrešić is fresh, entertaining and consistently surprising.

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“An inventive collection, both vivacious and menacing…Ugrešić never misses a stitch, and her needle draws blood” — The Observer

 
 
 

Fording the Stream of Consciousness

(Virago Press 1991; Northwestern University Press 1993)

fording the stream of consciousnessA madcap wit and a lively sense of the absurd . . . Filled with ingenious invention and surreal incident. — Marina Warner

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Glazed with wit and slyness Fording the Stream of Consciousness has that airy and elusive quality, charm. It is bouncy, chaotic and boisterously post-modern. But unlike many exercises in post-modernity(…)Ugresic’s book is disciplined and strenuously concerned with real world. – James Wood, Vogue, April 1991.

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Don’t squander time. Get hold of Ms Ugresic’s marvellous comic novel and squat in a private, soundproofed spot where you can triple up with laughter. Those with bittersweet tooth for fiction will find it meltingly irresistible. Ugresic writes as if pouring chocolate over nuts. She tempts you to bite till you taste the crunch. Then she bites you back — Scotland on Sunday, 24.03.1991.

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