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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Museum of
Unconditional Surrender

Dubravka Ugrešić

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Title: The Museum of Unconditional Surrender
Author: Dubravka Ugrešić
Genre: Novel
Written: 1996 (Eng. 1998)
Length: 248 pages
Original in: Serbo-Croatian
Availability: The Museum of Unconditional Surrender - US
The Museum of Unconditional Surrender - UK
The Museum of Unconditional Surrender - Canada
The Museum of Unconditional Surrender - India
Le Musée des redditions sans condition - France
Das Museum der bedingungslosen Kapitulation - Deutschland
Il museo della resa incondizionata - Italia
El Museo de la Rendición Incondicional - España
  • Croatian title: Muzej bezuvjetne predaje
  • Translated by Celia Hawkesworth

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Our Assessment:

B+ : evocative, well done novel of the experience of exile

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian A 31/7/1999 Carrie O'Grady
Libération . 21/10/2004 Natalie Levisalles
The Nation A+ 13/12/1999 Meredith Tax
The NY Times Book Rev. B 9/11/1999 Richard Eder
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction A Spring/2000 Irving Malin
TLS . 16/10/1998 Hugh MacPherson
World Lit. Today A+ Fall/1999 Vitaly Chernetsky

  From the Reviews:
  • "It's a difficult and magical book (...). It is, in fact, impossible to describe, but beautiful to read." - Carrie O'Grady, The Guardian

  • "Le Musée ... est donc un livre sur l'exil. Pas l'exil devenu nostalgique de ceux qui se sont reconstruit une vie, qui ont une nouvelle maison, de nouveaux amis, ou au moins des commerçants qui les reconnaissent." - Natalie Levisalles, Libération

  • "Parts of Ugresic's narration veer perilously close to sentimentality, but whenever she gets near the edge, she pulls up with a start, showing she knows exactly what she is doing (.....) The Culture of Lies and The Museum of Unconditional Surrender are major works of literature by a writer at the top of her powers, one who should be honored for the difficulty of the task she embraces, the complexity of her thought and the simplicity of her tone." - Meredith Tax, The Nation

  • "Like entrails for the ancient Greeks, the inspired particularities of Museum have a suggestion of prophecy. The story of illness is not the story of cures." - Richard Eder, The New York Times Book Review

  • "This astonishing novel deserves more than one reading. It is a daring effort to explore the meanings of exile, loss, and identity." - Irving Malin, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "(T)his postmodernist tour-de-force is first and foremost a stunning human document of great emotional intensity and a personal testimony of a refugee's survival-but it is also a work that addresses the universal issues of memory, identity, the relationship of art and criticism to "real life," and the responsibilities of an artist. (...) It is impossible not to be moved by this intense and beautiful book." - Vitaly Chernetsky, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Croatian writer Dubravka Ugresic went into exile in 1993, leaving a country being slowly torn apart by continuing conflict. The Yugoslavian heritage she had grown up with -- a pan-slavian communality, held together by the firm Titoist hand -- was suddenly gone, the political decay that ensued continues to this day. In this book Ugresic records the life of European exile, a story that is larger than her own.
       Though it has a distinctly autobiographical center, Ugresic ties in many other exiles' tales. It is rarely extreme suffering that is the focus, but rather the slow, ebbing sense of loss. A mobile, international group, many Yugoslavians travelled, lived, and worked abroad before the collapse of the Yugoslav state -- including Ugresic. The almost cosmopolitan lifestyle is, however, shifted into a radically new perspective when travel becomes exile, the homeland lost.
       Ugresic tells her story in episodic, almost anecdotal fashion, the novel divided into different parts, most of which recount different, smaller stories. The focus of the novel is memory -- what it is, how it is kept. Photographs figure prominently: Ugresic carries one as a talisman, and mentions several times that exiles are divided into two groups, those with photographs (a tie to the past) and those without.
       Ugresic describes encounters with various artists, all of them concerned with holding onto the past, or recreating it. Her descriptions of the work of Ilya Kabakov and Richard Wentworth are excellent. She begins the book with the description of a display case at the Berlin Zoo (a scene repeated later as well), showing what was found in the stomach of a walrus that died there in 1961, and throughout there is a fascination with the preservation of history and memory, in its many different forms. The ultimate irony is the museum of the title, a Soviet institution in Berlin that remains visitorless and lost in the post-Communist world, with Ugresic wondering whether the Soviets will pack it up and take it with them as they leave the city.
       Set mainly in Berlin, and centered around Yugoslavian exile, the book has a feel found in many European books of the 1920s. Modern rootlessness and the loss of home (and, to some extent, identity) -- similar to that found in the books written in the wake of the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire -- are the central focus, not simple physical suffering.
       Ugresic's style is very effective in evoking the modern European émigré experience. Her many stories are well woven together, and the writing is polished and smooth (and apparently well-translated). Language is of great significance -- disenfranchised she communicates in English and German with others for whom these are also foreign languages. An Iranian waiter, trying to pass as Italian in an Italian restaurant in Germany whispers to her in Croatian, one of the more obvious examples of exiles adjusting and hiding behind layers of identity. Four of the six parts of the novel have German headings, the final one translating as "Where am I ?" There is never a clear answer for the exile.
       There are a great many layers to the text, and it is a pleasure to read. Ugresic has written a very strong work here, and it is certainly recommended.

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The Museum of Unconditional Surrender: Reviews: Dubravka Ugrešić: Other Books by Dubravka Ugresic under Review: Other books of interest under Review:

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About the Author:

       Dubravka Ugrešić was born in 1949, in Yugoslavia (now Croatia). Her writing has been translated into numerous languages. She was awarded the prestigious Heinrich Mann Prize in 2000.

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