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the Complete Review
the complete review - literary essays

Nobody's Home

Dubravka Ugrešić

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To purchase Nobody's Home

Title: Nobody's Home
Author: Dubravka Ugrešić
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 276 pages
Original in: Croatian
Availability: Nobody's Home - US
Nobody's Home - UK
Nobody's Home - Canada
Nobody's Home - India
Keiner zu Hause - Deutschland
No hay nadie en casa - España
  • Essays
  • Croatian title: Nikog nema doma
  • Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać
  • The US edition (2008) from Open Letter includes additional material

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Our Assessment:

B+ : thoughtful and entertaining

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 9-11/2008 Nicole Rudick
FAZ . 30/7/2007 Judith Leister
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 9/6/2007 Karl-Markus Gauß
The Telegraph . 22/11/2007 Elaine Feinstein

  From the Reviews:
  • "Nobody’s Home is a rattle bag. The pieces form a kind of arc: Shorter theses occupy the beginning and end, with longer ones in between. The first third of the book is the most lucid and the most convincing. (...) The longer essays engage a subject very much on the minds of many writers and readers these days -- the future of serious literature in a fickle commercial environment. Yet here Ugresic’s rhythm lags, and her wonderfully restless prose, so piquant and witty, frays." - Nicole Rudick, Bookforum

  • "(E)inem klugen Essayband, der durch seine west-östlichen Perspektiven, durch überraschende Vergleiche zwischen Systemen und Mentalitäten besticht. (…) Jetzt kommt das große Verpflanzen, Verschieben und Verschwinden hinzu, die 'globale Osmose'. Buchstäblich ist keiner zu Hause. (…) Ugresic sucht das Heterogene, in Großstädten und auf Flohmärkten -- und findet noch bei den Toten auf dem Friedhof das Bestreben nach ethnischer 'Homogenität'." - Judith Leister, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "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." - Elaine Feinstein, The Telegraph

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:

       Nobody's Home is a collection of non-fiction pieces, the book divided into four sections. The first consists of some two-dozen very short (most only two or three pages) impressionistic pieces -- feuilleton-filler columns, one suspects. The other sections contain longer essays -- though, as usual, Ugrešić manages to fill them with all sorts of examples, digressions, and stories.
       Ugrešić does much better when she's given space to let her arguments and examples unfold, and the collection could easily have done without the first section. More tightly focussed, on a single subject or theme, illustrated or discussed with the help of an anecdote or experience or two, the pieces in this first group often feels too constrained by the space-limit. Still, there are some nice pieces here as well, such as 'Bird House', in which she describes some of the consequences of her peripatetic life:

     Ever since I left home, the whole world has become my home. The trite appeal of that old Croatian pop-song line has become my life. There is a secret geography of the things I leave behind me. I conduct a clandestine occupation, leave my mark, drop my secret anchor. My belongings -- coffee pots, plates, bedspreads, shoes, sheets, sweaters -- are scattered through European and American cities, to the four winds.
       Much of the book deals with home and abroad, with Ugrešić both embracing a kind of internationalism but also often reveling in the very national -- traits, customs, food. Confused, collapsed (former) Yugoslavia is, understandably, a favourite, and there are, for example, some amusing riffs on the local attitudes and how they manifest themselves, as in a piece on the use of the word 'shit' by her countrymen, who find it applicable to essentially everything ("My countrymen don't give much credence to the benefits of a larger vocabulary. Stingy people, stingy language").
       But it's the longer pieces, where she has the space to unfold her ideas more fully and make more extensive connexions, that make Nobody's Home worthwhile. The first section may have it's entertaining bits, but can practically be skimmed across; it's when she settles down that the collection really perks up and gets going, starting with an essay on 'Europe, Europe', loosely based on her trip on the Literature Express 2000, "in which 100 writers from some forty-three countries covered 7000 kilometres and visited eighteen European cities". It's this sort of thing -- with its mix and variety of observations, the contrast of this "exercise in homelessness. All you do is travel, you don't think about a thing" with the impressions of both the places (from the well-rooted to the rapidly changing) and the writers -- that is most appealing.
       In the third section several essays focus specifically on world literature -- 'What is European about European literature ?' for example, as well as 'Literary Geopolitics'. Identity is an issue that keeps getting raised, and even though in the first section there is a piece in which she explains how she has become allergic to the concept ("I have no idea how I picked up this allergy. I must have been overly exposed to identity") she finds that varieties of national identity prove nearly inescapable. Writers, especially, are categorised by national origin -- even as that has once again become more confusing in this day and age: what is one to make of English-writing Ugandan Moses Isegawa, who lives in Holland (as does Ugrešić), for example, she asks.
       She worries about labels -- these sorts of labels, in particular -- but can see how they've caught on:
this identification of writer by nationality, by the country each belongs to, has asserted itself as part and parcel of literary and market communications. Also in this way it is much easier and quicker to travel from the periphery to the centre.
Because it is ethnic identity, a tried and true sales formula which has propelled many writers from the periphery, for the right literary reasons or the wrong ones, into the global literary marketplace. The market always needs a Bulgarian, a Serb, a Croat, an Albanian. But only one. Two max. A surfeit is, naturally, confusing.
       For the Eastern European writer the identity-issue has been further complicated by the collapse of Communism: the market for dissident literature of the sort that was produced by the pound a few decades ago has now completely dried up. Suddenly, success in the global arena is only possible with a different kind of identity -- something Eastern European writers have had difficulty taking on (as Ugrešić has repeatedly effectively shown, in these essays and elsewhere).
       A carrier and transmitter of culture, Ugrešić is also wary of it:
Culture can be a tourist-instructional gift packet offering a smattering of history, a touch of folklore, and a line or two of verse; culture can serve as an identity help-kit; as a shadowy point of self-respect and mutual regard; as a blank surface onto which meaning may be inscribed and read.
       She values culture, but is concerned about it being devalued (or at least re-valued, in a perverse way) in the marketplace, becoming a commodity that obeys market-rules, leading to a bland uniformity, a sameness that succeeds because it is recognisable by consumers, and feels familiar. And, again, the loss can also come down to a question of identity, oversimplification resulting from a marketplace that allows (indeed, demands) only a smattering of a culture to become representative, culture-carriers undermining their own potential for a different sort of glory:
Because the European literary marketplace cannot survive an inundation of fifty Lithuanian writers (just as the Lithuanian marketplace can't sustain more than two Dutch writers, for example), and so only one or two will be welcome. This select two will be the 'household names' of Lithuanian literature. Hence our Eastie (and Westie) and the European oriented 'souls' who crave affirmation on the market, and the 'globalistic souls' who would sell their European affirmation tomorrow for a more profitable American reception.
       Another stand-out piece is 'Opium', about the spread of 'prophets' in the contemporary world, where celebrity trumps all -- and every one of them has a (ghost-written) memoir in them. As she sees it:
The problem is that the genre of memoir is registered as a literary one, yet all its elements -- intention, author, language, substance, interpretation, and reception -- are edging over into the realm of religion.
       Not as tightly focussed as Thank You for Not Reading (which already ranged very far), Nobody's Home is a somewhat over-full collection. But there's considerable thought-provoking material here and it's entertainingly presented, and certainly well worth your while. Recommended for anyone concerned with contemporary culture, as well as the consequences, on all levels, of globalisation.

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Nobody's Home: 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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