NOBODY’S HOME by Dubravka Ugresic: Translations from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursac (Rochester, New York: Open Letter Publishing, Literary Translations from the University of Rochester)Review by Nancy Yanes Hoffman, THE WRITING DOCTOR, at www.writingdoctor.typepad.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, 585-385-1515.
Dubravka Ugresic? Who’s she? Well, the Croatian Communist authorities called her a “traitor” and a “public enemy” in 1993 when they threw her out of the troubled land that used to be Yugoslavia—and used to be her home.
But not until last week when someone gave me Ugresic’s NOBODY’S HOME, her book of essays long and short, had I ever heard of her. Now, this Croatian “witch” has become my mesmerizing friend.
Joseph Conrad used to say, “My aim, above all, is to make you see.” Ugresic would make us see anew—or old. For NOBODY’S HOME guides us on a home-seeking, never-quite-finding journey traversing Europe and New York, pinpointing details and asking questions all the way.
Ugresic hones in on “the unending, everyday degradation of ordinary human reason, a repetitive degradation of the individual in everyday situations, the opaque mysticism of things that have been banned, the impossibility of dialogue and mediation, the everyday smashing against the blind wall of the absurd.”
In Ugresic’s world—and in our own, “People looked like sweaty runners jogging in their life race and toting a burden twice their size. Nothing , nothing went smoothly, nothing could be accomplished without friction and anguish.”
For Ugresic, “doors were often closed.” And yet, she manages to open them for “Ever since I left home, the whole world has become my home.” The title says it all yet simultaneously asks what it all means. Is the world “nobody’s home” or is nobody home in this world? Ugresic’s vision sees it both ways.
Both participant in the cultural diversity she witnesses so sharply and acting as its sometimes amused, often dismayed observer, Ugresic lets her ironic double—or triple—vision take over. As an Eastern European writer, Ugresic’s own Balkanized ethnic identity is leery of “culture…as an identity help-kit, …a blank surface onto which meaning may be inscribed and read.”
NOBODY’s HOME divides into five sections of essays, short and long—she calls them “feuilletons” –written from the early nineties to 2007. Each section asks “who are we?” “where are we going?” Seeming to see her world through female eyes, Ugresic quotes from Virginia Woolf, “As a woman, I have no country. As a woman, I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.” But she deceives us, for her rootless cosmopolitanism—and loneliness—describes us all, women and men.
Kudos to the Elias-Bursac, the translator, and to the Humanities Project of the newly established University of Rochester’s Open Letter Group for devoting its new press to translations of brilliant, lesser-known novels from the rest of the world. NOBODY’S HOME, the first in this series, is a great harbinger of things to come from Open Letter's editors and translators. Long may it succeed.