Known as something of a writer’s writer, Dubravka Ugresic began her career with a series of postmodernist fiction in the 1970s and 1980s. This gained her some recognition in her childhood home – Yugoslavia – but it wasn’t until the outbreak of war there and her subsequent anti-nationalist stance that she began to achieve wider international fame. Unfortunately, Ugresic’s uncompromising eye also led to a media witch-hunt in Croatia and she decided to leave the country in 1993.
This is all pertinent to Nobody’s Home, Ugresic’s new collection of essays, not least because the majority of the pieces reflect on the dangers of nationalism along with its micro-persona, ‘personal identity’. Ugresic is also now writing through the frame of the ‘writer-in-exile’, an interesting position for a woman so leery of national tags; interesting, too, in an increasingly porous and globalizing world. As she moves from country to country, she finds herself party to the migration of the world. And how to understand terms like ‘exile’ and ‘nation’, when nobody’s home?
Cogent and lucid, the essays are shot through with instances of individual colour (goldfish at the Moscow bird market, small girls in Zagreb pasting flower petals to their fingers), which often turn them into something quite beautiful. But she also betrays a weakness for generalization and is not above using the national stereotypes she’s keen to condemn. For posing thorny questions, though, she remains hard to beat. Take her friend, for instance, as cited in her essay on literary labelling: ‘an Indian man born in Calcutta, who lives in New York and writes about Europe’. Now, how to compartmentalize him?Eloise Millar