The other sections contain longer essays -- though, as usual, Ugre
,i, manages to fill them with all sorts of examples, digressions, and stories.
,i, 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
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 Ugre
,i, 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 Ugre
,i,), for example, she
worries about labels -- these sorts of labels, in particular -- but can see how they've caught on:
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 Ugre
,i, has repeatedly effectively shown, in these essays and elsewhere).
A carrier and transmitter of culture, Ugre
,i, 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.
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.
Dubravka Ugre,i, was born in 1949, in Yugoslavia (now Croatia).
writing has been translated into numerous languages.
was awarded the prestigious Heinrich Mann Prize in 2000.