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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Our Man in Iraq

Robert Perisic

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Our Man in Iraq

Title: Our Man in Iraq
Author: Robert Perišić
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 202 pages
Original in: Croatian
Availability: Our Man in Iraq - US
Our Man in Iraq - UK
Our Man in Iraq - Canada
Our Man in Iraq - India
Unser Mann vor Ort - Deutschland
Il nostro uomo sul campo - Italia
  • Croatian title: Naš čovjek na terenu
  • Translated by Will Firth
  • The (UK) Istros edition has a Foreword by Tim Judah
  • The US (Black Balloon) edition is not exactly identical with the UK one; it has been edited down, and toned down a bit; the differences do seem to largely be restricted to some changes/cuts of some sentences and some different word/expression choices (i.e. there aren't whole sections or chapters missing)

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Our Assessment:

B : quite amusing take on modern Croatia and a society still adjusting to the post-Yugoslavian free-for-all

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The New Yorker . 1/7/2013 .
Publishers Weekly . 4/3/2013 .
TLS . 12/7/2013 Josip Novakovich
Toronto Star . 12/4/2013 Emily Donaldson
World Literature Today . 9-10/2013 Michele Levy

  From the Reviews:
  • "Perisic depicts, with acerbic wit, a class of urban élites who are trying to reconcile their nineties rebellion with the reality of present-day Croatia" - The New Yorker

  • "What’s most compelling about Perisic’s novel are the relentlessly insightful one-liners, offering poignant commentary on the unsettled day-to-day of a society trying to find its footing after devastating violence and in the throes of nascent capitalism." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Despite the serious themes, the novel is largely comic and in many ways falls into the genre of satirical anti-war novels that includes The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hašek and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five." - Josip Novakovich, Times Literary Supplement

  • "When I say Our Man in Iraq is likely to be the best novel you’ve ever read by a Croatian writer, I’m not just cynically gambling that you’ve never read any Croatian novels; or rather, I’m doing it secure in the knowledge that Robert Perisic’s first novel (originally published in 2007) is also terrifically witty and original." - Emily Donaldson, Toronto Star

  • "This postmodern, postcommunist picaresque hilariously skewers Croatian, Western, and global culture as it follows the rapid descent of quasi-journalist Toni, a country kid striving to make it in the big city. (...) (T)his provocative satire explores both modern Croatia and its discontents and also, like Mother Courage, the human lust for power and money that still spawns war and suffering." - Michele Levy, 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:

       Robert Perišić's Our Man in Iraq is, in fact, a novel that is decidedly of and about Croatia, not Iraq. The narrator, newspaper editor Toni, who works for Objective, does send his cousin Boris off to Iraq to report on the Anglo-American invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003, but this is Toni's story -- though one of the complications he faces is that Boris, though he speaks Arabic, doesn't really seem cut out to be a war correspondent, and sends back increasingly strange e-mails -- until Toni loses contact with him entirely. The fact that Toni forgot to mention that Boris was his cousin when he hired him is just one of the things that will come back to haunt him as the story of the missing reporter becomes bigger news -- fanned by a rival newspaper organization, and helped along by longstanding family-conflicts between Toni's and Boris' mothers -- than is good for Toni.
       Toni has done okay in the new Croatia. He has a decent job -- though his boss is someone he found and hired who figured out how to rise more quickly in the ranks -- and a hot girlfriend who is an actress and with whom he engages in creative, playful sex. He convinces himself he can manage to avoid falling into the trap of bourgeois life, with marriage, a mortgage, and kids, but his avant-garde posing also only gets him so far. But he's been at it for a while:

The fear of someone thinking I was a redneck made me read totally unintelligible postmodernist books, watch unbearable avant-garde plays -- even those where abusing the audience was the basic idea -- and listen to progressive music even when I wasn’t in the mood. I hated everything superficial and populist ! If something became too popular, I couldn’t stand it any more. Even in moments of major inebriation when I felt like sinning by singing a popular refrain, I decided to shut up.
       (Note that the US edition reads slightly differently; so also the above passage and those below, all quoted from the UK edition.)
       Post-communist Croatia is a society of some uncertainty, with roles less precisely defined. Toni suggests:
Acting is a paradigm of our age; everyone is acting some kind of role. Acting is the quintessence of freedom of choice. No one is obliged to inherit an identity any more, everyone can invent themselves and pretend to be Kurt Cobain, Madonna or Bill Gates. There were times when you were born a serf and died a serf. You knew your place. Today everyone can theoretically become anyone, everyone is obliged to search for their persona, to ‘find themselves’. Even Princess Diana tried to find herself. That was what was inexcusable because the royal family is a relic of the pre-dramatic age, a symbol of identity. It had to be exactly what it was.
       But Toni has some trouble in trying and taking on roles -- even as he recognizes that he has often been something of a poseur. Meanwhile, the Croatian free-for-all occasionally allows for a bit too much freedom: among the other stories Toni is following, both professionally and personally, is the collapse of a large regional bank, where he notes that the insider trading that helped put it near its deathbed would be illegal in the United States -- but somehow they forgot to get a law against that on the Croatian books ("How's that possible ?" his boss asks; "‘I don't know,’ I admitted. ‘They went on and on about national pride -- I can’t remember.’").
       Toni even has an idea about a column describing current conditions, selling it as: 'The Red Bull Generation' (but probably also not doing himself any favors by trying to convince his boss by telling him: "It's a phenomenological story"). Drinking his Red Bull he argues that in modern Croatia they've forgotten all patience:
But there’s no more waiting for one’s rights in the market economy. It’s a different sense of time. Time just flows away. And we’ve promised ourselves so much. We’re impatient. Nervous. Speedy. Adverts about life are waved in front of us like a red rag in this hype-ridden bullfight. We puff and pant, gather speed and charge again. We drink Red Bull so it will give us ‘wiiings’. That’s our generation.
       Boris' strange missives from Iraq, and then his silence, are a problem for Toni, and his attempts to fix it only land him deeper in trouble. His girlfriend's acting success, and a friend's investment advice compound his personal problems -- though he does his best to help things along (with feeble excuses along the lines of: "I don’t think I knew what I was doing. When I woke up it was all over.’").
       In trying to explain himself Toni suggests:
     ‘I wanted to see how far I could stretch my luck !’ I told her almost enthusiastically. ‘I wanted to free myself of everything in one fell swoop.’
       Luck isn't really on his side, though everything does work out in the end (hardly ideally for Toni, but it could have been worse ...). Toni obviously isn't quite made for all the demands (or opportunities) of the new Croatia -- and that's okay with him too; he doesn't really need to be. It limits his lot, but then he's more or less fine with that; everyone else's clamoring for attention (amusingly presented especially in the character of Icho Kamera who for decades had: "been chasing every opportunity to go on TV and radio and to get himself in the papers") is rather off-putting to him, and it's no surprise that he winds up doing something where his identity is completely obscured.
       Our Man in Iraq is an entertaining tale of contemporary Croatia in a time of continued uncertainty (as especially those early days of the invasion of Iraq were). Toni is a successfully-drawn and presented protagonist, and the situations he finds himself in plausible enough, even as they begin to verge on the absurd.
       A solid novel, and quite good fun.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 July 2013

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Our Man in Iraq: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Croatian author Robert Perišić was born in 1969.

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© 2013 the complete review

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