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the Complete Review
the complete review - essays

Europe in Sepia

Dubravka Ugrešić

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To purchase Europe in Sepia

Title: Europe in Sepia
Author: Dubravka Ugrešić
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 230 pages
Original in: Croatian
Availability: Europe in Sepia - US
Europe in Sepia - UK
Europe in Sepia - Canada
Europe in Sepia - India
  • Croatian title: Europa u sepiji
  • Translated by David Williams

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nice selection of scenes of/reflections on contemporary (mainly) European life

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Lit. Today . 3-4/2014 Michele Levy

  From the Reviews:
  • "Some might find these essays elitist, even self-aggrandizing, betraying Ugresicís own longings. Yet these acerbic, angry essays lay bare what shapes our world and ourselves: envy, greed, and the forces they unleash -- anarchy and revolution." - 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:

       Europe in Sepia begins with Dubravka Ugrešić visiting Zuccotti Park in 2011 -- the site of the short-lived (at least in any meaningful, visible way) 'Occupy Wall Street'-movement. Ugrešić is looking for the revolution -- but, as the title of the piece ('Nostalgia') already suggests, revolution ain't quite what it used to be. Indeed, much of this collection offers reflections on changed times and circumstance, at several levels -- beginning with that closest to her, the transformation of Yugoslavia from the one relatively unified state in which she was born and raised into its current-many-statelets state.
       Ugrešić -- now living in the Netherlands -- repeatedly notes some of the confusion of the times (in contrast to the relative clarity of Cold War times), finding, for example:

Europe has become a chaotic mega-market. There are now no walls, and no coordinates either; no one knows where the West is, and where the East.
       This lack of clarity and demarcation on some levels nevertheless doesn't make for simple uniformity: there are clear winners and losers, dominant nations (and corporations) and ones that have been sidelined. Ugrešić, who writes in Croatian (a 'language' that itself has been separated from what she grew up with, when Serbo-Croatian encompassed what are now presented (not particularly convincingly) as several separate languages) but lives in another small European country, with its own not-widely-spoken language, sees herself as a person in what she calls the: "out-of-nation zone", abbreviating it as 'the ON-zone'. For all the talk of: "Literature knows no borders" she argues:
But it does matter: The difference lies in the reception of the author's position
     Every text is inseparable from its author, and vice versa; it's just that different authors get different treatment. The difference is whether a text travels together with a male or female author, whether the author belongs to a major or minor literature, writes in a major or minor language [etc.]
       Clearly, this has been her experience, especially in this increasingly market-based world ("Only literature written in major languages enjoy passport-free travel") -- and she certainly seems well-positioned to observe it (in ways that, say, male American authors probably can't). Of course, her focus, in so much of her writing -- here, in her other essays, and her fiction -- on her particular vantage point makes for a sort of tunnel vision as well. Still, given how few voices from languages and cultures the size (and, to put it crudely and cruelly, the (in)significance) of Croatian make it to, especially, the American market it's a perspective well worth having (and a helpful reminder of how many more cultures and languages we don't hear anything at all from).
       Tongue to varying degrees in cheek, Ugrešić repeatedly looks back to simpler, clearer times, too -- including suggesting that:
     Blessed were the times of totalitarian dictatorships and information blockades ! Today, thanks to the information revolution, barely a day goes by without a disturbing piece of news unnerving me. If every revolution eats its children, then this one, the information revolution, is the bloodiest of all.
       Nevertheless, Ugrešić 'flagellates' herself with the news, day and night, and though she presents herself as from a marginalized corner of the world she is, in fact, on top of a great deal. Her perspective remains Europe-centric -- reaching to New York and Jerusalem, but not deeply into, say, Asia or Africa -- but she covers a great deal of ground and is well attuned to the local situations across the continent. She captures modern rootlessness particularly well -- a rootlessness that extends beyond the mere geographic and linguistic, to other aspects of identity as well: the educated professionals reduced to working as taxi drivers or the like, the authors taking up writer-in-residence positions or other 'kept'-positions, all becoming different sorts of cogs in the capitalistic machinery than they had originally envisioned.
       Europe in Sepia is a typical Dubravka Ugrešić-collection, fairly predictable in much of what is covered here, from musing on (and the occasional indulging in a sort of) Yugoslavian nostalgia to the place of the writer, particularly the 'minority' (linguistic- and other-wise) writer, and the spread of the market-based economy in all (and especially the cultural) fields, among other things. There's lots of personal anecdotage, and the usual wide-ranging travels and encounters. But even if it feels, in many ways, familiar, it's still worthwhile: there's enough that's new and more current, but more importantly the writing remains as thoughtful and thought-provoking as always, and especially for an American audience there's a lot here that should be eye-opening. A fine collection.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 February 2014

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Europe in Sepia: 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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© 2014-2021 the complete review

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