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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Dubravka Ugrešić

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To purchase Fox

Title: Fox
Author: Dubravka Ugrešić
Genre: Novel
Written: 2017 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 308 pages
Original in: Croatian
Availability: Fox - US
Fox - UK
Fox - Canada
  • Croatian title: Lisica
  • Translated by David Williams and Ellen Elias-Bursać

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Our Assessment:

B+ : another appealing, far-reaching consideration of writing and the writer-life

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly A+ 22/1/2018 .
Wall St. Journal . 20/4/2018 Sam Sacks
World Lit. Today . 5-6/2018 Michele Levy

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ugrešić's novel is a wonder; itís essential reading for writers and lovers of writing alike." - Publishers Weekly

  • "You canít pin her down, and thatís her game. Translators Ellen Elias-Bursać and David Williams have succeeded in carrying over this writerís pokerfaced humor and love of irony. " - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

  • "Like Borges’s forking paths, the narrator’s tale meanders, its six parts marked by digression, disruption, and footnotes. Conflating the real and the imagined to problematize both, drawing epigraphs from Brodsky, Bulgakov, Nabokov, a fictional author, a Hollywood movie, and a Bulgarian folk song, Ugrešić’s globe-trotting novel investigates many of her trademark issues: the migrant’s plight, cultural commodification, the curse of nationalism, and the whitewashing of history." - 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:

       Fox is a six-part novel, written in the first person, a personal fiction that, both in structure (each of the parts with its own arc that make them feel more self-contained than episodic) and voice, often resembles memoir as well as literary essay. The scenes-from-a-life and the literary rumination are far-ranging, but there are enough common threads running through the work, with Ugrešić circling back to places, times, and people, to make for a cohering whole.
       The first part of the novel is billed as: 'A Story about How Stories Come to Be Written' -- but then the entire novel (and, indeed, practically Ugrešić's entire œuvre) reads as an exploration of how stories come to be written (and what better way to do that than by telling stories ?). The central figure here is Russian author Boris Pilnyak (1894-1938), who wrote a work entitled 'A Story about How Stories Come to Be Written' (which, in turn, might be inspired by Japanese author Tanizaki Jun'ichirō); Ugrešić once worked on a master's thesis about Pilnyak, and also describes the year she spent in Moscow in the mid-1970s doing research. Ugrešić finds and draws various connections -- here and throughout --, personal reminiscences combining with literary history and analysis.
       Other Russian authors -- exiles, in particular -- also figure later in the novel, including Vladimir Nabokov, but much of Ugrešić's focus is on the Soviet scene before the worst of Stalin's excesses (and then also the effects of the 1930s crackdowns). As she notes: "Pilnyak lived in a time when the literary word was powerful and central", and one of the things she struggles with is how relatively insignificant literature has become in our times. This is reflected both in the international literary scene -- there are numerous episodes of her travelling to literary festivals and academic conferences, which are mostly pretty sad scenes -- and in the question the writer-in-our-times constantly faces:

I live in a time when words have been shunted into a corner. How can one expect users of new technologies, those who have undergone physical and mental metamorphosis, whose language consists of pictures and symbols, to be willing and able to read something that until recently was called a literary text, and today appears under the widely adopted term book ?
       She has to admit, at one conference she is invited to:
Literature, whether I liked it or not, was simply no longer the focus. Even I found the panel about Russian adolescent gangs far more compelling than the papers on a publicly over-rated, effete, middle-aged post-communist writer who had created a literary universe all his own of interest to no one.
       Even as she envies the early Soviet writers from the OBERIU-group, when literature was so meaningful, she notes also their tragic fates, and the fragility of any sense of larger or national stability is reflected both in this and her own experiences in Yugoslavia, and its collapse. Literature can be a way of trying to grasp and handle reality, but history and events can overwhelm, too -- certainly in the moment -- and many of her examples are of lives pushed to extremes by and in political-historical turmoil. One section of the novel features her returning to the Yugoslavia, and a few weeks in a house she inherits there. Though the war is over, everything is still marked by it; the man who has been living in the house is a sapper, working on clearing the landmines still strewn about, still a danger. The way she describes her time there makes it feel almost like a dream, a brief plunge into the still dark and uncontrollable reality of her homeland, a beyond-literature (even as she does capture it, or try to, in a story).
       As she emphasizes, explicitly and implicitly, stories come from experience, and Ugrešić repeatedly offers examples, of her own, and of others. From the everyday-domestic -- scenes with her young niece -- to literary-historical accounts, such as about Nabokov's 1941 cross-country trip (and the woman who drove the Nabokovs, Dorothy Leuthold, one of the many fringe and forgotten figures Ugrešić brings to the fore in her book), Fox is also more than just variations on its themes; it helps that the stories and accounts are also engaging and well-crafted.
       The fox of the title is of course also one of the threads running through the book -- though fortunately not forced onto and into everything. This symbol -- "the mythological embodiment of treachery, cunning, and betrayal", among other things -- is also a largely solitary, and elusive animal -- and flits as such through the novel, one more connection to the well-structured whole.
       Almost meandering, in its six distinct parts, Fox is an expansive and thought-provoking read, both enjoyable and moving. It stands well enough on its own, too, but is also another welcome piece of the larger, very much of-a-piece Ugrešić œuvre as a whole.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 March 2018

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Fox: 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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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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