“Café Europa: life after communism” by Slavenka Drakulić

I recently finished reading a great book recommended by a friend of mine (who is very enthusiastic about the Balkans) called Café Europa, by Slavenka Drakulić. A collection of beautifully well-written, thought-provoking narratives and interrogative reflections on communist life in former Yugoslavia, Drakulić’s writing brings new life to some age-old questions about nation, society, and the identity of Europe.

All 24 essay/narratives and even the introduction (which reads beautifully and any person would be at a true loss for skipping it) are phenomenal. Drakulić can certainly write and it is no surprise that she has been compared to Duras, Beckett, and Camus.

The contents of her essays are also beautifully crafted – each with its own point of focus, its own short story or reflection that contributes to the greater discourse of the book on the whole. There’s no doubt that each reader will find his or her own connection with a few essays in particular. For me, I found myself most touched by “My Frustration with Germany”, “A Croat among Jews”, and “My Father’s Guilt”. I think these essays really show the difficulty, on both levels of the state and the individual, of dealing with the greater guilt and responsibility of a nation/people. I cannot agree more with the importance of remembering our own actions in history – good and bad – as both nations and individuals. Drakulić’s conclusion that both the nation and the self need to participate in the recognition of history reminds me of Joan Didion’s essay “On Self-Respect”.

Great book. Great author. I can’t wait to read another one of her works. Drakulić, for me, has also managed to breach my ignorance of the deeply complicated and poorly understood western Balkans. Ironically, I saw Ambassador Avni Spahiu of Kosovo speak this evening and I am feeling more and more drawn to the region. Maybe I should learn some BCS and some Albanian.

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