Although Ugresic calls Holland home, she is essentially a woman without
a country, having been uprooted from her birthplace by a fascist-like
government that threatened to murder her for writing the truth about it.
She also received death threats from the other ex-Yugoslav countries who
fought each other for religious reasons in the Balkan war of the 1990s.
Her crime? Having described their citizens and leaders as crazed and evil.
"I wonder where this appalling evil came from, this cruelty, this
mindless destruction," she asks in AMERICAN FICTIONARY. "What
is this dreadful need to destroy everything that was built up, to burn,
raze it to the ground, where does it come from? What is this urge to kill
for the sake of killing, without reason or aim, where does it come from?
What also enrages her is the incomprehension of almost everyone she meets
in the West about the Balkan war. That includes the shrink she goes to
in New York for help with her despair and fury. "I presented her
with a brief history of Yugoslavia's debacle. I talk about mythic, tribal
thinking, about primitive savagery, illiteracy, the criminal mentality,
about theft, lies, the legitimation of lies, about the culture of lies,
the pigheadedness, the new-fangled rural psyche that weeps as it murders
and murders as it weeps."
The shrink's reaction? "Give me something more concrete," she
begs. "I don't understand a thing you're saying."
Much of AMERICAN FICTIONARY deals with Ugresic's attempt to adjust to
life in the West, especially in the USA (where she taught for some years
at Wellesley). She writes trenchantly but also wittily about her attempts
to cope with life in New York: Donald Trump, Coca-Cola, TV, consumerism,
jogging, "the dictatorship of happiness" churned out for years
by the media and now "imitated zealously by life."
She goes on to ask, "Will Americans begin to wonder how it is that
they--who have believed their whole lives in ideologemes about individualism,
individual choice, personalness--are so remarkably like their next-door
neighbors? The American media market, which anticipates all problems by
immediately giving them voice, offers its new, great, global safeguarding
idea of self-esteem. Work on self-esteem (national, professional, age-specific,
physical, private, sexual) anticipates the awareness of defeat, the awareness
that something isn't quite right after all--because this implies in advance
that something is wrong. Work on self-esteem is a form of ego-training
as a safeguard, a new fashion product on the American market of ideas."
There are insights like that on just about every page of AMERICAN FICTIONARY.
Ugresic never fails to edify and engage, thanks to her humor and wisdom,
her honesty and humanity. Here's a typical sample of the way she looks
back on her life in exile, taken from the final section of AMERICAN FICTIONARY:
"Since that long-ago 1991 when I found myself in New York in mid-October,
when a war that would last for the next four years was just beginning
in my homeland, I have been without a homeland. I have a home, though
not in the country where I was born, so I am not homeless. I have a passport
and a tax ID number, so I am not stateless, nor am I country-less. The
condition of 'exhausting mental and emotional simultaneity,' the 'frenzied
crisscrossing of parallel worlds,' with which I diagnosed myself in 1991
at the time of the war in Yugoslavia and my sojourn in America, became,
in time, my lifestyle. So I travel, I collect places, people and situations
as if they are souvenir-substitutes for a "homeland." All these
places (people and situations) stir in me a feeling that eludes translation
into language. The feeling is closer to melancholy than nostalgia, closer
to presentiment than regret. The most compelling part is how arbitrary
this is. I can never predict what this feeling will evoke, just as I don't
know whether I am a hunter out to snare capricious "homeland"
sentiments or whether I am their prey, whether I'm the "adopter"
or the "adoptee."