"Life, for the most part, is trivial," Slavenka Drakulic announced in "How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed," her first collection of essays published in English. "But trivia is political." The wit and candor with which she explored in those pages the relationship between political authority and the trivia of daily life in the former Yugoslavia earned her a spirited readership in the West. Here was a fresh and, more important, reliable guide to a land--terra incognita, for many--about to lay claim to the world's attention.
True, the Communist system had fallen apart, but the habits of thinking inculcated in its citizenry persisted, often in the guise of virulent nationalism. When fighting broke out in Yugoslavia, first in Slovenia, then in Croatia and then, most tragically, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Drakulic chronicled "the other, less visible side of war"--the ways in which war changes one's values, perceptions and thinking.
In "The Balkan Express: Fragments From the Other Side of the War," she described, in poignant terms, how the war stripped Yugoslavs of their individuality and plunged the land into ever-accelerating cycles of destruction and despair.
In her latest collection of personal essays, "Cafe Europa: Life After Communism," Drakulic uses a wider lens to focus on the general plight of Eastern Europeans seven years after the revolution. The Croatian writer, newly married to a Swedish journalist, now divides her time between Zagreb and Vienna, and what she discovers shuttling between her homes, as well as in travels to Bucharest, Budapest, London, Prague, Sofia, Stockholm, Tel Aviv and Tirana, is that she can neither escape her past nor pretend that Eastern Europeans are anything other than second-class citizens. Writing in English, in a supple and felicitous manner, Drakulic suggests how very far she and her countrymen have yet to go to create a civil society. "Even I, in my own head, have not made the definite step from 'them' to 'me,' from communism to democracy," she admits.