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Café Europa: Life After Communism

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Book Overview

This description may be from another edition of this product. Today in Eastern Europe the architectural work of revolution is complete: the old order has been replaced by various forms of free market economy and de jure democracy. But as Slavenka Drakulic...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Scintillating review of the post-Communist world...

...which still applicable today, several years since the original publishing of Drakulic's amazing book. For someone such as myself who's spent a great deal of time in the post-Communist former Bloc, I indentified very strongly with the views put forth by this author. I hasten to add that such identification was instantaneous. I also learned a heck of a lot; a great deal more, in fact than I thought I knew at the outset, and especially about Croatia and its storied past (the author is Croatian -- Istrian, in fact -- and quite impressively knows the history of her nation and of the former Yugoslavia more generally, like the back of her hand). I wish I had that kind of accessible knowledge. I'm humbled... Were I able to speak to the author today, I'd probe her for her latest reflections on several of the ideas she put forth almost a decade ago. I'd even attempt to cajole her to pen a sequel...so much has changed, and the instability (sometimes constructive, though more often explosive) has continued to pummel and plague and thereby radically alter the identities of many of these newly democratic states. I'm sure what was the case in 1995 is no longer extant in many of these nations... Drakulic is deliciously bold in this compact non-fictional winner. She refuses to accept Croatia's latter day nationalistic dogmas and the 'superiority slogans' bandied about by her patriotic peers. Within Cafe Europa's pages, she refuses to accept anything glibly declared by her compatriots 'for granted,' and there remain no sacred cows, and no stones unturned: everything is up for discussion, every so-called truth is up for grabs. For that reason alone, I'd personally have to say her credibility is unassailable. You might wonder whether what awards someone such 'instant credibility' is in their willingness to lambaste the conventional wisdom of their relevant societies -- to wit, if Drakulic wasn't as willing to chisel away at what Croatians think makes them tick, would she be any less credible? I don't know. That wasn't the tack she took, therefore hard to judge her work on that basis...I suppose what I'm really trying to say in a roundabout way is that I don't have anything against Croatians, and just because she was willing to bash her compatriots doesn't make her any more credible in my eyes. It's not a prerequisite for credibility...having that said that, her candour is yet quite impressive. Fascinating how so many inspiring factoids were contained in this short and spirited read. It ended way too soon, Cafe Europa did...now that another decade's passed, I think the time's come for perhaps a revisiting of this theme? Five-stars all the way.

Balkan mentality

Excellent book, Slavenka Drakulic is very perceptive and understands Balkan mentality better than anybody. I really enjoyed reading this book, and other books from Drakulic as well. Sometimes, it seems like Drakulic is balancing between two worlds-one of reality and the other of fantasy. Very good reading and it will give you an insight into the minds of people living in parts of Southeast Europe.

Opens your eyes to life in Eastern Europe. Read it!

Subtitled "Life After Communism", this is a collection of articles by Slavenka Drakulic, a Croatian journalist who has become a spokesperson to the West about life in Eastern Europe. Raised in the 1950s, she grew up in a tightly controlled world under communism. She's a product of that system as well as a witness to all the changes that have occurred in her world. Privileged because of her many trips to Western Europe, and married to a Swedish journalist, she has a unique perspective which she shares on the pages of this short but very eye-opening book. I was so intrigued that I read it all at one sitting and rushed to my computer to print out a map of the Balkans so that I could see for myself where the places were.Her native land of Croatia has gone through many changes recently and yearns to be considered part of Western Europe. Several cafes have opened called "Café Europa" which try to imitate those in Vienna. But the coffee is served in heavy utilitarian cups and the pastries lack the taste and delicacy of what can be found just a few miles, but yet a world away in Austria. Ms. Drakulic writes with humor and as well as irony and passion as she discusses this and other aspects of life in her part of the world. Such as that it is impossible it is to find a clean toilet, equipped with soap, toilet paper and running water anywhere in Bucharest, the capital of Romania.There are the constant humiliations of having to cross borders and have to show her Croatian passport. And the way she and other Eastern Europeans are distrusted reach farther than just the border crossings. She talks about consumer goods and how she and others constantly have to smuggle them across the border. One especially interesting story is how she and her husband argued about whether to smuggle a vacuum cleaner to Croatia or be willing to buy it at home and pay an inflated price.She travels a lot and picks up details of the character of a place. For example, when she visits Sofia, which is the capital of Bulgaria, she is very aware that nobody smiles. To smile, in that culture, is perceived as a sign of subservience and weakness. This is just the opposite in the United States, where everyone smiles and thanks you for your business even though a phrase like "how are you today" doesn't mean that anybody cares. She also was impressed with the way that Americans value their perfect and well-kept teeth. When she returned to Croatia, she looked at the teeth of her fellow Croatians and discovered that many people had missing or rotten teeth. Even the people who could afford dental care didn't get it. It just wasn't important to them.But have no allusions. This book is not just about these rather enlightening cross-cultural social discoveries. She goes deeply into the history of Croatia and the war crimes during WW2. And her trip to Israel and how she was constantly asked about whether or not she carried any guilt even though she was born after the War. She talk

Now you know...

If you're wondering about the impact of revolutions, falling dictotatorial regimes and the end of Communism in Eastern Europe, Cafe Europa will answer your questions. I've read third-person reportage and scholarly works on the Balkans, the region's history, and the political issues, but the daily life of those who live here has rarely been presented to me in such a personal and descriptive way. Slavenka Drakulic makes powerful associations and draws connections that allow the reader more opportunities for insights about how the people have in many ways stayed the same, and yet how the changes in government impact daily life in the tiniest and most intimate ways.The book is easy to pick up and put down, as it has topical chapters that stand beautifully as separate pieces, but that culminate powerfully in the final chapters for a strong overall effect.

Cafe Europa serves up a good cup

Slavenka Drakulic is unquestionably a perceptive and keen observer of what is happening in Easter Europe today. However, in my opinion, she is an even better observer of the human condition in general. In fact, for me, this book went beyond the scope of the topic of Easter Europe and its people and, in a way, felt like a more general philosophical analysis of people and history. With her detailed examination of the discourteous behavior of an Easter European hotel receptionist towards Westerners, or the ingratiation with which a Croatian journalist interviews an alleged concentration camp commander or even the true meaning behind an American "hello, how are you," Drakulic exhibits an uncanny ability to read people and cultures and to understand human nature thereby enabling us to better understand ourselves.
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