cover image The Museum of Unconditional Surrender

The Museum of Unconditional Surrender

Dubravka Ugresic. New Directions Publishing Corporation, $24.95 (238pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1421-6

This unconventional novel by Croatian writer Ugresic is a collection of fragments--short essays, journal entries, stories, factual items, descriptions of place--that combine to evoke the distinct ""point of pain"" experienced by a political exile. The book is divided into seven parts, four taking place in present-day Berlin, the unnamed Yugoslavian narrator's place of ""temporary exile."" The Berlin pieces consist of numbered sections, some only a few lines or a paragraph, which convey city facts (""Under the grassy surface of the hill pulsate 26 million cubic metres of rubble from the ruins of Berlin, collected and dragged here after the Second World War""); thoughts about exile; quotations about Berlin, exile and art; and descriptions of friends, many of whom are themselves artists whose works reflect themes of fragmentation and attempts to reclaim lost or scattered memories. Another series of fragments consists of six stories, some set in America, loosely connected by themes of rootlessness, memory, disorientation. ""Part Six"" of the novel is a tale about seven women friends in Zagreb who encounter a prophetic angel shortly before ""the local apocalypse""; the angel allows only the narrator to remember the occasion and give testimony. Recurring images and themes--the photo album or the museum, for instance--draw together the ""bits and pieces,"" while the domestic details--meals, meetings, shopping expeditions--keep the work anchored firmly in the realm of day-to-day existence. Complex, intelligent and challenging, this unusual novel is rendered impressively accessible by Ugresic's human, vulnerable voice. (Oct.)