cover image Native Land

Native Land

Nadja Tesich. Brookline Books, $15.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-57129-042-7

Although this closely observed, yet rather shallow novel can be read in various ways, it is most rewarding and amusing as a modern morality play about the lingering allure to Americans of Old World rootedness. Narrator Anna, a young American-raised playwright of Yugoslav birth, returns to her native Croatia to attend a bush-league conference on feminist literary theory. While her colleagues bandy opinions on Derrida, Lacan, Duras and Djuna Barnes, she pays more attention to the local color. As the conference winds down, Anna and her friends explore the site of a purported miracle, the town and the beaches. Increasingly alienated from her fellow academics, Anna finds a yearned-for identity among her countrymen, including a sexy distant cousin. From Tesich's (Shadow Partisan) material (ritual and memory reasserting themselves in the aftermath of war) one expects a tragic sensibility (or at least the sensuous nostalgia of, say, Yugoslav director Emir Kusturica's When Father Was Away on Business or Time of the Gypsies), but vapid Anna lives in her head, more thoroughly American in her quest for self-fulfillment than she or Tesich can admit. (Nov.)