KARAOKE CULTURE ISBN 9781934824597, Open Letter, U of Rochester (NY) nonprofit, literary translation press, an e-book by Dubravka Ugresic. (Translators David Williams, Ellen Elias-Bursac and Celia Hawksworh.)

The author was born after WW II in the part of Yugoslavia that now is Croatia. With cessation of the 1991 war that dissolved the country. She was a “product of Yugoslavia post-war culture that, in spite of its proclaimed future orientation was clearly deeply immersed in the wartime past. I am a witness to the recent “Yugoslav” disintegration, the change of ideological and political systems and the collapse of a cultural system”. (Strategies listed: to erase the past by burning books, deletion of bibliographies, rewritten school texts and official “truths” fabrication of history along with disappearance of an untold number of people.) Ugresic’s firm anti-nationalistic stand exposed her to persistent media assessment naming her a traitor, ‘witch’ and more. This book expresses, quite succinctly in areas, her obvious resentment but also quite clearly describes the tremendous inter-nation hostility that reached quite distinct levels of almost nonsensical proportions; e.g., accusations that although a Croatian, she was expressing too strongly a depth of Serbian influence. She further states that she believes European writers are too accustomed to lugging the baggage of their states with them acting as the country’s representatives espousing its history, politics, national and religious beliefs, its communities and homeland. Her desire would be to see a Republic of Literature established where admittance would be by production of a piece of literature that did not espouse these causes, but instead was pure literary in nature. She believes unfortunately that such establishment probably would be “dangerous for Europe, its foundation and its future.” Her presentation is not limited exclusively to this theme but largely is a memoire that covers a wide range of activities in numerous countries throughout Europe and the United States with often fascinating pertinent remarks. She now resides in Holland.

Discussion: the author has exhibited a superb breadth of knowledge of a vast number of subjects and a skill at very aptly expressing her feelings thoughts and preferences, whether serious or amusing as is her discussion on the almost universal existence of a ‘mini-bar’ in each hotel room and the psychological aspects raised by its presence. A most important inclusion to this book is to give credit to the very excellent manner in which the translators were able to so beautifully capture even many of the author’s innuendos. David Williams, pursuing his doctoral research at the University of Auckland, has centered on Ugresic’s writings and “the idea of a “literature of the Eastern European ruins.”” Ellen Elias-Bursac is an award-winning translator of Yugoslavian writers. Celia Hawkesworth, now a retired freelance writer and translator, was Senior Lecturer in Serbian and Croatian at the school of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London.

Conclusion: The Oxford dictionary states that the origin of Karaoke is Japanese and means “empty orchestra”. For this volume, such a definition provides the large number of ‘unsupported songs’ that initiate interesting corollary thoughts to accompany the book’s descriptive content. The author has set forth many subjects upon which the reader can spend almost endless time pursuing on many levels, not the least of which have cogent similarities to what is happening in today’s chaotic political and cultural structure within the United States and parenthetically I’ve just heard, in the small South American Country of Ecuador. This is a most worthy addition to the University of Rochester’s literary collection and recommended to those who enjoy reading books that simultaneously offer material of interest on many levels.

5* for the reader who enjoys a well-written, thought-producing read.

Confessions of a Neighbor

Confessions of a Neighbor ISBN: 9780998012902, Plum Tree Press, an e-book by Heather Nadine Lenz.

Plot: A prologue describes Ella struggling to survive in freezing water while attempting to save her very young daughter from drowning. The actual tale then begins with a lovely seventeen-year-old who was struggling with a massive load of problems: 1) the recent loss of her only family, her mother and most loving grandmother. 2) the three had moved constantly to different cities/countries because her mother was ‘fleeing the Russian Mafia’; 3) she is struggling to attempt to succeed in ballet, like her mother who was a featured ballerina in several ballet companies. 4) she had no idea of her father’s identity; 5) money was scarce, necessitating her working as a waitress while attempting to maintain her ballet training schedule; 6) she was attempting to deal not only with the overriding depressing effects of losing the two most important people in her life, but also had absolutely no supportive friends; 7) she mistakenly becomes involved in a relationship with a neighbor that gradually develops into a devastating nightmare; 8) the fact that she ultimately discovers that her mother suffered from a delusional problem which adds still another dimension to her distress The story gradually unfolds describing the manner in which each of the problems eventually is met and dealt with and provision of further detail would be a great disservice to the prospective reader.

Discussion: The author has produced a volume that provides an intriguingly convoluted plot that certainly would have been highly placed on Oprah Winfrey’s recommended reading list. It has all of the elements of a suspenseful thriller with abundant elements for sustained emotional stress being suffered by an unsophisticated young woman.

5* for devotees of suspenseful emotional thrillers involving an appealing, naive young woman.