Book Review: 'Our Man In Iraq'

Critic Alan Cheuse reviews the novel Our Man in Iraq by Robert Perisic.

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The new novel "Our Man in Iraq" is not the view of Iraq we've grown accustomed to. It comes from Robert Perisic, a leading writer in Croatia. Here's Alan Cheuse with our review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: The man in Iraq of the title, though we never meet him, by all accounts he's a not so mentally stable fellow named Boris, a cousin of the narrator, Toni. Toni is a wiseguy newsman in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. In a cynical gesture, he gets his cousin Boris the job of Iraq correspondent for a Zagreb newspaper and newswire where he's employed, except that Toni rewrites his cousin's reports.

So, Boris' reporting is a bit of a hoax as is Croatia itself, as Toni describes it. He calls it the backwoods of Europe but yet a new society, a society with constantly changing backdrops and new illusions. The Eastern European post-communist version of the American Dream, he says. There was no House of Lords, no landed gentry or old bourgeoisie, only the former Socialist working people who'd spruced themselves up, and now crowded forward in a carnivalesque exertion, grasping for the stars.

The novelist accentuates the carnivalesque in daily Zagreb life, which includes Toni's life with his aspiring actress girlfriend, Sanja, and their rambunctious writer, artist and theater crowd. Red Bull is the drink of choice for this hip, nervous, faddish bunch of characters. Life, fervor, taking things to the limit - that's their motto, according to Toni.

And Robert Perisic does his best to reveal them to us in all their jumpiness, their longings, their aspirations and desires, all against the backdrop of the recent war in Iraq, which we hear about in the doctored reports coming from cousin Boris. Nothing so inauthentic in this novel itself. This jiving - and I should say X-rated story - stays with us. Toni and his sexy, jumpy crowd from what's actually a rather exciting corner of Europe.

SIEGEL: "Our Man in Iraq," written by Robert Perisic, translated by Will Firth, and reviewed by our man of letters, Alan Cheuse.

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