Oleg and Nikola—hustlers, entrepreneurs, ambassadors of capitalism—have come to the town of N to reopen the old turbine factory, preaching the gospel of "self-organization" and bringing new life to the depressed post-communist town. But as the project spins out of control, Oleg and Nikola find themselves increasingly entangled with the locals, for whom this return to past prosperity brings bitter reckonings and reunions.
The Croatian writer Robert Perišić goes out of his way not to tell us where his novel No-Signal Area is set, but...[t]here’s nothing vague about his characters, however, and nothing indefinite about their stories ... Ellen Elias-Bursac, translating from the Croatian, renders distinctively the many voices of No-Signal Area, which moves from character to character often without identifying who’s speaking. Few conform to type ... The polyphonic storytelling enriches this amply populated novel, whose ambitions extend well beyond the Balkans ... In Perišić's poignant telling, the erasure of Yugoslavia and its socialist experiment continues to haunt its people, exes now adrift in a postwar vacancy. This void may be familiar to any reader who no longer feels connection to the divided, damaged nation he or she inhabits.
The farcical tone that opens the latest from the highly acclaimed author...leads to darker and deeper implications within an expansive novel that suggests insanity might be the best way to adapt to the new normal of a world gone mad and that language has blurred any distinction between truth and lies ... Ultimately, these are people caught between -isms, between an unworkable past and an unthinkable future. Toward the end, the third-person narration gives way to a series of first-person soliloquies, and at first it can be a challenge to tell who is speaking—but that confusion ultimately reinforces the sense that individual voices, lives, and fates are being subsumed within the chaos of systems falling apart. The climax finds art markets and revenue streams converging in a way that seems both impossible and inevitable. A sharp, subversive novel of ideas that seems to reflect an era in which ideas themselves are bankrupt.
Impressively blending the absurd, dire, and comic, Perišić relates often tragic events, but his characters somehow manage to persevere. This clever, ambitious take on the influences of capitalism on Eastern Europe will be perfect for fans of Umberto Eco.