I come from a dark place. Postwar Yugoslavia, the mid-1940s to the mid-’70s. A Communist dictatorship, Marshal Tito in charge. Perpetual shortages of everything, drabness everywhere. There is something about Communism and socialism—it’s a kind of aesthetic based on pure ugliness. The Belgrade of my childhood didn’t even have the monumentalism of Red Square in Moscow. Everything was somehow secondhand. As though the leaders had looked through the lens of someone else’s Communism and built something less good and less functional and more fucked-up. I always remember the communal spaces—they would be painted this dirty green color, and there were these naked bulbs that gave off a gray light that kind of shadowed the eyes. The combination of the light and the color of the walls made everyone’s skin yellowish-greenish, like they were liver-sick. Whatever you did, there would be a feeling of oppression, and a little bit of depression. Whole families lived in these massive, ugly apartment blocks. Young people could never get an apartment for themselves, so every flat would contain several generations—the grandmother and grandfather, the newlywed couple, and then their children. It created unavoidable complications, all these families jammed into very small places. The young couples had to go to the park or the cinema to have sex. And forget about ever trying to buy anything new or nice….My family didn’t have to endure all this. My parents were war heroes—they fought against the Nazis with the Yugoslav partisans, Communists led by Tito—and so after the war they became important members of the Party, with important jobs. My father was appointed to Marshal Tito’s elite guard; my mother directed an institute that supervised historic monuments and acquired artwork for public buildings. She was also the director of the Museum of Art and Revolution. Because of this, we had many privileges. We lived in a big apartment in the center of Belgrade—Makedonska Street, number 32. A large, old-fashioned 1920s building, with elegant ironwork and glass, like an apartment building in Paris. We had a whole floor, eight rooms for four people—my parents, my younger brother, and me—which was unheard of in those days. Four bedrooms, a dining room, a huge salon (our name for the living room), a kitchen, two bathrooms, and a maid’s room. The salon had shelves full of books, a black grand piano, and paintings all over the walls. Because my mother was the director of the Museum of the Revolution, she could go to painters’ studios and buy their canvases—paintings influenced by Cézanne and Bonnard and Vuillard, also many abstract works.
If you buy a Kindle copy you can get the whole book narrated by M.A. herself for only 2.99.
Even though it is not an easy read nor it is an easy listening, the book is a pure delight. I can’t resist highlighting something on almost every page.