Houman Barekat

False pretences: No-Signal Area, by Robert Perisic, reviewed

Two entrepreneurs, posing as philanthropists, reopen a communist-era factory, secretly planning to trade with an Arab dictator

A turbine in a disused communist-era factory. Credit: Alamy

A journalist and poet based in Zagreb, Robert Perišic was in his early twenties when the socialist federal republic of Yugoslavia disintegrated in 1992. Croatia’s transition to capitalism inspired his 2007 novel Our Man in Iraq. Now No-Signal Area explores the
search for meaning in a supposedly post-ideological world.

Set in a fictitious town in a war-ravaged nation somewhere ‘between the East and the West’, it tells of two entrepreneurial cousins, Nikola and Oleg, who reopen a communist-era factory in order to produce an obsolete turbine from the 1980s, with the intention of selling it on the black market to an Arab dictator. They gain the trust of the workers by posing as philanthropists interested in reviving local industry; but it’s a one-off project, an in-and-out job — ‘textbook globalisation. Capital waltzes in, takes what it needs, and leaves’.

Religion and nationalism are back in fashion, ‘and even those who’d left the Communist party only the day before made up for what they’d missed, going so far as to baptise their adult children’. Competitive dinner parties are where it’s at: ‘A new bourgeoisie had risen out of the counterculture and asserted itself in the kitchen.’ The most sympathetic character — and the soul of the novel — is Sobotka, a former union stalwart. His estranged wife and daughter have emigrated to northern Europe, leaving him to wallow in limbo:

On the one hand I believed in the old system and waited… and on the other I believed that once capitalism came, it would look like it does in the West, with certain standards, progress … Between these two beliefs there was nothing to do but wait.

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