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Book Review: Escape from Despair
By Marko Puljić | Published  01/4/2008 | Culture And Arts , Croatian Life Stories | Unrated
Escape from Despair is a profoundly intimate story
Review of "Escape from Despair:  A Croatian Familys Survival"

Salvation as a literary theme has been a constant throughout the centuries, often coupled with what many consider its existential opposite, suffering.   From Dostojevsky and Shakespeare, to the Bible and even J.R.R. Tolkien, suffering and salvation have been the waters into which many a writerly soul has plunged.  

Katarina Tepesh, too, has probed the depths in her compelling and powerful memoir, "Escape from Despair:  A Croatian Family's Survival".  Born into an impoverished family in the former Communist Yugoslavia, Katarina's mother is taught to believe that there are "rewards in heaven and punishment in hell" and that life consisted in working in the fields, attending church, and, for the womenfolk, obedience and submission toward the men of the family.  She dutifully produces a baby every few years, at the expense of her health and in spite of her alcoholic and abusive husband's inability to provide them with even the most basic of necessities.  As her husband continues to drink and incessantly beats her and their six children, the two main support systems in the former Yugoslavia, the Church and the Party, repeatedly fail the suffering family.   The Catholic faith does not permit contraceptives or divorce, which would have resolved two of the major problems in the family - too many children and the cruel monster parading as father and husband - and the self-proclaimed protectors of the people, the corrupt Communists, who totally neglected the "ordinary people" and non-Party members, seeking instead to enrich their political allies.

The litany of suffering and sickness caused by neglect and abuse continues throughout Tepesh's memoir - viral hepatitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and eye infections, chronic tuberculosis, as well as extreme malnourishment, homelessness, and injuries caused by beatings administered by the head of the family.  Yet the author never assumes the role of victim or object of pity, in spite of the horrors she endures.  Instead, she takes the lessons of her nightmare existence to the shores of the United States, where her family finds itself transplanted years later, thanks to the assistance of a lucky aunt who "escaped" across the seas.  There she survives still more challenges to her physical and mental health, including even rape, and eventually learns how her individual suffering and the strength of character that grew from it have enabled her to reach her full potential as an enlightened and educated woman, independent thinker, and powerful advocate for victims of sexual and family abuse.

As John Cheever so wisely wrote:  "Literature has been the salvation of the damned, literature has inspired and guided lovers, routed despair and can perhaps in this case save the world."  Tepesh has certainly saved herself by sharing her profoundly intimate story, and even if her book does not literally "save the world", it serves as a form of salvation on an even more important, intangible level:  in the human heart.  

Reviewed by Julienne Eden Busic, author of "Lovers and Madmen", Gray Sunshine Press.

For additional information see and Publisher's web site with excerpt.  

To order Escape from Despair send a $15.00 check (includes postage) payable to Katarina Tepesh, Gracie Station, P.O. Box 486, New York, New York 10028    

Formatted for CROWN by   Marko Puljić
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