Book Review of Escape from Despair: A Croatian Family's Survival

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Katarina Tepesh’s harrowing and engagingly straightforward account of her family history in communist Croatia and then in the United States after fleeing an abusive and alcoholic father in 1968 should be added to the shelf of memoirs of such family legacy, both for the new information it adds as well as for the story it continues to tell. This is the familiar story of the legacy of family trauma, alcoholism, and abuse—and as old as Original Sin. Since the mid-1990s, there has been a rise in literary and cultural accounts of growing up under the dark shadows of alcoholism and mental illness. Mary Karr’s poetic rendering of her East Texas upbringing, The Liars’ Club, is credited with the resurgence of memoir writing. In…show more content…
Conversely, some men that grow up in affluence and freedom, in a secular Eden with “liberated” mothers, can grow up to be abusive toward women. I have personally known both types of men. (Moreover, abuse, although more commonly perpetrated by men, is of course not limited to men.) However, these are minor points in a narrative that flows along at a rapid pace. I would have finished the book in one sitting after its arrival in my mailbox if other duties had not called me away. As it was, I allotted a period of time for reading the next day and finished it, with many insights and provocations to thinking about my own history as a Slovenian immigrant, albeit at the tender age of two. I was particularly drawn to Tepesh’s descriptions of village life. This memoir deserves wide exposure. Given the attention to multiculturalism in schools, it could be added to reading lists as a contribution from an immigrant community hitherto overlooked. (Nonetheless, based on my own experience in academia, I can see the Page 3 political correctness censors clucking in approval of the author’s embrace of feminist causes yet consternated by her realistic picture of life under “Dictator Tito,” with descriptions of luxurious accommodations for the communists while villagers lived in squalor.

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