I picked this anthology up because I've enjoyed the work of several of the British contributors (especially Ben Richards, Tony White, and John Williams) and also because I spent a few weeks in Croatia on my honeymoon, traveling up the Dalmatian coast. Since that trip, I've been curious as to what kind of fiction is coming out of the new Croatia, so this collection of "alternative literature" written during 2003-2004 seemed to fit the bill. The slim, 200 page book contains 19 stories contributed by nine British and nine Croatian writers (most of whom had not previously had any work translated into English).
The literary festival which gave birth to this collaboration is notably anti-nationalist in tone, and thus the stories are generally dark slices of life that steer clear of any explicit political or historical material. While this is an admirable separation of art and politics, it also has the effect of somewhat diluting the stories' setting. Only Niall Griffiths and Ben Richard's stories give the reader any true sense of place. In general, the Croatian stories tend to be rather domestic affairs, about relationships, family, and sex. They're not bad, but they feel like they could have come out of almost any urban writer's workshop in the world. Without broader cultural knowledge or context from the reader, there's little that makes them notably "Croatian" -- which is perhaps the point.
The British stories tend to skew toward the writer-as-tourist variety, as (perhaps wisely) they tend to provide the perspective of the Englishperson just passing through. Protagonists include former Education Minister, has-been punk musician, lone traveler, middle-class tourist couple, single father with son, female writer, nondescript tourist, and two couples traveling together. While these are all generally well-written vignettes, the protagonists' experiences are again not particularly specific to Croatia. And it's somewhat disappointing that almost all of the stories are set in Zagreb (Niall Griffiths' story "Split" is set in the city of the same name).
Overall, it's a decent middle-of-the-road collection with no terrible stories, but few memorable ones either. Toby Litt's "The Tourist" is a Gogolesque piece notable for its contrast in tone to the rest of the anthology. John Williams brings his musical perspective to bear in "The Ballad of Mott the Hoople", which captures the emptiness of being on tour well after one's glory years. Jelena Carija's "Junk Food Kills, Doesn't It?" is a scary, and yet empowering, story of a confrontation between a lout and two women. Goran Tribuson's "Ultimate Fighting" is a very funny piece about a hapless returnee's attempt to start an mixed martial arts club. Those interested in modern Croatian literature can check out the four books available in English from contributors to this anthology: Vladimir Arsenijevic's "In the Hold", Miljenko Jergovic's "Sarajevo Marlboro", Gordan Nuhanovic's "Survival League", and Edo Popovic's "Zagreb, Exit South".