The Ministry of Pain

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The Ministry of Pain A Novel

Most, she assumes, aren't serious students, either, but attending university makes it easier for them to justify their presence in the Netherlands to the authorities. For the first semester Tanja doesn't try very hard to offer much of a literature course, using class-time more creatively, setting only small assignments, and treating it largely as a sort of general psychotherapy session for all.

Denounced by her students, she is warned to take things more seriously, and goes to the other extreme in the second semester, turning it into a rigorous literature lesson with, predictably, very few of the students then bothering to show up. Much of the novel is a wallow in the exile-experience, with a strong dose of Yugonostalgia.

All the characters have suffered a loss, if only by their displacement. Tanja, in particular, is largely anchorless, drifting through Amsterdam.


Even when she returns to Zagreb for a brief visit, she can't find her way and only partly because all the street names have been changed. Tanja believes: "Language was our common trauma", and story-telling, the sharing of experience, is her attempt to make it somehow manageable. The book is largely anecdotal: memories, observations, experiences, woven together. Everything you remember and consider important. The country is no more. Why not salvage what you don't want to forget.

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What makes Ugresic's work particularly compelling is her method. More than just variations on a theme, she posits, suggests, and presents completely different approaches. This, again, is not a book slowly built up out of uniform pieces, a house of cards. Instead, it's like a series of pin-pricks, each coming in an unexpected place. She connects them enough to have an over-arching story -- a year in Amsterdam, to reduce it to the most basic level --, and she integrates them well enough that they don't even seem for the most part tangential, but underneath that it really is a very loose collection.

Much is made of stories, Tanja's own as well as those of the students. But language here is suspect even at the fundamental level, it being questionable whether their common tongue -- Serbo-Croatian -- even still exists any longer. Well, our psychiatrist turned out to be one of 'ours', a refugee like us.

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And you know what she told us? Find a little crazy streak in you. Think up a trauma or two if need be. I don't want to lose my job. The Yugoslavian experience differs in some ways from many other refugee-groups of recent times, specifically because they generally had an easier time gaining a solid foothold abroad than most refugees do as is also the case with Tanja and her students. Nevertheless, Ugresic's account also communicates the universals of the exile-experience -- indeed, it reaches as far as the widespread feeling of being at sea in this fast-changing world that is similar to the experience of the exile, as more and more of us lose the anchor of history and the familiar.

Description Tanja Lucic teaches at the University of Amsterdam and lives on the edge of the city's red light district. She and her pupils, fleeing the violent break-up of their homeland Yugoslavia, have found temporary refuge in the Department of Slavonic Languages. Desperate to make ends meet, many of the students find work at the 'Ministry' a fetish-wear factory in North Amsterdam.

Dealing With Ministry Pain

Meanwhile, Tanja and her student Igor form a dangerously close relationship that threatens to unleash all the tensions of life in exile. With her sharp and melancholy observations, Dubravka Ugresic illuminates with savage compassion our shared human homelessness.

Review quote Virginia Woolf writes in the prelude to a war, Dubravka Ugresic in the aftermath of one: both are vivid in their denunciations of destructive forces and in their evocation of what is at stake. About Dubravka Ugresic Dubravka Ugresic works have been translated into many languages.

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She has been compared favourably with writers such as Vladimir Nabokov, Joseph Brodsky, Milan Kundera and Virginia Woolf, and was recently awarded Italy's prestigious Premio Letterario prize for best foreign author. She entered self-imposed exile when Croatia's late president, Franjo Tudjman, proclaimed Croatia to be 'Paradise on Earth' in the early s. He translated Dubravka Ugresic triple prize-winning novel Fording the Stream of Consciousness in Rating details.

The Ministry of Pain by Dubravka Ugresic | | Booktopia

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