“Ugresic must be numbered among what Jacques Maritain called the dreamers of the true; she draws us into the dream.”
“The Ministry of Pain is a shiningly weird and powerful novel...[it] approaches perfection.”
“This sorrowful tale packs a powerful punch.”
“[A] powerful novel of ideas.”
“[The Ministry of Pain] is a disturbing read that should have you in its thrall.”
“Ugresic’s books contain some of the most profound reflections on culture, memory and madness you will ever read.”
“Soulful, often searing...This is a work that comes from the gut, one that deserves to be read.”
New York Times Book Review
“The Ministry of Pain is a masterly novel.”
“This edgy, extraordinary novel . . . offers universal insights into what it is like to lose home, nationality and language.”
The Sunday Times (London)
“Splendidly ambitious...She is a writer to follow. A writer to be cherished.”
“Ugresic’s cunning, subtle technique is at its most powerful here.”
Dubravka Ugresic's novel -- if you care about language and how it fails and sometimes succeeds at defining the human condition -- approaches perfection. The translation, the handling of dialects and nuances of what is essentially the same language in five or six different versions, is masterly.
The Ministry of Pain will put the fear of God -- or more likely man -- into you. The Washington Post
This cerebral, relentlessly bleak novel bears witness to the "convalescence" of exiles from the former Yugoslavia, Slavic literature professor Tanja Lucic and her students, persevering in Amsterdam in the wake of ethnic cleansing back home. They call themselves "our people" because their native Yugoslavia no longer exists; they refer to "our language" to avoid the "politically incorrect" term, Serbo-Croatian. The way war shreds and disfigures language parallels the way in which refugee living chews up the dignity of Tanja and her students, many of whom work in the punishing clothing sweatshop of the novel's title. Tanja conducts class as group therapy, playing a game of "Yugonostalgia" to come to terms with their horrifying past. The following semester, she is told to shape up her methods, and she turns the class into a serious literary study. Her earlier unorthodox pedagogy backfires, however, triggering a violent climax, after which Tanja truly falls apart. Ugresic (the acclaimed Fording the Stream of Consciousness) writes piercing observations of everyday Amsterdam and of the elder generation in Zagreb. But Tanja's narration, which combines ongoing if eloquent meditation on language and a numb, distanced approach to overwhelming loss, lends the novel an East bloc sterility. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
A Croatian intellectual's flight to the Netherlands from the ruins of Yugoslavia yields striking vignettes of emotional shellshock, linguistic displacement and limbo-like stasis. Tanja Lucic arrives from Zagreb armed with flimsy prospects (she's been offered a job teaching the no-longer-extant "Yugoslav literature" at the University of Amsterdam), biting wit and nightmares for memories. As the international trial of Serb leaders gets underway next door in the Hague, Lukic turns her class into a kind of group therapy for her spooked and feral compatriots. Luckily for the reader, Yugoslavian-born Ugresic is not your average immigrant author relating banal travails of assimilation; she is worldly, skeptical and refreshingly cranky. The first-person narrator has a fictional name, but the narrative's language and the attitude are markedly similar to those displayed in Have a Nice Day (1995), the author's memoir of an academic stint in the United States. That tale unsparingly condemned Americans as infantile joy addicts; Ugresic, who now lives in Amsterdam, is somewhat more charitable toward the Dutch. Here, they essentially form a colorless mass of extras against whom to better etch broken silhouettes of "ours," as Tanja calls her fellow expatriates. Passionless about passion-a one-night stand is a "minor transaction of mutual aid involving the commixture of bodily fluids"-Ugresic's heroine burns with love for her native language and fury toward those who divide it into parochial subdivisions. Toward the end, the plot veers into unexpected and not entirely welcome psychosexual melodrama, as Tanja enjoys a sadomasochistic encounter rife with all sorts of neat Kundera-esque significance (cf. thetitle). Ironically, with all the high tragedy in the wings, it's when Ugresic's sharp gaze turns to the minute and the arcane (a female character speaks with "high-pitched sh's and sch's") that her novel achieves inimitable, devastating clarity.