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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.)
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This novel poses some interesting philosophical questions--who are you, what are you, and what are your memories when your country has disintegrated and even your language has been politicized out of existence? That's what has happened to the narrator and protagonist, Tanja Lucic, ethnically a Croatian, formerly a Yugoslav. Exiled by the Yugoslav ethnic wars of the 1990s and then abandoned by her husband in Berlin, Tanja lands a one-year post at the University of Amsterdam. Her students, with one exception, are fellow exiles enrolled to maintain their refugee status. Ugresic (The Museum of Unconditional Surrender, 2002) explores the many facets of displacement, taking the reader down a sometimes tricky linguistic path that ends up placing a Slavic twist on the notion that "you can't go home again." Despite a surprise ending that is rushed, including an epilogue in which the characters' fates are recounted, this sorrowful tale packs a powerful punch, emphasizing that among former Yugoslavs, some bear the dual burden of guilt and victimhood. Frank Caso
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
An interesting exploration of loneliness when culture, country and language are lost. Rings true to the experience of forced immigration.Published 6 months ago by Carol Nini
I generally like literary works more than I liked this. I just simply can't get on board with anything. Read morePublished on January 9, 2012 by debiant
From Mishima's "The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea" to Kafka to "Winesburg, Ohio," the themes of alienation and exile have pervaded world literature in the twentieth... Read morePublished on January 7, 2011 by A Certain Bibliophile
(This comes from a blog-posted review of three books--the present book, Philip Marsden's The Bronski House: A Return to the Borderlands, and Nikolai's Fortune by Solveig... Read morePublished on December 17, 2010 by Johan Maurer
The Washington Post called Dubravka Ugresic's The Ministry of Pain "a shiningly weird novel...[it] almost reaches perfection. Read morePublished on August 14, 2007 by Armchair Interviews
Too bad, because this could have been a five star novel.
This writer can write, no doubt about it--and she has things to say,
but the ending is so ridiculous and hard to... Read more
...in that the latter part of this hugely potential-filled book really affected my overall 'star rating.' Although I don't think it's deserving of merely 3-stars... Read morePublished on May 16, 2006 by Adam Daniel Mezei