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The Ministry of Pain Hardcover – Bargain Price, February 21, 2006
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Top Customer Reviews
Long before that episode, Tanja had come to realize that the Titoist Yugoslavia which preceded the break-up had its own `Problematik': so could it really be held up as a pre-lapsarian ideal?Read more ›
The narrative device gives opportunity for an ongoing analysis of what it means to be from a country that after bloody civil war no longer exists. In Amsterdam, she mingles with other emigres, "our people" she calls them, who like her can remember growing up in a communist country, priding itself in an ethnic diversity that it no longer tolerates. What they experience, living in exile, is what they call "Yugonostalgia." Returning to Zagreb for a brief visit, she learns what all immigrants must discover, that time does not stand still for those who have stayed behind. Soon those who have left, even history itself, are forgotten in a kind of collective amnesia.
There is defeat for both those who leave and those who stay, she concludes. The only triumph is at the moment of departure itself, when what is intolerable is left behind and the hope of finding a true home somewhere else is not yet dashed. This is something of an academic novel, the fate of the heroine tied up in departmental politics. Given the literary interests of the main character, there are many allusions to European and American literature, film, and pop culture, while the book also draws heavily on a familiarity with Balkan writers. Ironic, darkly humorous, and thought provoking.
So, how does one rate a book like this? It's not commercial, and will never be a best-seller; it's deep, to some extent, but it would also be easy to dismiss it as pointless, self-indulgent navel-gazing. I think the rating, on these amazon pages, must be based on the universality of its appeal; Ugresic's memoir offers insights into the rootless emigrant experience generally, but overall, it will only resonate deeply with those who have some experience of the former Yugoslavia. Thus, a three.
Dubravka Ugresic's edgy but deeply humane novel is superb at portraying the cost of separation from one's homeland, coupled with the aching confusion of seeing one's homeland become a battle of violently competing identities--the situation faced by every refugee from the civil wars of the former Yugoslavia. The language(s) spoken by the refugees among each other is a minefield of unintended and intended belligerence. The protagonist, Tanja, shepherds her Amsterdam university class of mostly expatriate students of Yugoslav literature, through the tides of conflicting emotions and pragmatic survival imperatives, even as she tries to cope with her own realities of financial woes, departmental politics, and the slippery legalities of refugee status. She thinks about the people she has abandoned, while others (first her lover, then one after another of her students) abandon her. Meanwhile, the concept of homeland becomes more nebulous and brittle, and her memories become unreliable.
I loved the author's descriptions of the conversations and preoccupations of exiles when they gather in their Amsterdam hangouts--the deep tissues of grievances, gossip, conventional wisdom, resignation, and "Yugonostalgia." Tanja and one of her students spend a day at the Hague to watch a war crimes trial, and see before their very eyes the poisonous pettiness, the cosmic smallness of the men who gained power by making nationalism lethal. For some, the cost was life itself; others find themselves, as in Marsden's true story, forced into psychic as well as physical displacement among uncomprehending strangers.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
An interesting exploration of loneliness when culture, country and language are lost. Rings true to the experience of forced immigration.Published 12 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
When one thinks of a modern day intellectual(s), Susan Sontag comes to mind. But even if one looks a further back, there is Simone de Bouvier, Gertrude Stein, Ayn Rand to mention... Read morePublished on August 13, 2009 by Eugenia
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