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4.0 out of 5 stars When a refugee is the intellectual, August 13, 2009
This review is from: The Ministry of Pain: A Novel (Paperback)
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 a few. Every time I read Ugresic's books I think of a writer and modern day philosopher who is trying to make sense of what it truly means being an intellectual in exile. What makes it even more horrifying is being a writer from a small country that disappeared long ago in a country where one's native language, the fighting sword of any writer, begins to loose its luster.

In her latest nover, Ugresic writes of Tanja Lucic, university professor of slavic literature using unorthodox methods to reach out to her small audience of students in slavic department. Most of them are from former Yugoslavia and some have personal attachments to the country and its people. Her methods make her seemingly likable amongst her students until she starts digging too deep. By the end of the first semester, one of her students has committed suicide and another has filed a complaint to he department head about the lack of syllabus in her teaching course. The fact that all of her students have A's is not helping either and Tanja's method changes to a stern, disciplined teaching, it leaves her with only four students in the class during second semester.

Ugresic cuts to the core of the pain of being in exile, being cut off from friens and family, or being humiliated from lack of ability to speak the language in emigree's newly adopted country. Her book characters are playing music in public places for money, they work in Amsterdam's sex shops that produce wardrobe and equipment; her main character lives in the basement apartment of the red light district, alone, detached and utterly unhappy.

While Mr. Heim does wonderful job of translating the book, for any reader unfamilar with culture, it is unfortunate that footnotes are not availbale. I am convinced that footnotes would bring out deeper meaning for some of the characters and references mentioned in dialogs between many of the book characters. The ending feels rushed, which is unfortunate. Otherwise, I fidn this book to be a remarkable piece of wok about what it means to be immigrant, what is it that we call home and how immigrants and emigrees redefine themselves in the new world they find themselves in.
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