The Ministry of Pain

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The Ministry of Pain by Dubravka Ugresic

translated from Croatian by Michael Heim

published by Saqi and Telegram Books

the ministry of painTanja Lucic is a young professor of literature at the University of Amsterdam.  There, she finds her students are only a little younger than herself, and, like her, ex-Yugoslavs, refugees, exiles.  Some of her students also work at the ‘Ministry’, a shop making things for the porn industry.  All of her students have been uprooted, must confront their memories – emotional cocktails of loss, guilt and trauma – and ask whether they can salvage what is left of their broken lives.  Amid the tense political climate of the war crime trials at the Hague, the novel elaborates a growing attraction between Tanja and her student Igor, an attraction in part sexual and in part psychologically probing: can future generations be spared the horror and suffering that they have witnessed?  In a sophisticated first-person narrative, Dubravka Ugrešic asks to what extent exiles can ever truly give voice to their feelings in any language.

Dubravka Ugrĕsic was born in Yugoslavia in 1949.  She has held a number of positions at American and European universities, including the University of Zagreb, Wesleyan University (USA) and the Slavic Seminarium at the University of Amsterdam.  Her previous publications include Thank You for Not Reading (Dalkey Archive Press, 2003); The Museum of Unconditional Surrender (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998); and The Culture of Lies (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998).   She writes regularly for NRC Handelsblad and Vrij Nederland in Holland and Die Zeit and Lettre International in Germany.

Michael Heim is Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University, Los Angeles, where he teaches classes in Russian Language, Russian Literature, Czech Language and Czech Language, and Comparative Slavonic Literature.  He gained his MA and PhD from Harvard University.  Some of his translations include:
Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (Knopf/Penguin); The Joke (Harper & Row/Penguin); The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Harper & Row/Penguin); Jacques and His Master (Harper & Row/Penguin)
Anton Chekhov, Life and Thought (University of Californina Press
Vassily Aksynov, The Island of Crimea, In Search of Melancholy Baby (Random House)


Ministry of Pain was short-listed for the 2006 Independent Foreigh Fiction Prize and Dubravka Ugresic herself was nominated for the 2007 International Booker Prize.

Writers in Translation organized several events to mark the publication fo the book. Ugresic did 3 events in London – at SSEES/UCL, with Caroline Moorehead and Julian Evans and at the Kufa Gallery with Aamer Hussein – and a translation workshop with Michael Heim at UEA in Norwich.

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