Tanja 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.
The Ministry of Pain was shortlisted for the 2006 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and Dubravka Ugrešic herself was nominated for the 2007 International Booker Prize.
Writers in Translation organized several events to mark the publication of the book. Ugrešic did three 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.