The Ministry of Pain by Dubravka Ugresic (Translated by Michael Henry Heim) - review by Caroline Moorehead

Caroline Moorehead

The Language of Exile

The Ministry of Pain

By

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Anthropologists, it seems, have coined a term to describe what happens when an emigrant, apparently well adjusted to life in a foreign country, is abruptly consumed by an overwhelming need to go home. They call this individual a ‘sleeper’, after the word used for dormant spies in Cold War novels, ready to respond to a sudden command. Some of these awakened emigrants return precipitately to the countries of their birth, though few remain there, choosing exile once again. Others never make the journey, but prefer to inhabit parallel lives, projecting their pasts onto the screens of their new identities.

Tanja Lucic, the heroine of Dubravka Ugresic's new novel, The Ministry of Pain, is not yet a sleeper, in that she has come to uneasy terms with her condition of exile, at least for the moment. But it is the particular bleakness of her rootless life, the sense of not

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