Central question: How do refugees reenact war in their daily lives?
Format: 272 pp., cloth; Size: 5 1/2" x 8 1/2"; Price: $22.95; Publisher: Ecco; Editor: E. J. Van Lanen; Run: 25,000; Book designer: Cassandra J. Pappas; Translated by: Michael Henry Heim; Author has also written about: “Smurfentaal,” Dutch slang peppered with Moroccan, Turkish, Antillean, and English words and lots of gestures; Other possible reasons for self-exile to Netherlands: Calvinist principles, Amstel Light, lively nightlife, seafood; Representative sentence: “We, the losers, are still one with the mega-circulating lifeblood of the land we abandoned in hatred.”
The novel-as-essay can combine an array of discursive forms, from the philosophical meditation to the rant, with characters and action that, with luck, embody the novel’s ideas. Dubravka Ugrešić’s Ministry of Pain makes pointed reference to Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a brilliant example of the essay-novel. (Tanja Lucic, Ugrešić’s narrator and protagonist, has read the book twice and breaks down watching the movie.) In Kundera’s novel, the concepts of lightness and heaviness keep deepening. The Ministry of Pain’s central idea, however, remains unwavering: war damages everyone who comes into contact with it. The novel, an account of Croatian-Serbian-Bosnian-Albanian exiles, is a catalog of the possible effects of this damage.
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