Dalkey Archive Press, £13.99, 511pp. £12.59 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Best European Fiction 2011, Edited by Aleksandar Hemon

Does European literature exist? Of course it does, and this collection of 41 stories proves it. The Berlin Wall is down and revolutionary vanguards of skilful translators and enlightened publishers are forging ahead towards a Europe of superlative story-telling. Dalkey Archive Press heroically forges ahead with this idea too. The editor, the Bosnian-born writer Aleksandar Hemon, calls himself "the tormented anthologist", having to select the best pieces of literature "for the charge at the frontline of contemporary fiction".

Hemon's selection is not from EU-Europe but Greater Europe: Turkey, Wales, Russia, Montenegro and Lichtenstein are included; famous writers as well as newcomers. Hilary Mantel and Ingo Schulze aren't just here to boost the brand but because, as Hemon stresses, they are the best. Mantel's spare portrait of family life is heartbreaking. The daughter Morna is anorexic, starving herself to death. East German-born Schulze also writes a family story but shows no sign of "Ossi-ness" and bases his narrative about orange-eating Ralf in Italy.

Geographic location is unpredictable, as if to throw the pigeon-holers off the scent. Swiss author Verena Stefan writes about modern warfare from Québec; Frenchman Eric Laurent travels through LA for his "American Diary" and Castilian Enrique Vila-Matas sets his story in Siberia in 1904. After the death of his two wives, a Russian district attorney is left with six unruly children and personal torment. But all he wants is peace and to be "a character in a story".

The diversity and craft on display are thrilling: parables, satires, travelogues, essays, the single-sentence story but also mini-novels. The wonderful Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk delivers a parable of vanity in "The Ugliest Woman In The World". From Serbia there's a "one minute story" of a soldier's death; from Portugal, a morality tale of "state smile subsidies".

Only a handful of stories deal head-on with recent European divisions and traumas. Finland's Anita Konnka reminds us of her country's Soviet ties in her story of a high-ranking Moscow family whose daughter becomes a world-famous clown. Then, from Belarus, we have a timely metaphor of state cruelty, as lovers Angie and Grisha are hunted down for picking wildflowers – a "forbidden act". And from Moldova comes a wonderful story set in the aftermath of Soviet perestroika about Auntie Frosea's love of imported Latin American TV soaps and how they cured her toothache.

There's a lot of sex in the New Europe, most of it not nice: stories of prostitutes and chopped-up wives. From Norway an unhappy marriage leads to a man stalking two young girls. There's a complicated rape from Holland, but from Georgia a gloriously absurd tale where a fridge is sold for sex.

One of my favourite stories is by Bulgarian writer Alek Popov, set in Germany. "Plumbers" is a clever satire on sex and stereotypes. Osnabrück has been voted the happiest town in Germany. The council has funded a scheme to provide "plumbers" from eastern Europe to "service the pipes of housewives". But it's forced to drop the service, the plumbers return and Osnabrück becomes unhappy again.

Apart from the occasional jolt, these translations read beautifully. Turkey's Ersan Üldes actually places the translator centre stage. As he sabotages the texts of famous foreign writers by "improving" their stories - for example, allowing the characters to live rather than die – the translator enhances his own power. It is a powerful role, the key to unlocking our European culture. Translation is joining up the dots all over Europe, where for decades we could not read each other's literature. It makes us better Europeans.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum