Dalkey Archive £12.99

IoS book review: Best European Fiction 2013, Ed Aleksandar Hemon

Poetic and sophisticated – how very Continental

If anthologies are often books that we buy but neglect to read, then Best European Fiction 2013 deserves to be an exception. For four years, Aleksandar Hemon has edited this annual collection of translated stories which display the possibilities of short fiction and negotiate what Hemon calls "accelerating history". This time, John Banville provides a preface, 32 countries are represented, and strong writing resonates across regions.

In his introduction, Hemon says the stories are "imperfectly translated" but what does he mean when he warns that they are also "proudly difficult"? Must difficult fiction combine dense language with unconventional structures, or can it include realist depictions of strange events which leave us not knowing what to think? "There's nothing worse than a reader with blind faith," says the narrator of Lasha Bugadze's "The Sins of the Wolf", a Georgian satire in which a novelist's assumptions are challenged when a girl demands to meet his characters.

To attribute some excellent contributions from south-east Europe to historical trauma diminishes the imaginative achievements of Borivoje Adasevic, Mirana Likar Bajzelj and Semezdin Mehmedinovic, but war features prominently for each. Adasevic's "For a Foreign Master" uses layers of narration to expose brutality between Serbs, while Mehmedinovic, who left Bosnia for the US in the 1990s, exhibits in "My Heart" a feel for words' materiality which makes palpable "the taste of cement on my tongue". He compounds a claim in Banville's preface: "There is verse, there is prose and then there is poetry, which may be conjured in either medium."

Comparisons become inevitable when subjects recur. Ray French's "Migration" looks unsubtle in the same book as Miklos Vajda's "Portrait of a Mother in an American Frame" and Bernard Comment's "A Son". Each confront the deaths of parents, but the ambiguous emotions Vajda's Hungarian expresses towards his mother, and the mixture of pity and scepticism inspired by Comment's narrator, are more interesting than the Welsh writer's reflections. The pretend experiments of Eloy Tizon's "The Mercury in the Thermometers" pale in the light of Beledian's virtuosity.

The Romanian author Dan Lungu's "7pm Wife", which draws a disturbing picture of a man who expects warmth and dependability from prostitutes, is one of several accounts of the Continent's murkier precincts. In "Madame Zabee's Guesthouse", Marie Redonnet imagines a Parisian brothel where displaced people cross national and sexual boundaries but remain powerless to alter their fates.

Loss of home and language is ubiquitous, but there's comedy to savour in Zehra Cirak's "Memory Cultivation Salon" when an old lady smooches a teenage boy as reward for exhaling smoke rings. In Tomás Mac Síomóin's hilarious "Music in the Bone", an Irishman conducts "the most magnificent orchestra that performs in the deepest depths of my soul".

The stories collected are moving, haunting, funny, powerful and, yes, difficult. More than a list of adjectives, however, they warrant attention. A slightly hectoring credo accompanies the Best European Fiction series – namely, that we don't read enough literature in translation – but the likelihood that you will relish this anthology's depth and variety is reason enough to read it.

Arts and Entertainment
Tate Modern chief Chris Dercon, who will be leaving to run a Berlin theatre company
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Tasos: 'I rarely refuse an offer to be photographed'
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Girls on the verge of a nervous breakdown: Florence Pugh and Maisie Williams star in 'The Falling'
Film
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

  • Get to the point
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.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence