Excerpt of Best European Fiction 2010 by Aleksandar Hemon
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For me this anthology and the series that is to follow represent a personal
enrichment. Books-wise, I was educated in a largely Anglo-American
library, and it is sometimes dull to stare at the same four walls all day.
I was always refreshed to discover those windows that open out on to
Kafka, Camus, Duras, Genet, Colette, Bely . . . as I imagine some equivalent
Russian schoolgirl marvelled at the vista through the Muriel Spark
window, or the John Updike. There should be more of that sort of thing -
so were always saying - and now here are Aleksandar Hemon and Dalkey
Archive Press to encourage it.
Not so long ago, I read somewhere that only three to five percent of literary
works published in the United States are translations. It stands to reason
that a few of those translations are reworkings of the classics like Tolstoy
and Mann. At the same time, many lesser-known foreign writers are
published by struggling university presses with neither marketing budgets
nor strong distribution networks. Thus the presence of translations in
the American literary mainstream is uneasily divided between the couple
of recent Nobel Prize winners, the odd successes that go down well in
American book clubs, like Per Pettersons Out Stealing Horses or Muriel
Barberys The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and the confrontationally controversial
European blockbusters, like Jonathan Littells The Kindly Ones or
Charlotte Roches Wetlands, which tend to fail embarrassingly in the U.S.
But if you are curious about the state of contemporary Polish literature or
the lively writing scene in, say, Zurich, Switzerland or Lima, Peru, youll
be hard-pressed to find any stories or novels that would allow you to enter
that particular field of knowledge. The American reader seems to be
largely disengaged from literatures in other languages, which many see as
yet another symptom of culturally catastrophic American isolationism.
And all this before the deluge of recent recession, before the American
publishing industry entered a full panic mode and started busying itself
with deciding what not to publish.
Moreover, there appears to be a widespread consensus among the allknowing
publishing pundits that short fiction is, yet again, well on its way
to oblivion, dying in the literary hospice room adjacent to the one in which
the perpetually moribund novel is also expiring. Given that poetry is already
dead and buried, soon the only things left for a committed, serious
reader to read will be Facebook status updates, funny-text-message anthologies
and confessional memoirs. This time around, the short-story demise
is due to the general vanishing of the printed word (good-bye newspapers,
magazines, paper books!), the mass transference of readership to
the Web, the volcanic rise of mindless entertainment as the main form of
brain stimulation. Consequently, the reputation of the short story as a
pinnacle of literary art, gloriously practiced by Chekhov, Joyce, OConnor,
Nabokov, Munro, has been steadily waning, to the point where many new
writers have come to believe that writing short stories is merely a warmup
exercise for writing a novel. Thousands upon thousands of ambitious
young writers enrolled in American writing programs are churning out
half-dead short stories, creating suffocating hyperinflation, all in the hope
that one day theyll be skillful enough to write a death-defying novel.
With all that in mind, we have decided to offer you a selection of short
fiction from throughout Europe, some from writers working in English,
but the majority translated from myriad languages. It includes a few select
novel excerpts, but is primarily and unreservedly composed of short stories.
Taking up a doubly lost cause could appear noble to some, but, frankly,
we think that all that death and demise talk is nothing but a crock of crap.
For one thing, the short story is alive and well, thanks for asking. No
further evidence ought to be necessary beyond the stories in this anthology,
which is more interested in providing a detailed snapshot of the contemporary
European literatures than establishing a fresh canon of instant
classics. The short story, these nimble selections show, is marked by vitality
and ingenuity that is not always easy to commit to in a novel, which
is almost always an unwieldy undertaking. Working equally well in the
hands of a witty experimenter (Finlands Juhani Brander) and an earnest
storyteller (Waless Penny Simpson), a scorching satirist (Irelands Julian
Gough), and a sharp realist (Latvias Inga A¯ bele) - just to name a few - the
short story is always capable of bridging the false gap between the avantgarde
and the mainstream. The sheer diversity of narrative modes and
strategies evidenced in the selections in this volume is mind-boggling.
Rather than accepting the situation of perpetual death, the European
short story, sparklingly capable of transformation, is eager to embark
upon a new life.
Excerpted from Best European Fiction 2010
by Aleksandar Hemon. Copyright © 2009 by Aleksandar Hemon.
Excerpted by permission of Dalkey Archive Press. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.