Excerpt from Best European Fiction 2010 by Aleksandar Hemon, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Best European Fiction 2010

By Aleksandar Hemon

Best European Fiction 2010
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  • Paperback: Dec 2009,
    448 pages.

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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 we’re always saying - and now here are Aleksandar Hemon and Dalkey Archive Press to encourage it.

Introduction

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 Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses or Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and the confrontationally controversial European blockbusters, like Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones or Charlotte Roche’s 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, you’ll 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, O’Connor, 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 they’ll 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 (Finland’s Juhani Brander) and an earnest storyteller (Wales’s Penny Simpson), a scorching satirist (Ireland’s Julian Gough), and a sharp realist (Latvia’s 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.

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