Short Story Review – Saša Stanišiç – A Classical Education (trans. Saša Stanišiç and Janet Hendrickson)

I offer, without context, a snippet from this rather short story which encapsulates, I think, the comedy and zaniness of the piece:

“Are you violating our security guidelines, Sir?” the stewardess politely screamed at me.

The polite scream.  The use of ‘Sir’ and ‘violating’.  The matter-of-fact tone of the narrator.  It’s all here, the whole story is like this, playing off the wacky with the ordinary.  It’s great.

We have, then, the narrator on a flight.  He becomes entangled in a conversation with a five year old girl who is adamant about making him suffer.  She says that her name is Johann Sebastian Bach and gives him the finger, and then following a series of ridiculous events the whole plane becomes convinced he is a predatory pedophile who has also attempted to rob the girl’s mother.  Everything happens at a massively fast clip, and overwhelmingly the sentence structure and word choices are calm, clear, slightly formal, and juxtaposed brilliantly against the absurdity of the events.

The mother is convinced her blonde angel doesn’t even know what lying is, and worse, I held the empty pack of gum in my hand. Also, “make music with me” sounded damn unsettling. No one would have believed me if I said that the little girl was playing a perverse game with me, as innocent as she looked and as unshaven as I was.

Beyond that, there’s little to say.  It’s a funny story.  It’s also very short – a touch under 700 words – and would, I suppose, be considered flash fiction, though it was written back in 2007 before that particular art form exploded across the internet.  It’s an encouraging format (generally it means a piece of writing under 1,000 words, though I have seen limits of 400, 700, etc.  Short, anyway) as it encourages a writer to jump, to explore, to take risks and to experiment.  Sometimes, this means a writer will write bad poetry and purple up their prose beyond blushing, but often – as in this excellent story – it will result in a wonderful, tight, fun, funny piece.

Highly recommended.

A Classical Education is a short story by Bosnian writer Saša Stanišiç, and was translated by the author and Janet Hendrickson.  You can read the story at Words Without Borders.

Author Saša Stanišiç
Title A Classical Education
Translator Saša Stanišiç and Janet Hendrickson
Nationality Bosnian
Publisher Words Without Borders

Please visit the Short Story Reviews page to see all of the available reviews.


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