Short Story Review – Myrto Azina Chronides – A European Story (trans. Despina Pirketti)

The pain comes – labour pain. It tears the pelvis apart, my
loins, my uterus a ball of steel.I can feel him throughout my
entire body. He spreads all the way down to my nails. My
head empties and compresses like an accordion exhaling.“I’ll
go get the midwife” he tells me and uses his handkerchief to
wipe the sweat off my face.

Well, this is a fine way to open a collection of European short stories.  It’s mildly – mildly – on the nose, but given the mission of the book (to highlight the works of EUPL winners and have them write about Europe), well, it can be forgiven.  How else would you start a collection like this?

A European Story (trans. Despina Pirketti) by Myrto Azina Chronides is one grand metaphor for the generation after WWII as it grapples with birthing the new Europe.  Pretty explicitly so.

Mum died: a Jewish woman in Auschwitz, a British woman
during the Blitz, a Greek woman in German-occupied Athens
or perhaps a Trümmerfrau in Dresden, who had survived
the horror and perished amidst the ruins of the war, a Polish
woman, a…

The story shifts between a woman giving birth, and the woman’s life and memories prior to childbirth.  The sentences are short and sharp, and so are most of the paragraphs, running rapidly through European history both recent and ancient, connecting like occurrences and comparing events.  It’s a heady mix.

The childbirth sequences are the strongest from a purely narrative perspective.  It made me glad, not for the first time, that it is an experience I am able to avoid.  The narrator show indications of empowerment here; she notes that her partner is fearful of her power as she gives birth – this is an event of great magnitude, and she is the one who is doing it.

The other parts of the story are good, but they rely on overwhelming the reader with references to European history and concepts.  I like this – I love that kind of thing – but as a narrative it’s a bit disjointed.  The effect is to show the gamut of European history, and it works, but how much of this is truly a story?

I’m sinking; I feel that I’m sliding somewhere until I lose
consciousness. Everything around me turns red. I float upon
golden white clouds. Far away, at the edge of the horizon,
upon a distant hill, soldiers by the thousands are hoisting
their flags simultaneously. They’re not war banners. They’re
filled with blue skies and yellow stars: unity, solidarity, harmony. I melt within feelings of utter serenity.

And in the middle of the red meadow, a tree is born. I tentatively approach it: the tree of life carrying an apple. I come
even closer. But it’s not the fruit of Knowledge, I tell myself.
It is the apple offered to Paris, prince of Troy, by Discord, and
instead of “for the fairest” it reads “for the best”. I’m devastated.

I would say, politely, that this story doesn’t stand up on its own.  Contained within this collection it is fine and an appropriate starting point – but it is clearly a commissioned work, and feels like one.  I’m curious about Chronides and her other works, but this one is perhaps a touch too prepaid.

A European Story is a short story by Cypriot writer Myrto Azina Chronides, translated by Despina Pirketti.  

Author Myrto Azina Chronides
Title A European Story
Translator Despina Pirketti
Nationality Cypriot
Publisher European Union Prize for Literature

See also the other titles under review:

Short Story Review – Rasha Abbas – How to Swim the Backstroke with a Shilka Missile (trans. Fatima El-Kalay)

The central metaphor to Rasha Abbas’ short story, How to Swim the Backstroke with a Shilka Missile (trans. Fatima El-Kalay) is abundantly apparent throughout the text, but you know what?  That’s ok.  Writing as someone who lives in a peaceful, quiet country (Australia), the message being conveyed is foreign to me, completely so – it is not and could not be a lived experience.  Not for me.  But for the narrator?  And the other people in her country?  Oh, yes.

The narrator has had poor eyesight for as long as she can remember.  Early on, she receives new glasses, and now she can see the city as it is.  As it is, which is to say – bombed streets, ruined buildings, missiles and helicopters overhead.  They were always there, but not for her.  She lived a more pleasant life before attaining clarity.

A few days later I received my new glasses. Things were undoubtedly better, but it was too late to see the city. Instead, all I got to see were very lucid scenes of red missiles, flaring in the night, heading to some unknown place, fired from the bottom of the mountain that overlooked our elevated window. Or the sight of military helicopters slowly hovering in the early morning, on their way to other neighborhoods.

This is, politely, a violent place.  Somewhere that is utterly foreign to me.

On the way, there was a police officer joking with a local child. He pointed his rifle at him and asked him which football team he supported. The boy exposed his belly in defiance before the rifle, proud of his preferred team, even though it apparently didn’t go down well with the policeman.

Ah, my Western sense of what is ordinary and right are in trouble!  Abbas is able to reframe the conflict in Syria to be new to the narrator via the mechanism of the new glasses, which then allows it to be explained to a foreign reader.  Not that she is obliged to do this, of course; writers from far-off countries to myself are under no obligation to serve as teachers or educators.  But it is appreciated nonetheless.

There is a lot crammed into these short pages.  An aside about a butcher’s son, who babbles and burns pictures of the President and gives presents to children, and who may have been vanished along with his father – this is great, evocative, interesting writing.  It contrasts neatly with the more matter-of-fact appreciation of violence and destruction from the narrator, as she finally sees her city for what it is.

 He loved wild birds, and would catch them and place them in cages, and forcefully give them as gifts to the local children.

The ending is very neat indeed.  Swimming in a pool with a friend she has made, the narrator wonders to herself at how miserable it must be to have always seen clearly.  And there’s something to that, there’s something to being forced into an awakening about what is familiar and known.  We must reassess, we must see things with new eyes, and it is hurts us, so be it.  If it helps us, so be it.  Seeing the world afresh each day is an impossibility to which we must at least attempt.  And how wonderful if we can do it once or twice a month?  Revelatory.

With appreciation from M Lynx Qualey for providing the copy of ArabLit.

How to Swim the Backstroke with a Shilka Missile is a short story by Syrian writer Rasha Abbas, translated by Fatima El-Kalay.  

Author Rasha Abbas
Title How to Swim the Backstroke with a Shilka Missile
Translator Fatima El-Kalay
Nationality Syrian
Publisher Arablit Quarterly

 

The Journal of Failure – Week 16 of 2020

Week 16 of 2020 – 22 April to 28 April 2020

Goals

Reading

  • Goal – 100 / day, or 700 / week
  • Achieved – 1,177/700 – Success!

Writing – I Remember

  • Goal – 14 / week
  • Achieved – 13/14 – Failure!

Writing – Small Projects (Fragments, short stories, etc)

  • Goal – No goal this week, friends

Writing – Large Projects

  • Goal – No goal this week, friends

Getting myself out there

  • Short story reviews – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Submissions – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Rejections – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Acceptances – Zero (Zero total for the year)

Commentary

Week 16!

The last two weeks I have focused entirely on reading.  It’s been a hell of a time, what with the Coronavirus, but here we are.  Like many people, the first couple of weeks at home were spent addled with wine and fear, which resulted in very little that was good.

But times have changed.  Or, they haven’t, and I have become accustomed to what we constantly hear referred to as the ‘new normal’.  Lucky us, lucky all?

Last week I read 902 pages, and this week, 1,177.  I am woefully behind where I’d like to be for the year, but these two weeks have helped.  I decided to do nothing more than read, read, read.  And so I did.  There were a few failures here and there (I have, for some reason, purchased and started playing Persona 5 Royal), but by and large I read widely and well.

I read

  • Guy de Maupassant’s Pierre and Jean (trans. Leonard Tancock)
  • Andrés Barba’s Such Small Hands (trans. Lisa Dillman)
  • Albert Camus’ The Plague (trans. Stuart Gilbert)
  • Holly Watson’s Never Seen the Sea
  • Mari Saat’s The Saviour of Lasnamäe (trans. Susan Wilson)
  • Jose Saramago’s All the Names (trans. Margaret Jull Costa)

Along with some other bits and pieces of books I didn’t finish.

Not too bad.  Five of six were translated, which is about where I’d like the ratios to land.

Such Small Hands is a bit of an incredible feat of literary horror, and I recommend it for anyone who doesn’t have a small daughter between the age of zero and six.  After that, sure, go for it.  But if you do – traumatic stuff.  You’ll never look at a doll the same way…

All the Names remains the Saramago novel I feel the fondest towards.  It is his most human, I think, and is very sensitive to loneliness and the dull glow of feeling for one’s fellow man.  It’s too long, I think, but not by much.  10 pages, maybe 20, cut from around the middle, and it’d be a perfect novel to smash a frozen heart.

The Saviour of Lasnamäe managed to be a novel about a woman becoming a prostitute without, you know, wallowing in what it means for a woman to become a prostitute.  I quite admire Saat’s courage in putting in place the steps by which a middle-aged woman becomes a prostitute and then…shifts the novel entirely to her daughter, who is pretty much unaware of this, and continues along with a reasonably conventional romance plot.  Very good, very good.

The others were fine.  Nothing in particular to say.

I’m halfway through Krasznahorkai’s Satantango.  Actually, nope, looking at it, I’m about two thirds of the way through.  I don’t care for this novel much.  Or, more accurately, I have been reading deliriously effusive praise for Mr. K for many years now, and this novel hasn’t done much for me.  Where I’m at, right now, on page 205-206, I am reminded quite positively by Wolfgang Hilbig’s Old Rendering Plant, but otherwise I’m left a bit cold.  It’s…fine?

I have, once again, started reading The Malazan Book of the Fallen, which is a fantasy series stretching out across 10 books and 10,000 or so pages.  Gardens of the Moon is the first one.  I usually stop midway through the second, or the third.  Will I press on this time?  I don’t know.  Fantasy nonsense can be a bit hard to swallow at times, but a dear friend of mine is so very fond of the series.  I shall do it for him.

I have too many books on the go, I am working from home which means podcasts spring eternal (I need more – please recommend).  My poor dog needs a bath and I never seem to have time or remember to do it until he lies underneath me, stinking of doggy goodness.  My daughter continues to speak like a three year old and yet she’s only one and a half.  My wife is stressed and tired and burning the candle at both ends because she is a school teacher (be nicer to school teachers).  And on and on it goes, and in a lot of ways I am the luckiest person in the world, because forcing me to sit surrounded by my books is what I would wish if I had the divine on my side.

Otherwise, I feel that my reading is secure and it is time now to write.  Not much, baby steps, work those muscles, but I need to do it.  I have broken a number of bad habits over the last two weeks, and I wish now to add in the good ones.  I am not overly concerned with achieving some kind of productive personality – how horribly middle class of me – but instead wish to become akin to the rustling of paper, to be a footnote for all of the books.  Just literature.  That’s all.

And that was my week of failure.

Each week I aim to provide an update on the Journal of Failure.  These reports are intended to provide an impetus for me to achieve as much as I should/more than I do, and also to provide a further ongoing record of my life, as it is. 

The Journal of Failure – Week 6 of 2020

Week 6 of 2020 – 5 February to 11 February 2020

Goals

Reading

  • Goal – 100 / day, or 700 / week
  • Achieved – 718/700 – Success!

Writing – I Remember

  • Goal – 14 / week
  • Achieved – 13/14 – Failure!

Writing – Small Projects (Fragments, short stories, etc)

  • Goal – 10 minutes 30 seconds / week
  • Achieved – 18 minutes/10 minutes 30 seconds – Success!

Writing – Large Projects

  • Goal – 21 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 35 minutes/21 minutes – Success!

Getting myself out there

  • Short story reviews – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Submissions – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Rejections – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Acceptances – Zero (Zero total for the year)

Commentary

Week 6!

And so another week goes by, this week mostly one of success, I suppose.  The goals are small, but achieving them builds up a steady bank of success, an unbroken line of doing the things I say I should be doing.

Reading went well. I am currently deep in the throes of an Open Letter reading spree, and will continue this for the foreseeable future.  I am fortunate enough to own all of the books ever published by Open Letter, and while I’ve often liked their books I have never really loved any.  I want a book that smashes me, pummels my soul, shows me new things in literature.  I want to love.  I’m a simple man.  But I do like them all, and they are generally thematically and stylistically very much what I want from a novel.  I’m never disappointed.

I’m also deep into Frank Bidart’s Half-Light, which is his collected poems from 1965-2016.  I’ve long discussed my weakness when it comes to poetry.  I want to like it more, but I don’t know much about it or how to read it.  But really the only way to get better is to read, and so I am.

Many years ago I started this website with the idea of posting the fragmentary writing I was creating every few days.  Essentially what I would do is take the book I was currently reading, take a sentence from whatever page I was on, write that down (or an approximation) and use that as a springboard to write a half page or full page in that style or using those themes.  It has worked pretty well, I suppose, or at least it did, and I have written over two hundred of them.  Some have turned into published stories, and just this January I sold a fragment which was turned into the story Automatic / Typewriter Keys and published by Sublunary Editions.

So anyway all of that is to say I’m back into the fragments, one of which I wrote and posted just last night.  This one was influenced by Frank Bidart’s poem, The War of Vaslav Nijinsky.  It was wonderful returning to this technique.  I see it partly as a muscle-stretching exercise, but also as planting seeds of fiction which may one day turn into something.

In terms of a long piece, I did work on a larger bit of writing.  I am still floundering in that area of my writing, but it’s starting to firm up.

Many years ago I wrote about 15,000 words on a novella I had planned out about Rasputin.  I liked it and like it, but I haven’t touched it in a while.  It’s always in the back of my mind, ticking away as ‘the novella I am working on’.  And yet, and yet, and yet – I opened Google Docs yesterday and the last time I touched it was 2016.  Good gravy!  That is not a going concern.

But I want it to be.  I’m going to devote the next week to seeing if the project still has legs, if I can reconnect with it, if it is something worth putting time into.  The idea is very strong, but it’s the execution, as always, that makes it . We’ll see.

And that was my week of failure.

Each week I aim to provide an update on the Journal of Failure.  These reports are intended to provide an impetus for me to achieve as much as I should/more than I do, and also to provide a further ongoing record of my life, as it is. 

Fragment #211 – 11 February 2020

It’s true that, until now, there was little in the way of discourse surrounding Joseph’s behaviour.  Some-someone must have slammed the door – what’s that?  NOTHING.

Joseph was not trustworthy.  We knew that.  We would never write: Joseph wasn’t trustworthy.  ‘Wasn’t’ is a word used either to obfuscate meaning or when discussing matters of friendship.  It wasn’t for Joseph.

 

HE

IS NOT

OUR FRIEND

 

And yet he’s there each month now.  We all are, we make the trip.  Marshall should have been dead by now.  He isn’t.  Nobody thinks he is being selfish, but how many times can we hold a last long boozy dreadful lunch?  It’s always the last one at the time, and now nobody has a healthy liver.  We’re ageing visibly, catching up to Marshall.  At least he has an excuse.  Cancer is an EXCUSE.

Oh we met when we were young.  We’re all friends now and have been for decades.  We know the names of each other’s CHILDREN, and have even been to their parties.  What’s that?  A car backing up?  Why is it so loud?

Joseph and Marshall either always hated each other or were the closest of everyone.  Depends who you ask.  Joseph says one thing.  Marshall won’t be able to answer soon enough.  But just don’t ask me.  I can’t take SIDES.  I can’t even decide between ice cream flavours.  I am not supposed to be the leader.

 

WHAT WAS THAT

 

We’re all dead eventually.  Marshall will be the first of us, I suppose, unless there’s some kind of an accident to one of us before – when?  Then.  What?  An ACCIDENT you say?

* * *

The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website.  I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.

Fragment #20 – 15 August 2014

It’s the drinking, Patrick said.  It does me in every time and yet I can’t seem to stop it.  There’s a glamour to it, or there was.  There was.  No longer.

To our left sits a young couple, the man timid, withdrawn, his shoulders bent inward as though they would touch if his collarbones vanished.  The woman was stunningly beautiful and effusive in voice and gesture, talking happily about her day while her partner slouched.  They were eating ramen, great bowls of it steaming in front of them, and by their chopsticks, beer.  There was nobody else in the little side restaurant except for the smiling fat cook, who came from behind the curtain door to the kitchen, passing out ladles of ramen soup and chortling to himself.  As was the case every time I have been here, money never seemed to change hands, people ate and ate, and the beer was always cold.

Patrick wasn’t eating, though there was a bowl in front of him.  His lips, cracked, opened to take in the neck of the seventh or eighth bottle of beer for the evening.  His nose was red and already webbing from the effects of alcohol, and his forehead was pale, dotted with eczema, his hair lank and greasy.

I start each day the same: today will matter.  At first I am aspirational, vowing to wake early to seize every minute.  4, 4:30, 5 – really early, with hours to spare before work, or my wife, or anything.  It’s time for me.  But then I can’t get out of bed, my mind is fuzzy from wine or beer, and so I bargain with myself, reason that perhaps night-time will be better.  I think of Proust, or Pamuk, or any of the thousand writers who stayed up late.  And so the day passes.  And then it is evening, I am thirsty, the day was long, the first glass is poured, and – bargaining again.  Tomorrow will be different, tomorrow I can wake early, tomorrow is a new day.  And then I fall asleep, and then the cycle starts anew.

Patrick looks at the couple, her so beautiful, him seemingly downtrodden and badgered, though there has been zero indication that such behaviour might come from her.  She catches our eye, stops talking and tells us with great venom to mind our own business.  I swear I hear her say ‘drunks’ as she returns to talking about her day.  The man glances briefly at us before lowering his eyes again.

It’s killing me, Patrick said.  And I can’t seem to stop.

* * *

The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website.  I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.

The Journal of Failure – Week 5 of 2020

Week 5 of 2020 – 29 January to 4 February 2020

Goals

Reading

  • Goal – 100 / day, or 700 / week
  • Achieved – 1,013/700 – Success!

Writing – I Remember

  • Goal – 14 / week
  • Achieved – 14/14 – Success!

Writing – Small Projects (Fragments, short stories, etc)

  • Goal – 7 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 31 minutes/7 minutes – Success!

Writing – Large Projects

  • Goal – 14 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 0 minutes/14 minutes – Failure!

Getting myself out there

  • Short story reviews – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Submissions – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Rejections – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Acceptances – Zero (Zero total for the year)

Commentary

Week 5!  Weeks 1 to 4 were a total failure.  I always knew they would be as my job was intense and involved travel and long hours.  No matter, that’s done now (for now).

Reading went very well this week.  I did something that I have done before and should always keep up – I deleted Steam.  It’s gone.  There are no games for me to play.  And so, instead of wasting time doing that, I’ll read.  Over a thousand pages isn’t exactly normal, but I think, and have often thoughts, that 700/week is achievable.  80 pages/day is the minimum I’d like to have (total for the year – 48.06, so there’s work to be done).

I am well, well behind with my I Remember memories.  Full confession mode here – I am up to 23 April 2018, so nearly two years behind.  I’m trying to write 14 / week to slowly catch up.  Of interest, perhaps, is that the sheer quantity of photos I take ensures that I can be reminded of what has happened in my life way back then.  I can scroll through the photos and remind myself of what I did and what I was thinking.

Weirdly, writing them from back then without ‘knowing’ about my daughter is strange.  But that is my fault for not keeping up with it.

I spent a good chunk of time working on a short story.  It’s likely to end up around 3,000 words, and is currently about 1,400.  There’s a gun and winter and smuggling across national borders, so, ah, not at all like what I normally write about.  We’ll see.

I wrote nothing of a larger piece.  Last year I worked on something bigger, but I don’t think it has legs at all.  So I’m currently floundering in that space, unsure what to do or what to write about.  I suppose the answer is to simply write and see what happens, but as always, when I do that I end up writing the same dreary pieces.  Yikes.

I haven’t submitted anything yet this year, but that will change.  I’ve been collating competition deadlines and dates, and will attempt to meet them all with a unique story.  So, lots of work to be done there.

And that was my week of failure.

Each week I aim to provide an update on the Journal of Failure.  These reports are intended to provide an impetus for me to achieve as much as I should/more than I do, and also to provide a further ongoing record of my life, as it is. 

Some brief thoughts on Peter Stamm’s To The Back of Beyond (trans. Michael Hofmann)

The sky is darkening.  The children are asleep.  I suppose there are birds making noises, and lights from other houses.  Thomas and Astrid share a glass of wine.  Astrid goes inside for some reason or another.  Thomas stands up and just – walks away.  He leaves.  Astrid returns to find her husband gone.  Vanished.

And so begins a couple of decades of Astrid waiting about while Thomas wanders Europe.

It’s a pretty interesting premise, I suppose, though not enough is done with it, and the ending is both exceptionally rushed and entirely unearned.  It’s a real shame.

The bulk of this slim novel is concerned with the back and forth of Astrid and Thomas in the initial days and then weeks of his disappearance.  She deals with the children, his job, the police, and he just – he just walks around a bit and drinks a beer or two and eats food.  Astrid is bewildered by it all, and isn’t really able to answer any questions.  The smallness of her emotions are understandable, as she’s been completely blindsided by it all.

But then there’s Thomas.  We spend half the book with him, but we don’t know him at all.  He’s empty.  He doesn’t come across as empathetic in his reasoning for leaving (he doesn’t have any) or interesting in the deadness of his emotions (that is too grand a description).  Instead, he’s just an ordinary guy who decided to leave his entire family.  He’d be despicable if it was worth casting a moral judgement.

Which is something the book doesn’t do, neither through Astrid nor the narration itself.  Thomas’ absence simply is, and that’s the whole book.

There is a very fine part of the book near the end where it seems that Thomas is dead and the narration is playing interesting time games to build dread and anticipation.  This was quite effective, which made Stamm’s reluctance to commit to this all the more galling.  He couldn’t stick the landing, and instead, after a fine twenty pages or so of build-up, the novel deflates and skips through years and nation states and the raising of children and burying of dogs.

It’s a waste.  All of it.  Exploring the social structure which allows a man to leave his family is interesting, or at least it could be, except it doesn’t occur here.  Everyone is so very passive, and stoic without being stoic against anything.  They just – mill about their lives.

Not for me.  But the premise – yes.  That was interesting.  The unwritten books dealing with that concept are no doubt fascinating.  But they clearly aren’t Stamm’s to write.

Short Story Review – Clelia Farris – Holes (trans. Rachel Cordasco)

It’s nice to have holes. I like having holes. Knowledge is the world falling into a hole. The human being has evolved because it has holes. Alice found Wonderland at the bottom of a hole.

When I was a teenager I spent a lot of time, too much time in fact, reading bad fantasy books instead of, well, anything else.  I’m talking DragonLance, Terry Goodkind, and endless, endless Fighting Fantasy books.  None of them hold up today (Goodkind is a wannabe fascist), though I have something of a fondness for the Lone Wolf books by Joe Dever (though can someone please explain why all of these series seem to come out of D&D adventures?  What does this say about them, and us for reading them?)

Anyway something I didn’t do much was read science fiction.  I tried.  I read some Asimov, and I liked the stories about robots.  I read some of Greg Egan’s short stories, and they were good.  Mind opening.  Perhaps that’s why – I wasn’t ready to be challenged?

Science fiction is – or can be – about challenging preconceived notions, putting ideas and ideals into relief to see what might happen when taken to an extreme, or when explored to its fullest.  It offers an extension of where we are now via where we could end up, and perhaps whether we do or do not is reliant on the stories we are able to tell ourselves.

I don’t want to be too prescriptive.  Or too grand.  Space operas exist, of course, and they often woefully rotten junk.  Or just plain old grand adventures, which is fine, but not really what I’m talking about here.

Holes by Clelia Farris, is an ideas story.  Specifically, the ideas of nurturing, womanhood, being a mother.  It’s contained within the prism of a robotic/machine-like egg which seeks to create holes in itself, holes to encourage understanding.  And, unfortunately, pain.

This time, the pain is piercing, ferocious. Incandescent awls hammer my body from the inside, hooks soaked in acid widen the nicks, tear the skin to shreds, small drills from the tip thin as a strand of baby hair slip into the smooth albumen of my egg and emerge from the other side after leaving me a hole of infinitesimal diameter. They’re called pores, and they bloom like little spring flowers over every centimeter of my body.

The pain was not what ‘the server’ wanted, but overall she’s – cough cough, sorry sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself – fine with it.  The pain is worth it.  It’s no accident, I think, that the paragraphs in the story become longer, the sentences more elaborate, as the egg is pierced.  There are fewer sentences which begin with “I”.  The narration is more complex, and more pleasing to the ear.

De Sade Inc. contacts me to offer their services: What is full, with us becomes empty. Do you want to tear off the mask?

Clever, clever, clever.

I think short stories are a fine medium within which to explore the confines of a single idea.  I do.  I wonder if, perhaps, this short story is a touch too short.  For me, anyway, I was left without enough context to really sink my teeth into the ideas presented.

I’m intrigued by Farris.  I think this idea was successfully explored, but at the same time, for me, I wanted a bit more meat with my egg.  A bad metaphor, but you know what I mean.  The ending, when it arrives, is pretty obvious, but it’s a nice touch and works well.  This is a complete and coherent piece, and that, while perhaps seeming like simply damning with faint praise, really isn’t.  I’ve read DragonLance, remember?

Holes is a short story by Italian writer Clelia Farris, translated by Rachel Cordasco.  You can read the story at World Literature Today.

Author Clelia Farris
Title Holes
Translator Rachel Cordasco
Nationality Italian
Publisher World Literature Today

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

Short Story Review – Olga Grjasnowa – The Legal Haziness of a Marriage (trans. Eva Bacon)

This is something of a prologue to a larger novel, one that has not, I believe, been translated into English.  I suppose writing about a prologue – and about a female Azerbaijani writer – has value simply because of the rarity of the combination.  And so, here we are.

What to make of a woman who has done something utterly distasteful but suffered punishment entirely out of whack with what she has done?  Sympathy, I suppose.  But it’s hard.

Leyla is involved in illegal street racing in Baku.  It’s a pastime of the idle rich children of the monied political class and corrupt businessmen.   Supposedly, the fact that pedestrians might be run over and killed is all part of the thrill.  And Leyla loves it.  It is, she thinks, the “last remaining option for rebellion”, which is a frankly reprehensible way of looking at a dangerous and thoughtless activity.

However:

The presidential family frowned upon street racing. It was among the few offenses that couldn’t be smoothed out with money. The young drivers—none of the arrested had been older than twenty-six—were usually held at the police station, and the officers took turns giving them beatings. A common, even harmless, practice in this area of the world.

[The prison guard’s] right hand slowly wandered up Leyla’s thigh, lingered on her crotch, found its way into her underwear and there did its damage with slow determination. It only retreated to wipe off the snot that Leyla spit into his face. He might have even enjoyed Leyla’s unyielding disdain. When he was done, he hit her a few times with such force that she lost consciousness. She would wake up later with the taste of blood in her mouth and a hand on her breast.

It’s too much.  It’s too much.  She doesn’t deserve sexual assault as punishment for what she has done.  And, unfortunately, as the only woman detained, she bears the brunt of male attention.

Leyla’s thoughts fade in and out of the present as she is assaulted and beaten, coming to rest often on her history as a ballerina.  Those days are gone.  Grjasnowa creates an interesting comparison of the physical duress under which a ballerina-in-training and a prisoner suffer.

And yet and yet and yet.  I am sympathetic to Leyla.  I am.  She should not have to suffer like that.  But I am of course in moral opposition to what she has done and the enjoyment she has derived from it.  The violent games of the idle rich do not interest me, and if anything I support the state’s ability to round them up and teach them a lesson via fine and/or imprisonment.

But not the sexual violence lesson.  Or the physical violence lesson.

And I suppose this is the point.  I’m in an uncomfortable situation.  I would like to believe I have a strong moral compass, but here I am conflicted.  The easy answer is to say – stop the violence, stop the sexual assault, clean up the streets and give the kids something to do.

Really easy to type.  Really easy.

The Legal Haziness of a Marriage is a short story by Azerbaijani writer Olga Grjasnowa, translated by Eva Bacon.  You can read the story at Words Without Borders.

Author Olga Grjasnowa
Title The Legal Haziness of a Marriage
Translator Eva Bacon
Nationality Azerbaijani
Publisher Words Without Borders

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