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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hemon (The Lazarus Project) edits the inaugural volume of an anthology of European short fiction, and while the maiden outing has many fine moments, there's room for improvement in upcoming years. The mix of authors—35 writers from 30 countries—is excellent and includes better knowns with unknowns, though each piece is allotted an average of 10 pages, leading several of the more promising works to feel truncated. Other pieces (such as Giulio Mozzi's story, originally written as part of an art exhibit) don't seem like the best work to represent an author. Still, there is much excellent work. Christine Montalbetti's surreal and enigmatic Hotel Komaba Eminence (with Haruki Murakami) plays on the author's obsession with the Japanese writer. In Igor Stiks's terse but well-managed At the Sarajevo Market, the discovery of a watch at a Bosnian marketplace triggers a crisis between war-fatigued lovers. Victor Pelevin's acidic satire Friedmann Space evolves into a Borgesian tale of Russian scientists sending lucrenauts past the Schwarzenegger threshold to report back on the black hole–like domain of the megarich. This is a good start—one hopes that next year's volume will be a more consistent collection. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Dalkey Archive Press inaugurates a planned series of annual anthologies of European fiction with this impressive first volume, which gathers short stories from 30 countries. Readers for whom the expression “foreign literature” means the work of Canada’s Alice Munro stand to have their eyes opened wide and their reading exposure exploded as they encounter works from places such as Croatia, Bulgaria, and Macedonia (and, yes, from more familiar terrain, such as Spain, the UK, and Russia). Even tiny Liechtenstein is represented, by a correlatively tiny but pungent story, “In the Snow,” about two teenage boys hiking to another town that promises great entertainment. The stories are arranged alphabetically by home country. The first, then, is from Albania, a piece called “The Country Where No One Ever Dies,” a beautifully composed and marvelously entertaining expression of Albanian cultural eccentricities. Certainly not all stories are conventional in construction or easy to decipher, but every piece benefits serious fiction lovers’ reading experience. The book contains an insightful preface by novelist Zadie Smith, who overviews the included stories’ commonalities and differences, as well as an introduction by Bosnian writer and volume editorHemon, author of the highly acclaimed novel The Lazarus Project (2008) and now a Chicago resident, who eloquently insists that the short story is hardly a moribund literary form. --Brad Hooper
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Product Details

  • Series: Best European Fiction
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press (December 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564785432
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564785435
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,125,565 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 52 people found the following review helpful By S. Lawrence on January 20, 2010
Format: Paperback
Would gently disagree with my fellow reader. The stories aren't "difficult"; they merely require the reader be present for them. This is all writers ask of us.

Also, My Fellow Americans: This is not a travel guide.

If you're interested in picking out a lovely spot for your next vacation I would suggest you find a Fodor's instead. I'm up to Serbia so far and have yet to be overwhelmed with a desire to reserve a shuttle to the airport. Iceland has this young bickering couple screaming at each other by a lake. There's a psychotically grumpy, work-injured father out and about in Latvia. To top it off, there's a Dutch future coming wherein citizens are allowed to murder--within rules.

And yet, what a wonderful, luminous, and maybe even life-changing read this book is. You won't view things the same way once you're done with it.

I left each story with something of value, some human insight. Would say the most exquisite piece so far has to be "Zidane's Melancholy" by Belgium's Jean-Philippe Toussaint. His take on the football (soccer) star's head-butt of an opponent in the 2006 World Cup final is perfection. The genius of the writing is in Monsieur Toussant's bravery; a less confident writer would have tossed the reader a coy wink now and again. Instead, he has the courage to stick to this serious, philosophical, surgical tone.

Other gems include Christine Montalbetti's (France) story of a writer having a sort of invisible but nonetheless extraordinary panic attack while in the company of Japanese writer Haruki Murukami, and a day in the life of a down and out transgendered street hustler from (Poland's Michal Witkowski); if the latter story does not make one sympathetic to people at the edge then surely nothing will.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A. J. Sutter on September 9, 2010
Format: Paperback
Unless you happen to have the same taste as the editor, the best one can usually hope for from a literary anthology is a couple of semi-precious gems buried in a lot of dirt. By that standard, this book is better than most. Out of 35 stories, I'd put 7 or 8 in the A/A- category, about the same in the B+/B category, 14 C+/C's and 6 C-/D. No A+'s, but nothing so repulsive as to flunk, either. If the "short story" in the title leads you to expect stories with memorable characters and a beginning, middle & end, though, you may be disappointed (or pleasantly amazed): relatively few of the selections follow this structure. A good many are concatenations of short episodes a page or so in length, and relatively few build characters whom one can identify with or care about. Some were very enjoyable despite these departures from older conventions.

My A/A- list included Albania (about relations between the sexes: fatalistic version), France (paranoid breakfast with a mild Japanese author), Ireland/English (downfall of a school for orphans: very funny, though ending a little contrived), Netherlands (an old-fashioned but nicely told story about the narrator's high school chess teachers), Poland (an unexpectedly sympathetic story about a gay hustler, which other reviewers have also commended), Russia (my favorite: a very funny story by Victor Pelevin about the physics of the rich), Slovenia (relations between the sexes: wry version), and UK/Scotland (a narrative seafaring poem by the famous Alasdair Gray). My lowest grade went to a pretentious attempt to echo Samuel Beckett, from Norway. The most exotic piece for me was a good-natured story about the (rather tame) nightlife in Liechtenstein: I think the time spent reading it accounts for more than half of my cumulative lifetime attention to that country. Your rankings might be different, but there's enough decent material that it's likely you'll find something you can enjoy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By prosestylelover on May 14, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What is fiction like in Europe today? That was my purchasing purpose. This is a fascinating book, so many voices, such a plunge into younger modern minds. From the perspective of a reader with decades of perusing the printed word, I can say this book absolutely delighted me with the creative variety.
Not sure I really enjoyed all of the stories but I am delighted to have read them and my grey cells are left chewing over concepts and phrases.
In some the lack of punctuation and capitalization reminded me of Archie and Mehitabel.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By crt on May 8, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Reading this book was to me much like my experience with watching some of the great foreign movies that are out there--it's like discovering a hidden treasure that few others know about, and for their pure novelty in style, setting, and tone, really snap me out of my world-weary state and hold my attention. I didn't like all the stories, in fact I didn't even finish several (and these are short stories) because I just didn't get them or thought they were plain poorly written, but the majority were good, and some very good. I find myself turning over many of these stories in my head for a few days afterwards, some continue to enter my consciousness for weeks afterward because they were just so poignant and unique. I plan to purchase last year's edition once I finish this one (about 3/4 of the way through now). I usually just read classics, so reading these unknown authors was a stretch for me. Try it, I think you'll like it :)
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Best European Fiction 2010 provides a good overview, not of all European fiction as the title suggests, but rather strictly of fiction written in the modern/post-modern mode. Reading this book without any familiarity with the vast array of writers currently at work in Europe, one might conclude that the modern/post-modern story is the only kind being written by Europeans, when in fact that is far from the case.

What is here is good, and in some cases very good. Just be prepared for a lot of stories that end abruptly without resolution; for characters who recognize themselves as characters in a piece of fiction; and of course for writers who cast themselves as characters in their own stories. Despite the assertion of many of the writers presented here that traditional storytelling is passe, it is interesting to note that sooner or later most of these stories fall back on that tradition to one extent or another. I guess when you come right down to it, there are few better ways to say "she entered the room, turned on the light, and closed the door behind her," than to simply come right out an say it. Even Steinar Bragi (Iceland), who in the preface we are told is bored to tears by the likes of Dickens, offers up several pages of well-crafted, straight-forward sentences of a kind that might well have been written in the Victorian era by, say, the likes of Dickens, and all in the service of a fairly traditional story.

Be that as it may, my only real complaint with this book (which accounts for the 3 stars) is the sheer number of stories presented here--30 spread out over 360 pages, which works out to a meager average of 12 pages per a story.
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