What I’m Reading: Best European Fiction 2013

By David Blomenberg, Reviews Editor

One of the many things I look forward to toward the end of every year is the latest volume of Dalkey Archive’s Best European Fiction, now in its fourth year.  Each November, I start looking for the notices and by December,  the Alexandar Hemon-edited volume is usually in my hot little hands. Past  issues have been my introduction to the wonderful work of new and established authors from all corners of Europe (when’s the last time you read short fiction from Macedonia?).  The series could also be seen as a sort of sampler platter of the offerings that Dalkey Archive—a publisher specializing in literature in translation—has coming down the pike. For example, BEF 2011 was my first encounter with the luminous prose of Michal Ajvaz, whose The Other City and The Golden Age, also published by Dalkey Archive, are very much worth picking up.

Editor Aleksandar Hemon has grouped  BEF 2013’s stories  roughly by theme: Space, Reality, Art, Memory Death, Body, Women, Men, Marriage, Sons, and Americans.  This last grouping is somewhat odd, considering only one of the two pieces here mentions America in passing, and the other, a beautifully surreal story by Iceland’s Gyrðir Eliasson, gives no specific sense of the characters’ nationality or where the story is set.

This calls to mind the truly international—not nationalist—character of this series, especially BEF 2013:  Russian Kirill Kobrin’s story is set in Germany; Swiss author Bernard Comment’s in Paris. Kobrin’s story is told from the point of view of an ailing Franz Kafka, who has arrived in Marienbad to take a cure with his wife:  “During the last couple of years, acting with a doctor of law’s carefulness and consistency, he’d removed her from himself, installing her in a special room at the far end of the corridor of his life.” It’s a wistful, beautiful exploration of longing and shifting allegiances. Bernard Comment’s A Son  also documents an estrangement as the protagonist arrives on the outskirts of Paris to attend his father’s funeral.  The way the details of the failed relationship are made known over the course of the story shows a master at work.

Also here is a story from Spain’s Bernardo Atxaga, whose novel Seven Houses in France (released last September by Graywolf) has been making waves and Booker Prizewinner A. S. Byatt, whose story Doll’s Eyes is a beautifully-controlled queasy tale of betrayal and retribution. All told, for fans of short fiction and those who are looking for writers to explore further, this is well worth getting.

502 pages, $16

ISBN 9781564784927