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The Third Shore: Women's Fiction From East Central Europe


" … Tuesday never brought me anything nice. When I came back from class, I found my room-mate murdered. She was strangled. I didn’t love her, I didn’t hate her, I often didn’t even notice her.... "

Reviewed by Nuala Ní Chonchúir    

The Third Shore, edited by Agata Schwarz and Luise Von Flotow, is subtitled "Women’s fiction from East Central Europe", and the countries represented include Slovenia, Latvia, Estonia, Croatia, Albania and the Former East Germany. Many of these stories are short on dialogue and on the old writing-class favourite, "showing" – there is little action and a lot of summary. It must be that the regional fictional style is to summarise rather than show scenes; I’ve certainly come across this mode of story-telling in other writers from those countries. Once Western European sensibilities are put aside, however, the internal and searching style of many of the narratives is enjoyable. Most of the stories are told in the first person which gives a welcome immediacy. 

This reviewer enjoyed The Herbarium, a shocking tale of mother-love gone mad. The story is delicate and finely balanced, and relies on a narrator and excerpts from her dead flat mate’s diary. There are quite a few different views of the parent-child relationship in this anthology: The Same Old Story is a slightly surreal take on a man’s dementia as witnessed by his daughter; while South Wind and a Sunny Day neatly explores the reversing roles of an aging mother and her thirty-two-year old daughter. 

Some of the translations are a bit clunky and one wonders if the authors’ intentions or original set-up have always been preserved. The extract from Like Two Peas in a Pod – another diary entry – sounds a little stilted when considering the subject matter: sex at a student party. Anticipating the party, the narrator says: "I was really craving such an event. In the afternoon, I could already feel the desire to seduce someone creep up in me." 

In the wry A Little Bedtime Story, a drunk human rights activist tries – and fails – to have sex with a journalist; he ends up in her friend's bed by mistake. The story is told from the point of view of all three protagonists and events become clearer, and funnier, as the story rolls on. Another extract, E.E., comes in the form of historical fiction and has echoes of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The young Erna – recently returned from an asylum – stumbles on two life-changing aspects of her womanhood in one day: her first period and her first orgasm. She finds both events overwhelming and seeks comfort in the somewhat menacing forest beside her home. 

The cover design is excellent on this anthology: it depicts a photo of a woman with a roaring lioness’s head; other publishers of short fiction could learn something about good design from Brandon Books. There are also bio notes on the authors: these are always welcome in an anthology. This book has a twenty-two page introduction from the two editors, which seems overly long and possibly unnecessary. But their aim is to set the stories in their political, feminist and historical context, while also acknowledging the cultural differences present in the region, and outside it. The introduction is probably best read after the stories, in case it interferes with the simple reading of them.

Nuala Ní Chonchúir's  second fiction collection is To the World of Men, Welcome, (Arlen House, 2005). Among her fiction prizes are the Jonathan Swift and the Cecil Day Lewis Awards. Her bilingual poetry collection Tattoo:Tatú (Arlen House, 2007), is out now. Nuala lives in Galway, Ireland, and holds an honours M. A. in Translation Studies from Dublin City University.

Publisher: Brandon Books

Publication Date: Feb 2007

Hardback/Paperback? Paperback

First collection? Anthology

Editors: Agata Schwartz and Luise Von Flotow

Editor bios:  Agata Schwartz is associate professor of German at the University of Ottawa, where Luise Von Flotow is associate professor of Translation Studies.

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