Sanneke van Hassel, Dutch author and short story campaigner, recommends…

(CLASSIC: from The Editors, ed. by Saul Bellow & Keith Botsford, Hushion House)

Silvio d’Arzo was the penname of Ezio Comparoni, a writer who during his short life (1920-52) rarely left the town in Northern Italy where he lived. His short stories – often no longer than a couple of pages – reflect small town Italian life, and yet have a lot to tell us. One of my favourites is ‘Due Vecchie’ (‘Two Old People’). A man and a woman have lost their son and the great mansion they used to inhabit. They are without illusions, waiting for the end, but they have their shared experiences. Then a stranger comes in. He wants to talk to the old woman. The story ends with a beautiful letter from the wife to her husband. Two people will always hold secrets for one another. The power of these stories lies in the very subtle and casual way in which they’re told. Big themes are hidden like treasures.

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(MODERN: from Alice, translated by Margot Bettauer Dembo, Clerkenwell Press)

The collection Alice by German writer Judith Hermann consists of five long stories. In each, the main character Alice loses or has lost a man she cares for. The actions, observations, thoughts and memories of Alice are written down precisely. Her detached way of looking has a very poetic effect. The collection raises questions about the meaning of our relationships, about remembering, and about writing as a way of remembering. The first story ‘Misha’ struck me most. It’s about an ex boyfriend who is dying in a far away hospital. Alice is asked to come and help his new girlfriend take care of their young child. Mourning in literature is often rough and painful to read. ‘Misha’ is about more hidden emotions and sensitivities. The first lines are unforgettable, note the rhythm which is important in Hermann’s work: But Misha didn’t die. Not during the night from Monday to Tuesday, nor the night from Tuesday to Wednesday; perhaps he would die Wednesday evening or later that night. Alice thought she had heard it said that most people die at night. The doctors weren’t saying anything anymore; they shrugged their shoulders and held out their empty, disinfected hands. There’s nothing more we can do. Sorry…

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