The New Pantheon

Best European Fiction

Hemon culls European literature for the, uh, best.

Book Cover Dismissing the misplaced use of the superlative in the title, this first anthology of European fiction (which proposes to be annual) depends for its credibility on its editor, Sarajevo-born Aleksandar Hemon (The Question of Bruno, Nowhere Man, The Lazarus Project). The fact that he has received the imprimatur of the MacArthur Foundation with one of its highly coveted fellowships in 2004 is a tip-off that Hemon is a serious and talented fellow. And that the reputable non-profit publisher Dalkey Archive has undertaken this enterprise is also a sign of good intent.

But again one wonders, given all the signs of seriousness of purpose, if it was necessary to call this collection the “Best European Fiction?” Of the 30-plus names included in this inaugural volume, I recognize five or six—Ornela Vorpsi, Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Victor Pelevin, Julián Ríos, Deborah Levy, Alasdair Gray, Penny Simpson—so I wouldn’t know nor do I care if the selected writers/writings are the best. But I suppose one should take Zadie Smith’s view (she has written this tome’s preface):
For me this anthology and the series that is to follow represent a personal enrichment. Books-wise, I was educated in a largely Anglo-American library and it is sometimes dull to stare at the same four walls all day. I was always refreshed to discover those windows that open out on to Kafka, Camus, Duras Genet, Colette, Bely… as I imagine some equivalent Russian schoolgirl marveled at the vista through the Muriel Spark window or the John Updike. There should be more of that sort of thing—so we are always saying—and now here are Alexsandar Hemon and Dalkey Archive Press to encourage it.
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