La femme au temps des cathédrales, Régine Pernoud

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Un vrai trésor ce livre, quelle découverte. Je dois une fidèle chandelle à Alain Finkielkraut et son émission, Répliques, qui me l’a fait découvrir.
C’est un livre qui fait état des lieux et des temps -le Moyen-Âge en temps pré-Carolingien, féodal, et médiéval- par rapport au statut de la femme.
N’en déplaise aux anti-cléricaux (moi le premier), cette période ne peut être conçue en dehors de la chrétienté médiévale. Une chrétienté qui n’a de rapport avec la notre qu’en ce qui concerne la théologie. La métamorphose que fera la chrétienté sur ce monde du 10ème au 13ème siècle, se fait sentir dans le vécu, dans le quotidien.

Dans la première partie du livre, Avant le temps des cathédrales, Régine Pernoud nous rappelle que les premiers à avoir reçu le message des Évangiles, étaient les femmes, qui se voyaient libérées par la Bonne Nouvelle. Elle nous livre un schéma de ce qu’était la vie des femmes sous l’empire romain et se réfère aux juristes et aux historiens du droit. Sa position est d’emblée très claire envers le droit romain. Bien que tant admiré à partir du 13ème siècle et surtout depuis le 17ème siècle, pour Régine Pernoud, le droit Romain est profondément anti-féministe, au sens classique du terme. Il sera plus tard adopté par le code Napoléon au 19ème siècle.
Pour résumer, elle cite Robert Villers: “À Rome, la femme, sans exagération ni paradoxe, n’était pas sujet de droit… Sa condition personnelle, les rapports de la femme avec ses parents ou avec son mari sont de la compétence de la domus dont le père, le beau-père ou le mari sont les chefs tout-puissants… La femme est uniquement un objet.” Bien de détails et de citations seront ajoutés pour éclaircir ce que sera plus tard l’évolution du statut de la femme sous l’Empire et sous le Bas-Empire, reste que la femme, pas plus que l’esclave, n’existe pas par rapport au droit romain.

La transformation qui sera faite plus tard du temps des Pères de l’Église (par rapport à la société citadine) n’est possible qu’à cause des Évangiles qui énoncent l’égalité foncière entre hommes et femmes et condamnent la répudiation autant que l’adultère. Citant le Petit Larousse (Je dois rappeler que les citations du livres sont toutes antérieures à 1985), elle relève quelque 21 noms de femmes des 2ème et 3ème siècles (contre 4 noms d’hommes); Parmi les 21 femmes, 19 sont des saintes: Blandine de Lyon, une esclave martyre de l’Église, Agnès, Cécile ou Lucie des contestataires dans leur monde qui refusaient l’époux que leur père leur destinait.
Régine Pernoud prétend que ces femmes (ou plutôt les femmes) ont vite compris le message des évangiles et se voyaient les récipients d’une liberté de choix qu’aucun droit législatif ne leurs accordait.

C’est une longue introduction mais qui donne une idée précise du contenu des parties suivantes. Et l’auteur de prolonger cette idée de l’adoption de la chrétienté par les femmes pour montrer à combien de femmes l’on doit la “conversion” des états Européens au christianisme, La France avec Clotilde, L’Ukraine avec Olga, L’Italie (plus précisément l’Italie du Nord) avec Théodelinde, Tolède (Espagne) avec Théodosia, l’Angleterre avec Berthe de Kent. Toutes ces femmes ont réussi à faire baptiser leur époux-roi. Cela donne une idée au changement du statut judiciaire de la femme suite au déclin de l’empire romain.
On est toujours avant le temps des cathédrales. Régine Pernoud dresse dans cette partie le portrait de la religieuse qui va avoir une influence sur l’urbanisme du Moyen-Âge à travers l’expansion des abbayes surtout en France, mais aussi en Angleterre, l’Irlande, l’Espagne et l’Italie mais aussi sur la littérature du Moyen-Âge avec l’apparition de la littérature courtoise. Entendons-nous bien, les abbayes n’ont rien à voir avec les couvents de notre temps; jusqu’au 13ème siècles, certaines de ces abbayes hébergeront un nombre considérable de moines et moniales allant jusqu’à presque 3,000 dans le cas de Fontevraud. Ce qui m’a absolument surpris c’est que ces abbayes étaient la demeures de femmes et d’hommes, de femme nobles, paysannes ou même prostituées et étaient sous la direction d’une abbesse! Véritables cruches de travail, d’échange commercial avec le monde extérieur (qui, en certains pays ne pesait pas grande chose par rapport a l’étendue de certaines abbayes), de trésors de documents, de livres, oeuvres le plus souvent des copistes. Les archives de ces abbayes font fréquemment l’objet des études des médiévistes.

J’ai expressément mis un point d’exclamation devant abbesse pour ouvrir cette parenthèse et se demander combien des Fortune 500 compagnies ou de celles du CAC40 sont aujourd’hui dirigées par des femmes? En Allemagne (et presque partout dans le monde occidental) on se bat toujours pour des quotas de femmes au sein de la direction des entreprises et j’entends dire, par des féministes, que seuls les quotas parviendront à établir l’équité homme-femme au sein des entreprises!
Il me semble que ce qui était évident au temps du Moyen-Âge par rapport au statut et à la condition féminine ne l’était plus qu’avec le combat de l’émancipation des femmes du 20ème siècle. Dans le chapitre 8 intitulé “La Femme et l’Activité Économique” plusieurs documents, dont la fameuse investigation commandé par Saint Louis, attestent des professions occupés par les femmes. Là aussi, on est loin des professions respectables que pouvaient exercer les femmes au 19ème siècle par exemple (et même -j’ajoute- de nos jours, au Liban où l’on peine à convaincre les filles de s’essayer à des études techniques). Régine Pernoud nous livre une liste de professions parmi lesquelles: coiffeuses, barbières, boulangères, médecins, poissonnières, etc… On est bien sur dans un monde très rural.

Hormis l’influence chrétienne, le livre ne nous offre pas autre raison, autre explication historique pour que la femme au moyen-âge puisse jouir  d’une telle émancipation. Régine Pernoud fait une référence hâtive au droit franc qui était, dit-elle, plus indulgent avec la femme que le droit germanique ou romain. On peut aussi, à travers ce livre, extraire cette absence du temporel de l’Église. Par exemple, en ce qui concerne le mariage au moyen-âge, le prêtre était plutôt témoin de l’échange des voeux entre époux et épouse et non pas celui qui mariait (qui a écho avec le mariage civil de nos jours). Bien sûr l’Église était impliquée dans le politique (croisades, excommunions des nobles adultères ou des mariages nobles illicites ou incestueux, etc…) mais on est loin du temps des Borgias et des alliances politiques.
Elle nous donne plutôt une idée de ce qui va changer par rapport au statut des femmes dès le 14ème siècle: on assistera à une renaissance du droit romain, et à une résurgence de la pensée aristotélicienne, surtout à l’Université de Paris, et qui n’était guère favorable aux femmes. Un autre coup sera porté par Thomas d’Aquin qui intègre la pensée d’Aristote à la Révélation, et qui tient pour certaine la supériorité de l’homme sur la femme.

Je n’ai fait que couvrir un dixième du contenu de ce livre, qui a bouleversée ma pensée par rapport à l’émancipation de la femme. Bien que pas très épais, (380 pages) ce livre est foisonnant et riche en détails sur l’activité politique, littéraire, économique et civile de la femme au temps des cathédrales.

Sous Le Soleil de Satan, Georges Bernanos

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As far as I know, this book is no longer available in English; if it is, Amazon prices it in the hundreds of dollars, and I don’t think it’s worth that much. The French original version is freely available here

I can’t remember how it was that I came to know of Bernanos except that he was mentioned in several online articles as being one of those excellent writers who are now forgotten. I had no idea that he was a Catholic so that while I was reading the excerpt on the back cover I thought that I will be reading something akin to The Lord of The Rings, a battle between manifest good and evil. I was wrong.

Bernanos said that he wasn’t a Catholic writer but a Catholic writing books, and I hope this will bring back the readers who might have mistaken the title for being a dogmatic pamphlet. It is not, and Bernanos himself was not a theologian, nor dare I say was he interested in theology per se. This makes the book even more worthy to be reviewed, for this was the first work of a regular man, impressed by the ideas of his age, politically engaged yet still an average father and husband.

The book is split into a prologue and two parts, though the prologue is a hefty one and I wonder if such a construction is due to rookie’s mistake or whether it was setup on purpose. The prologue introduces us to Germaine Malorthy, fondly referred to as Mouchette, a 16-year old who collapses one day in front of her mother as the early symptoms of her pregnancy are revealed. This is how Bernanos introduces to us the enamored Mouchette (all the translation is mine, a hell of a job!)

À seize ans, elle savait aimer (non point rêver d’amour, qui n’est qu’un jeu de société)… Elle savait aimer, c’est-à-dire qu’elle nourrissait en elle, comme un beau fruit mûrissant, la curiosité du plaisir et du risque, la confiance intrépide de celles qui jouent toute leur chance en un coup, affrontent un monde inconnu, recommencent à chaque génération l’histoire du vieil univers.

At sixteen, she knew how to love (not so much dream of love which is but a parlor game)… She knew how to love, that is to say she nurtured in her being, like a ripening fruit, the curiosity of pleasure and of risk-taking, the intrepid confidence of those who gamble their lot in one shot, confront an unknown world, and repeat with every generation the age old story of the universe.

The fingers are pointed at the Marquis de Cadignan, a known womanizer. In the ensuing rage between the Malorthys as to the proper action to be taken, Mouchette takes a bold step and confronts her lover who refuses to assume his responsibility. Realizing the futility of this relation, Mouchette kills the Marquis, attempts to peg her pregnancy on another lover, and a month later delivers a stillborn. I’m not sure why Bernanos elaborated so much on the above tragedy; only Mouchette’s character survives the coming events.

Part one of the book opens up on a very sophisticated discussion between two abbots: Menou-Segrais, the dean of the Campagne village, superior of Father Donissan, the main character of the novel, and Abbot Damange.The ambiance is calm, poised and quite distant from the flare ups at the Malorthys:

De tous les embarras de l’âge, l’expérience n’est pas le moindre, et je voudrais que la prudence dont vous parlez n’eut jamais grandi aux dépens de la fermeté

Of all the embarrassment brought on by old age, experience is not the least of which, and I should want that prudence, of which you refer, ought never to have grown at the expense of firmness

Father Donissan is talked of as being clumsy, of limited education, more zealous than wise, ready to work but always botching things up and lacking the eloquence of his superior when celebrating mass. Father Donissan is aware of his shortcomings and in a very elliptical conversation with his superior suggests that a convent might be a better place for him. This is the first episode of a series of doubts and insecurities that will fail to leave Father Donissan in peace until the very end of the novel. Thrusting his disciple forward through the good parish work that is needed in Campagne, Abbot Menou-Segrais concludes his preaching to Donissan with the below:

Alors, la prudence humaine n’est que pièges et folies. La Sainteté! s’écria le vieux prêtre d’une voix profonde, en prononçant ce mot devant vous, pour vous seul, je sais le mal que je vous fait!

Therefore, human prudence is but traps and follies. Holiness! cried the old priest in a deep voice, in pronouncing this word before you, for you alone, I know of the pain I will cause you!

This is a most marvelous sentence to me, because it defies conventional wisdom, and could only be uttered by a religious person. It opens up the human spirit to exceed Aristotle’s limiting prudence and to thrust himself into the unreasonable, into faith itself.

The essence of the book is here for holiness without wisdom is but folly, and the Christian faith, as our dear Donissan will find out, is rooted in love not performance. In a very 19th construction, the word holiness acts as a reinvigorating elixir for Father Donissan and he sets himself to work filling up the gaps in his education, improving his parish work, excelling in his visits to the faithfuls and for a while I wanted to believe that bubble will last, but unfortunately, the insecurities still linger, and to punish himself for doubting the grace of God, for thinking that he could have done better, should have done better, Father Donissan never gives up his self-inflicted mortification in a description that spans up pages and is of the most disturbing for readers sympathizing with Father Donissan.

There doesn’t seem to be a way out for Father Donissan’s insecurities: for they do not come about as he interacts with the outside world. To him, Satan does not reside in the pale temptations of the flesh, but traps the solitary faithful in his prayer, in his fasting and the deepest corners of his heart. That may be true and Bernanos, through fine traces here and there, sends his readers the message that Christianity is not the religion of the solitary, no matter how much the solitary soul would like to give more, do more and spread out the greatness of God. In fact, Father Donissan is tempted the most when he is face to face with his conscience, when indeed he is inactive, when his preaching and confessions and visits have come to an end. This understanding of Christian faith doesn’t surprise me form someone who wasn’t insensitive to his surrounding, and who was, on the contrary, even politically engaged.

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Another aspect of Christian faith was left out of Father Donissian’s reach and that is Christian love. For Father Donissan, towards the middle of the book, having overcome the presence of Satan during a long and dark journey to another village, receives a gift, the gift of a true believer, and that is to look past the sinful human flesh and penetrate into the depth of the soul of any human being. The good priest puts indeed that gift into use in his parish work and visits to the faithful. Sadly for him, his zeal consumes him and exceeds both his capacity to love and his wisdom.

Consequently, on his way back to his village, Father Donissan encounters Mouchette and is able to pierce through her, revealing her long-kept secret’s details and urges her to repent in an effort to vanquish Satan. There is no compassion nor understanding in his approach to her, just his obsession to vanquish Satan residing in her soul. Twice, Father Donissan attempts to rescue or save a soul but he does it in a showoff with Satan to vanquish him, he tests God, and Bernanos at the end of one Donissan’s messed up interventions, writes: ********SPOILER QUOTE ONLY********

Et ce signe ne lui sera pas refusé, car la foi qui transporte des montagnes peut bien ressusciter un mort… Mais Dieu ne se donne qu’à l’amour.

And this sign [from God] would have been given to him, as faith that moves mountains may as well resurrect the dead… But God offers himself to love.

Bernanos does not come out of this book as the enchanted Catholic standing by his clergy in their redemptive endeavors. On the contrary, when the priest fails in the matters of this tangible word, a man of science is standing right next to him to provide support for the poor devouts who placed too much faith in the works of another human being. If I remember my catechism correctly, that is hardly a Catholic message.

I will not add more to the plot of the story, and would like to note the writing of Bernanos, complicated and convoluted as it seemed, some passages I found myself referring back to them, and I think it is one of the books I tweeted the most quotes from.

Bernanos evokes the problematic Time for our Father Donissan frequently throughout the book; as one temptation is vanquished, in a matter of minutes another one sweeps in, as after Father Donissan has overcome the temptation of Satan in a long scene that spanned several pages, only to be doubting its occurrence phrases later:

Chaque objet reconnu, des habitudes reprises une à une, rendaient plus incertaine et plus vague la grande aventure de la nuit. Bien plus vite encore qu’il n’eût pensé, elle perdait ses détails et ses contours, reculait dans le rêve.

Each recognized object, habits repeated one after the other, made the great adventure of the night more uncertain and more vague. Faster than he could have fathomed, the night was losing its details and contours, retreating into a dream.

Or when he writes:

Souvenons-nous que Satan sait tirer parti d’une oraison trop longue, ou d’une mortification trop dure.

Remember that Satan can take advantage of too long a prayer, or of too hard a mortification
I hope that this book, if it will ever be picked up by any courageous reader of this blog, will be read as a serious piece of literature, and that the reader will not limit him or herself to the confines of Catholicism in interpreting this book. It’s true it’s got priests galore and temptation is the central theme, but there is more to that: the priests are a product of their (then) time: Donissan’s superior advises him to stay silent on his visions, his gift and his battles with Satan, for the “fashion of the time is towards neurology” and proceeds that the clergy itself would probably find the mentioning of Satan a ludicrous term. The setting and the themes are Catholic yes, but their treatment is Christian, and as the debut novel of a writer, it is very much worth one’s time.

Best European Fiction 2012

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I hesitated to buy this book because it had this ridiculous superlative “Best”. But then the cover auto-remedied its own deficiency by declaring that this collection is edited by Aleksandar Hemon with a preface by Nicole Krauss, both writers I have previously read and liked in The New Yorker.

I read this book in complete web2.0 seclusion: my smartphone was on airplane mode, I had no access to wifi, no access to any library or bookstore or human being to share my reading with, and so this book proved particularly difficult for me. I wonder if one is “permitted” when reading collections to skip some stories when nothing makes sense anymore…

The idea behind this collection is that Hemon selects one story from each European country, or more precisely from each European ethnicity. This is the reason why Spain, for example has 3 stories translated from Galician, Castilian and Catalan. Surprisingly, Italy has none. The stories are grouped according to 8 themes: love, desire, family, thought, art, home, work, evil. Apparently, special effort was given to translation, as Krauss notes it in the preface: there are writers and translators’ biographies and I appreciated that. When I had access to wifi again, I checked Dalkey Archive, the publishers of this collection, and it seems they specialize in publishing out of print books, writers that few publishers want to work with, and of course works in translation, precisely because American audience, publishers claim, are not too keen on translated works. Their website even has a growing page of interviews with contemporary writers, such as: David Markson, Cortazar, Kundera, etc…

Belgium

Under the category Love, I liked Patricia de Martelaere’s (Belgium: Dutch) My Hand is Exhausted, a story about a pure moment of love between a painter and her model, examining along the way painting, or perhaps the creative process, as impossible to separate from the emotions of the creator. I loved the character of Esther, a woman who endures her monotonous life while being fully conscious of its monotony.

Esther lets them talk and listens. She listens very carefully, but actually she’s not listening. Listening is a form of looking . Watching how a face changes when the lips form words.

She despises them because they come all the same. The only ones she doesn’t despise are the ones who don’t come.

Spain

This Strange Lucidity by Augustin Fernandez Paz (Spain: Galician) tells the story of the beginning and the end of a relationship told from the perspective of the guy’s dog. I had to re-read the first passage because I could not imagine that the main narrator would be a dog.

I’m not blaming him, routines end up sticking to the skin as if they were part of us. When I think about it, everything I do is a routine. If you could see me, you’d realize, after standing by his side for a few minutes, that I always grow impatient and start running up and down the pavement, without ever leaving the area between the corner shop and the greengrocer’s. Sniffing here and there, at tree trunks, lampposts, garbage corners, building walls.

Santiago Pajares’ (Spain: Castilian) Today is a story that I loved because it’s one of the few that I found quite funny. It deals, as its title tells, with the protagonist’s daily life, his one and a half relationship which at the start of the book has ended and the changes that happen with him at work, changes against which he has no saying. I think we all find ourselves in such a situation when we decide, today or tomorrow, that we will be changing something with out daily routine, something to keep the negative vibes away.

It’s not that I haven’t gotten laid in a year and a half, of course that’s not it. I’ve had sex with three women. I met all three in a bar – not in the same bar – and I asked all three if they wanted to get breakfast the next morning, but they all declined. They had to get to work. All three of them worked on Sunday.

I work for a technology company, a midsize company that’s been acquired by large corporation, so that even though I still work in the same office, and the majority of my colleagues are still around, our logo is different now.

Ireland

Desmond Hogan’s (Ireland: Irish) Kennedy left me quite disappointed. I was looking forward to the Irish stories in this collection, but this one felt bland, and talks about difficult neighborhoods, crimes, etc… The opening paragraph made me want to skip it, but I thought it would be unethical to do so: A nineteen-year-old youth is made to dig a shallow grave in waste ground beside railway tracks near Limerick bus station and then shot with an automatic pistol.

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Estonia

One of the stories I loved was Armin Koomagi’s Logisticians Anonymous. It’s funny and smart, and talks about an expert in logistics who is so efficient in his work and in reorganization of businesses that he once fired himself to improve efficiency. It’s quite a different take at the current corporate world obsessed with cost-cuttings and competitiveness and its implications on our own daily lives, us who populate the corporate world.

The order in which I laid down my clothes on my chair before going to bed, the precision with which I portioned out the toothpaste onto my brush each morning, likewise how precisely I could fold toilet paper into the right shape for wiping my bottom, in what order I placed groceries in my refrigerator, and the logical means by which I conjured the last drop our of the ketchup bottle – none of this earned me the faintest esteem in my wife’s eyes.

France & Norway

France was “represented” by Marie Darrieussecq, and this was another disappointment as the editor chose a sort of a preface she wrote for the catalog of photographer Jeurgen Teller’s exhibition. On the other hand, I was completely taken by Bjarte Breiteig’s Down There They Don’t Mourn. In this story a student at a vocational school takes an escape from his swimming class and together with a friend goes on destroying the content of the classrooms along with the students’ projects. The violence that is quite visible in his acts made me wonder why a Norwegian would write about violence and destruction until I read the author’s biography bit in the book, and recalled the massacre that Anders Breivik committed.

He slaps his hand against the kiln door and laughs when he sees me jump. He gropes his way along the far wall, opens the supplies cabinet, and shoves everything aside. The he climbs up onto the shelf. The door creaks shut after him, and for a few seconds I hear him rummage around in there, but then it goes quiet. I figure he’s just sitting there waiting for me to open the cabinet, and when I do, he’s going to let out a roar or throw something at me.

This story is one of the reasons why I liked this collection and even ordered the 2014 one. In a quick glimpse of 10 pages at most, one gets a feeling of a distant society and the issues that people have to deal with. Strangely, this reason is also why I find foreign literature difficult to read, since I sometimes am not familiar, except vaguely, with the socio-political construct of a certain country, or with the personal background of a particular writer.

Switzerland & Serbia

Another disappointment was Noelle Revaz’s (Switzerland: French) The Children. It’s the story of the children of a pension who, one day, are asked to gather in the yard and the headmistress informs them that she and her husband must leave to attend to a certain matter and will be back later during the day. She gives them advice on what to do during her absence, and the extends those advice to matters they might attend to at night in the case of them being late. Over time, the time the headmistress and her husband grows longer and the advice become of a different nature than simple chores. I though the story had amazing potential but towards the end it felt a bit moralizing and too literal for my taste.

Michael Stauffer’s (Switzerland: German) The Woman With The Stocks is another light story that I enjoyed because Lebanon was not affected by the financial crisis that hit the US and Europe and this short story provided another take on the effects of this crisis on normal people than the news did with their grim coverages and the political orientations their stories take.

Marija Knezevic’s Without Fear of Change is a nice, light story about career change, and changes in general in our lives, told from the perspective of an actress in a telenovela whose role in the soap opera goes into a series of changes as a result of the personal changes that go into the love lives of the producer of the show.

Netherlands

Sanneke Van Hassel’s Pearl is one of two disturbing stories in this anthology. It is the story of a woman who becomes pregnant against her wish and the changes this pregnancy brings to her daily life and to her relationship. The story disturbed me because it made me wonder what system of values do we still possess in this day and age? And incidentally what is this moral reference point that keeps but also reinforces our humanity.

I hunt through my old college books for heroic role models from literary history, becoming absorbed in confessions by Anne Sexton and Sylvia PLath. The head in the oven, tea towels under the kitchen door. Poets of dispair, stylizing for all they’re worth. Sometimes I read a story by Colette; She perseveres in love, despite the ragged edges, the insoluble tensions.

Finland

Passiontide by Maritta Lintunen is a story I enjoyed reading, because it was written without any complexities, no confusions with respect to time or characters and it deals with family. It is the story of the 70-year old narrator who opens the story lying on the ground, amidst cake ingredients. We later learn that she slipped on the ground while preparing food and baking desserts for her boy who will be visiting her during Easter. The story is told from this perspective, a helpless old lady, stuck to the ground, listening to the radio programs, and with no food nor liquid available except those that dropped to the floor when she slipped. Such a story would not be deemed credible in Lebanon: it is impossible, no matter where one lives, that one ends up spending 5 days on the floor of his/her own house without somebody calling or passing by or being worried of them not calling or passing by. But this is another contrast between societies, made stark through the power of short stories.

The first thing I saw was round, domed shapes: golden brown and yellow, smeared with egg whites and sprinkled with sanding sugar – dozens of little buns scattered before me. […] I took all of this in without understanding any of it, and then drifted off into a deep sleep once more. I woke up again, after an indeterminate period of time, to the same view.

Germany

The Case of M, by Clemens Meyer is a story inspired by true events of a pedophile. If I got it right, the pedophile’s actions are told by an inmate, a rapist but not a pedophile. What’s disturbing about it is the recounting of the stalking of this little 8-year old girl. It has such a narrow focus that the reader doesn’t have the space to breathe, and it felt quite plausible, before I knew it was a true story, that it made pedophile stories one hears about in the news more real because they could happen anywhere, in the blink of an eye.

You had enough time, mind you, you spent days watching her, imagining over and over what it must be like, how it must feel, but when you’ve done what you’re planning with her, what then? And where do you put her? You didn’t think of convincing her to keep quiet, like some pedophiles do, did you? No, you came straight out with the tape when she’d only been sitting on the sofa for two minutes.

CONCLUSION

All in all, I liked this collection. The stories weren’t all straightforward and easy to digest, but their advantage to me – and this was highlighted in the preface – is that they gave me a different take on the issues that are affecting Europe. By a different take, I mean different from the one I get reading newspapers and magazines and blogs. These stories present characters, they take the time to develop the characters and their surroundings, even though they are short stories, they showed me how ordinary people cope with the changing world. Packing the lives of ordinary people in short stories, offers the reader the much needed advantage of staying away from political colorings that frequently taint the news as reported by the media. Lives change independently of political strategies, partisan calculations or changes in economic orientations. The human being will find methods to cope, some are time-tested, some are unorthodox, some are criminal and some decide to just quit.