Saturday, 16 May 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Europa 28: Writing By Women On The Future Of Europe.


Title : Europa 28
Authors: various
Editors: Sophie Hughes and Sarah Cleeves
Publisher: Comma Press

Published by Comma Press on 12th March 2020 in collaboration with Hay Festival, as part of a global project with Hay Festival Europa28 scheduled to be held in Rijeka, Croatia, 3-5 June 2020.
Europa28 is described as a ground-breaking anthology of women’s voices from across Europe which was commissioned in response to the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.

With an Introduction by English feminist writer Laura Bates (founder of the Everyday Sexism project), Bates explains the importance of hearing the perspective of women as according to analysis cited by Bates, 90% of the discussion of Brexit in the Houses of Parliament was carried out by men. Women were left out of the debate, leaving “the certainties presented by the loudest voices” to remain enshrined as fact.

This is an anthology by female writers on Europe's future. It showcases 28 stories by women writers, artists, scientists and entrepreneurs from Europe. The 28 female writers each represent one of the 28 EU countries and share their vision for the future of Europe from across disciplines such as literature, business, science and the arts. It features both fiction and non-fiction from writers and thinkers, including Leïla Slimani (author of Lullaby), Kapka Kassabova (author of Border), entrepreneur Hilary Cottam, actress Lisa Dwan and activist Janne Teller. Some of the contributions are reflections based on personal experience or perspective, while others are fantastical or allegorical.

The anthology looks at Europe from a variety of viewpoints and provides optimism and visions into how to offer new perceptions on the future of Europe and how the continent might be rebuilt. Taking its title from Greek mythology, from the myth of Europa, (a Phoenician princess who was abducted by Zeus and whisked off to Crete), a character who gave her name to the continent, the collection includes essays, short stories and think pieces on this theme. As the title implies, it gives perspectives from a woman’s point of view and focuses on how they see things differently by bringing their own unique experiences to the fore. Each story showcases women whose different attitudes to writing about Europe are various and appealing.

The collection is entirely written and edited by women and is noteworthy for its varied assortment of subjects which include writings on politics, sex and gender with compassion and a plea for peaceful co-existence being the common themes along with freedom as a recurring topic in this ambitious collection. The writers play with form, concepts and ideals. Although entirely written by women, the pieces are not entirely about women. We are taken through all the different countries of Europe, sometimes in present day and others in past centuries with authors recounting meetings with prominent dignitaries and political notables. Author, Leïla Slimani, also takes us beyond the borders of Europe to the Mediterranean.

The success of the collection seems to me to be because the pieces are so varied in themes and the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union materialises greatly throughout. The editors’ decision to present them alphabetically according to country rather than generically seems reasonable. Each essay or story stands alone and speaks for itself as part of the anthology as a whole. Due to the alphabetical order of the collection, the United Kingdom story appears at the end as a finale to the collection.

Europa28 questions what it means to be European today and is a positive celebration of unity in difference. It demonstrates clearly and often humorously how women really do see things with a different perspective.

The anthology is a must for readers who are huge fans of translated fiction and who enjoy reading writing from different countries. It features writing from Julya Rabinowich (Austria), Annelies Beck (Belgium), Kapka Kassabova (Bulgaria/UK), Asja Bakic (Croatia), Nora Nadjarian (Cyprus), Apolena Rychlikova (Czech Republic), Janne Teller (Denmark), Maarja Kangro (Estonia), Saara Turunen (Finland), Leïla Slimani (France), Yvonne Hofstetter (Germany), Sofía Kouvelaki (Greece), Zsofia Ban (Hungary), Lisa Dwan (Ireland), Silvia Bencivelli (Italy), Nora Ikstena (Latvia), Carine Krecke (Luxembourg), Zydrune Vitaite (Lithuania), Caroline Muscat (Malta), Gloria Wekker (Netherlands), Bronka Nowicka (Poland), Ana Pessoa (Portugal), Ioana Nicolaie (Romania), Tereza Nvotova (Slovakia), Renata Salecl (Slovenia), Edurne Portela (Spain), Karolina Ramqvist (Sweden) and Hilary Cottam (UK).

I enjoyed the majority of the writings in this anthology and gravitated to some more than others, but it provided me with much food for thought. This collection is for anyone interested in the genre of women writers. It is thought-provoking and provides hope and inspiration from exceptional women writers.

Laura Bates sums up the anthology with ‘For a continent named after the myth of a rape, to be forced to look anew at itself through women’s eyes is a refreshing and necessary concept’.

Reviewer - Anne Pritchard

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