Translated from the Italian and published by the independent publishing house, And Other Stories, there is a subtle musicality to this wonderful book. One of my favourites in a while.
When Hana’s sick uncle calls her back from the capital to his home in the mountains of Northern Albania, he tries to marry her off. She refuses and instead she decides to become a ‘sworn virgin’*. Years later Hana is offered the opportunity to leave Albania and join her cousin, Lila, in the USA.
A friend first told me about the phenomenon of the “sworn virgin’ some years ago, thanks Rachael! A ‘sworn virgin’ refers to an ancient yet unique tradition in Northern Albania that has been preserved until the present day- if there is no man in the house or a woman fears rape-the woman in question can decide to change her status from female to male. She would be respected and possess all a man’s rights and freedoms, dress and act as a man, meet with elders in the community, drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes in cafés, with one condition. The condition being that she preserve her virginity.
Identity, love, gendered roles, sacrifice and what it means to be a woman.
“Hana catalogues the scene under the heading: ‘Man out of love, woman still hopeful, marriage ceasefire about to expire.’”
“The flirtation between the trees and the fall goes on. The green leaves are compromised by touches of seasonal sunset red.”
“She hadn’t wanted children, all she had wanted was books. But in the mountains you couldn’t say these things if you were born a girl.”
“‘Welcome back, body,’ she says out loud.”
Want to read Sworn Virgin? Buy it here.
Written by Elvira Dones
Translated from the Italian by Clarissa Botsford
01/10/2015, And Other Stories
#WITMonth for 2021 is curated by Jess Andoh-Thayre
I am 35, from London but currently living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I have lived in Tanzania, Chile, Spain and now Cambodia. I am married to a diplomat and we have been posted in Dar es Salaam and now Cambodia. Prior to married life, I had also lived in La Serena, Chile and Madrid, Spain.
I am a French, Spanish and English teacher, translator, avid reader and now blogger. When I am not teaching, reading and blogging, I love seeing a brilliant sunset, swimming and hanging out with my husband and son.
Author: Elvira Dones
Elvira Dones is an Albanian novelist, screenwriter and documentary film-maker. She currently divides her time between the US, Switzerland and Albania.
After seven novels in Albanian, she wrote the two most recent in Italian, her adopted language: Vergine giurata (Sworn Virgin) and Piccola guerra perfetta(Small Perfect War, 2010) about the Kosovo war.
A film adaptation of the novel Sworn Virgin was released in 2015. See the movie trailer here.
Translator: Clarissa Botsford
Clarissa Botsford currently teaches English and Translation Studies at Roma Tre University. She translates contemporary Italian fiction and poetry.
Clarissa is also a musician and Humanist celebrant and trainer!