Strange Language:
An Anthology of Basque Short Stories

Mari Jose Olaziregi (editor)

translated from the Basque
Parthian 2008
A book review by Danny Yee © 2019 http://dannyreviews.com/
A twenty page introduction sets the stories in Strange Language in the context of Basque literature; each of the authors also includes an autobiographical note. The stories don't reflect on the language they are written in, and that is mostly hidden by the translation, but the collection is prefaced with Bernardo Atxaga's poem from Obabakoak, "The author speaks of his language, euskera", which offers some thoughts on writing in Basque and provides the title.

The more obviously distinctive feature of the stories in Strange Language are their settings, social and geographical. In Atxaga's "Teresa, poverina mia", the narrator's family runs a sea-side boarding house; Harkaitz Cano's "The Mattress" features a "trailer trash" father and son. Pello Lizarralde's "Awkward Silence" is set in a traffic jam crossing a mountain pass. Javi Cillero Goiriastuena's "A Kiss in the Dark" involves a child visiting different areas of Bilbao. And Juan Garzia Garmendia's "Gubbio" begins with the town: "Gubbio is gray. Its rooftops are gray, the walls of its houses are gray, gray are the paving stones of its streets."

In "Gubbio" this is a frame for a historical fiction featuring a medieval nun-poet. The other historical story, Xabier Montoia's "Black as Coal" is set during the Spanish Civil War and involves a boy having an affair with a German pilot. And Inazio Mujika Iraola's "Like the Waters Release their Dead" is set in a Parisian boarding house in the present but looks back at the Civil War.

Ixiar Rozas' "A Draft" involves a refugee on a train to Paris. Set in an art gallery in Antwerp, Anjel Lertxundi's "Berlin is not So Far Away" features a man obsessed with Jean Fouquet's Melun Diptych painting. And there are a number of much shorter stories.

Strange Language is an engaging collection, quite broadly accessible and not just for visitors to the Basque Country or those with some other Basque connection.

December 2019

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%T Strange Language
%S An Anthology of Basque Short Stories
%E Olaziregi, Mari Jose
%M Basque
%I Parthian
%D 2008 [2004]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781905762170
%P 188pp