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Elvira Dones tackles cultural and gender disorientation and identity while seamlessly expanding upon immigrant and emigrant status and the multiple levels of transition. Mark's decision to shake off her oath after fourteen years and to re-appropriate what is left of Hana's body and mind by moving to the United States creates a powerful rupture. The transition to a new life as a woman striving to shed the burden of her virginity is fraught with challenges, and the first-generation assimilated cousins with whom Hana tentatively undertakes her new life make her task no easier.
Sworn Virgin is the first novel Elvira Dones wrote in Italian. She adds her voice to the burgeoning new generation of "blended" Italians, who deliberately adopt a "dirty" immigrant/exile approach to their language.
According to Albanian tradition, if there are no male heirs, a woman can "choose" to become a man—and enjoy the associated freedoms—as long as she swears herself to virginity for life.
Clever young Hana is ushered home by her uncle's impending death. Forced to abandon her studies in Tirana, she takes an oath and assumes the persona of Mark, a hardened mountain peasant—her only choice if she wants to be saved from an arranged marriage.
Born in Durrës, Albania, Elvira Dones is a novelist, screenwriter, and documentary filmmaker currently based in the United States. After seven novels in Albanian, she wrote the two most recent in Italian, her adopted language. Sworn Virgin is the first of Dones's books to be translated into English.
Somebody has written: I’VE NEVER MISSED YOU. She arrives in Rrnajë when it is almost evening. The house is empty; everybody has already left. The shilte are in a mess on the floor.9 Her uncle is sitting up. Hana bends down and gives him a hug. ‘It took so long, Uncle Gjergj. Forgive me. Nobody was coming up today. I had to wait two hours in Scutari before a truck going to Bogë came by.’ ‘The doctor sent you the telegram. He’s been a great help. You must be hungry.’ ‘A little.’ ‘The village
then you shout and then you’d like to hug him, and then you play hard to get, and then you lose him. You’ll lose him. There won’t be anything left in your life. He comes up to her. Hana waits. ‘What I meant was that you vanished just when I decided I wanted to get to know you better. It’s not easy to approach you, you know.’ ‘Well, now you’ve approached me and I’m not eating you alive.’ Hana tries for a smile. ‘We’ll see each other at the end of August. You can wait until then, right?’ He
and you’re from the mountains, and you’re Catholic but your guilty-as-hell Christ was banned by the communists, then you don’t have much choice but to try to suppress all those things they forced down your throat and had the gall to call life. It wasn’t life. It was the annihilating breath of fear. It was pain a whisper away from the atrocious pleasure of hearing death knock at the door, then move on. It was a daily ration of menace, a nightmare you couldn’t escape. In order not to go crazy,
her hips. The world outside can wait. Take your time, please. She feels replete, a little dizzy without drinking a drop, crazy and wise. She sings out loud and strides around the apartment like a general. ‘Get a grip,’ she admonishes herself. ‘And cut all this pride crap. Take it easy.’ She observes herself from the outside severely. ‘Be normal, for God’s sake.’ Nine days later, Patrick calls again. They decide to meet that evening. It is Monday. She has the morning shift at the bookstore so
found one was my and this novel’s good fortune. I also extend grateful thanks to two other translators without whom Sworn Virgin would not be complete: Ruth Christie, who translated Nâzim Hikmet’s poems from the Turkish, and John Hodgson, who translated Ismail Kadare’s foreword from the Albanian. I cannot thank And Other Stories and Stefan Tobler enough for believing in my novel – and indeed for being crazy enough to believe in literature in translation in the first place. And a special thank