In the Introduction to Europa28, writer Laura Bates states that ‘women see things differently […] it comes as a shock, because our default setting is to see things through men’s eyes without ever realising we are doing so.’ I am more than inclined to agree.
It’s along this premise that we find Europa28, an anthology that brings together 28 women from across the continent to offer a different perspective on Europe and its future (past and present) as well as what it really means to be European. A unique anthology, it weaves from essay to fiction, non-fiction to plays. A feast, really.
I’m unsure it’s for me to say that Europe is at a crossroads (though clearly it is). As a 25-year-old woman from Yorkshire, England, there’s so much about Europe that I have no knowledge or experience of, and never will. In fact, it’s through reading Europa28 that I found that statement to be so abundantly true. Not only does Europa28 offer a perspective so often shunned – a female one – it also offers perspective from a range of women in nations that, as someone who has lived my whole life in the UK, rarely has chance to witness. That is both my own ignorance, and my nation’s ignorance too. Neither should be taken as excuses.
It’s hard, in a collection that spans 28 works, to give each their due airtime, and for the sake of brevity, I won’t. But let it be known that there was not once piece that didn’t leave with me without something to mull, whether it be Bronka Nowicka’s ‘The Void’, or Carine Krecke’s play ‘Remote Control’. Yet some of the pieces that moved the most and taught the most (whether teaching was the intention or not) – ‘Two Lakes’ by Kapka Kassabova, ‘Our Mediterranean Mother’ by Leila Slimani and ‘Inside the Coffer’ by Ioana Nicolaie, demonstrate the wild differences between experience across our continent. They talk of borders and suppression, revolution and the aftermath. Their vision – their life, is not like mine. That’s the beauty of Europa28 and its endeavour. There is so much to learn – and to see. And to dip back to Laura Bates introduction for a moment, ‘these writers hold up a mirror that is not easy to look into’. Perhaps they hold up a mirror that many of us have so easily and unknowingly avoided. What we don’t teach each other about Europe, and what we don’t want to learn.
It’s following that line of thought that throughout Europa28 ideas are formed and questions posed. In ‘Cracks in the Ice’, Julya Rabinowich writes that ‘We need a Europe of affinity. A Europe of empathy.’ But given the devastation that sweeps Europe, ‘the lifeless corpses of children floating on the water of our next beach holiday’, how does Europe reach such a point?
It’s a theme that is continued. Horror is never far from Europe – the past is always within touching distance, the present and the future too. It struck me, as the same topics came up again and again (how could they not?), that each woman offered a connected perspective. A first, I was toying with the notion that, after piece 14, I was not being told anything different, but then again, maybe that’s the point. Europa28 is strewn with cohesion. Climate change, technology, racism and activism feature heavily, Brexit too (the less I say about that the better). Each come to similar conclusions. Maybe that’s what Europe needs – cohesion, and the ability to read, and listen, to other ideas (specifically from a perspective that is not always male) and form a path that reaches a similar end. As Tereza Nvotova writes in ‘Ride’, ‘what if Europe remains the same as always, swinging between periods of conflict and strife and periods of peace and progress?’. At any given moment on the continent, all four are in play. What if, indeed.
Europa28 is honest, brave and engrossing. And whilst I fear that Europe is far from being fixed, and the ideas presented, whilst holding so much weight, are far from being taken forward, Europa28 is a space for the discussion, regardless. It’s an anthology of purpose and certainty, both experimental and accessible in equal measure. Read it, please.
Europa28 is published by Comma Press and is available here.
Featuring Asja Bakić, Zsófia Bán, Annelies Beck, Silvia Bencivelli, Hilary Cottam, Lisa Dwan, Yvonne Hofstetter, Nora Ikstena, Maarja Kangro, Kapka Kassabova, Sofia Kouvelaki, Carine Krecké, Caroline Muscat, Nora Nadjarian, Ioana Nicolaie, Bronka Nowicka, Tereza Nvotová, Ana Pessoa, Edurne Portela, Julya Rabinowich, Karolina Ramqvist, Apolena Rychlíková, Renata Salecl, Leïla Slimani, Janne Teller, Saara Turunen, Žydrūnė Vitaitė & Gloria Wekker