‘The Ugliest Woman in the World’ by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

“Anyone who hasn’t got a mother hasn’t got a mother tongue either.” The itinerant circus impresario who narrates this misshapen love story comes across as something of a freak and a misfit himself. So when he recruits a grotesque-looking lady as a lucrative sideshow, the stage is set for a tragicomedy of mishandled passions and mistaken identities. Through her, he discovers “a secret – that everyone is in disguise”. Quieter, perhaps quirkier, than Angela Carter, though rich in comparable neo-Gothic tropes, Tokarczuk’s story investigates her abiding theme of our inherent strangeness – not only to foreign persons and other cultures, but to our very selves.

Published in Best European Fiction 2011, edited by Aleksandar Hemon, Dalkey Archive Press

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