‘Lily’ by Rumena Bužarovska, translated by Paul Filev

Last year I put a note on Twitter asking people to recommend writers from the Balkans I should look out for, and the Macedonian writer Rumena Bužarovska’s name was mentioned more than once. Her collection My Husband contains a series of stories about the bullying, hypocrisy, and other abuses that take place in families in a male-dominated society. Some of them are brutal, some funny, but ‘Lily’ is probably the most painful of them all. The narrator’s husband, Jovan, won’t let her visit her sick mother in her rural home “because she reminded him of poverty and illness” and a past that he both fears and resents. Even when their daughter Lily is born, he refuses to let her take the young child to see her grandmother. So she waits and frets and lies, and eventually makes the journey without him knowing. The tragedy that follows is mundane and awful, and this is reflected in the way the story is told, without irony or elaboration. In the aftermath, the lives of all the characters are hollowed out, relationships fragment, and old friendships are lost. In the end there’s no solace to be found here or lessons learned, but there is, perhaps, the terrible truth that grief can make people selfish and cruel.

Collected in My Husband, Dalkey Archive Press, 2019; also included in Contemporary Macedonian Fiction, Dalkey Archive Press, 2019