Book Review: Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones

Sworn VirginI’m fairly sure that Sworn Virgin is not a book I would have come across myself, and even if I had I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have chosen to read it.  I’m so thankful that a friend brought this to my attention.

Sworn Virgin is published by And Other Stories an unashamedly literary publishing company who uses funds from subscriptions to pay for unusual or risky stores to be published.  The focus is on contemporary and translated fiction.  Each person who subscribes receives a first edition copy of each of the books they subscribe to, are thanked by name at the end of the book and are invited to contribute to plans and choice of future books.

And so to the book.  Sworn Virgin is written by Elvira Dones, one of Albania’s best writers.  It was originally written in Italian before being translated into English. It is the story of Hana and Mark:

When Hana’s dying uncle calls her back from the city to the family home in the Albanian mountains, he tries to marry her to a local man who could run the household. Unable to accept the arranged marriage and determined to remain independent, Hana’s only option is to follow tradition and vow to live the rest of her life in chastity as a man – and so Hana becomes Mark. For a sworn virgin, there is no way back.

Years later, Mark – now a raki-drinking, chain-smoking shepherd – receives an invitation to join a cousin in the US. This may be Mark’s only chance to escape his vow. But what does he know about being an American woman?

I completely loved this book, racing through it at pace.   Despite the complexity of the subject matter the story is told simply and without fuss.  It is a fascinating insight into a culture I know nothing of with lots of lovely detail.  Hana’s transformation from Mark back to Hanna is managed carefully and her nervousness and apprehensions are cleverly captured in the writing.  I enjoyed Hanna’s relationships with the other women in her life, her cousin and her cousins daughter.  The strong bonds they formed with Hanna despite their frustration and on occasion bewilderment at her hesitancy were testimony to each characters love and support of Hanna.  The balance between the past and the present is just right and Hana’s story is told with warmth and generosity.

I would highly recommend this book and would also recommend taking a look at And Other Stories for more interesting reads.

I’d love to know if you have read other books from And Other Stories, and if so what you would recommend.

Image, Changing-pages


  1. January 5, 2016 / 8:07 am

    Wow this sounds good! I have never heard of And Other Stories, thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    • January 6, 2016 / 6:39 pm

      Glad to be of service! I am looking forward to investigating And Other Stories a bit more this year. Wishing you a good reading year :0)

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