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Fractus Europa – short stories set across EUROPE

2nd July 2020

Fractus Europa – short stories set across EUROPE

short stories set across EUROPE

The book opens with thoughts by Peter Heather about  the state of Europe. He moots that the seeds for a fractured continent were sewn long ago. National narratives began to be taught as mass schooling became more of a norm over the last century. Wealth increased but so did the divide between rich and poor. Migration was encouraged to fill posts that the locals left vacant, and with subsequently more people arriving from continents all around the world, there is a deep suspicion of difference. 2008 was pivotal in hardening the changes already underway.

These fictionalised stories set in the near future. They paint the evolving nature of Europe, underlining how things have perhaps got to this point, outlining the history of nations and looking at the people who have shaped and shouldered this part of the world. The countries of Europe that are covered:

Belgium / Germany / The Baltics / Estonia / Hungary / Ukraine / Cyprus /  Ireland / Scotland / England 

I was immediately drawn more the to the stories set in the countries with which I am familiar. Belgium which opens the book was a story which I found hard to relate to (although I have travelled to Belgium quite a lot). The story set in Germany (Shifting Syrian Sands) ponders the meaning of a name and I found it more relatable. Ali Pasha is Syrian and seeks out Germany because he knows it is the most powerful of the European countries. But he tarries in Greece where he hones some skills that may be of use in his destination – translator, enabler of Skype for fellow refugees and a police informer. In this ‘holding pen’, as it were, he also loses his virginity to Jasmina and learns to be careful around the Albanians. There are stories within the story, with edited highlights of a refugee’s passage into a new world.

It is noticeable how Trump and his particular policies infiltrate many of the stories and of course in The Baltics it is Russian actions that form the heart of the story. In Hungary the relief of perestroika and glasnost was palpable in the 1990s, offering freedom, which under Communism was, well, only for the chosen few.

You can shove anything down people’s throats when they are intoxicated with the notion of freedom” and thus the hero of the story has to grapple with new found wealth and responsibility brought to Hungary by Western organisations. It’s then on through banking and sunshine in Cyprus.

England is set in the near future, with Amber Rudd and Farage still depressingly in the picture but at least the Prime Minister is a woman. This story provides a bleak peek inside the severely pared down NHS, where salaries are on hold, the Pound is slipping into oblivion and people are living on into a more than ripe old age, further depleting resources. All set against the backdrop of global warming. A rather depressing scenario interlaced with a family story.

As Dr Jonathan Lawrence, the central character, muses “First Brexit, then the collapse of the financial sector, now an end to NHS. There was no reason to remain a citizen of Britain’s tottering democracy” … and there we have it. This is England’s fate even without Coronavirus. And our fictional character is more than tempted by an offer of work in Switzerland.

So, what to make of these collected stories?  All the stories are fiction, but strongly grounded somewhere along the line in real life, you can just sense it. It is not a book to read in one sitting, as each story is more than enough to sate the reading experience. It was interesting to see the works all brought together, highlighting issues around the land mass that is Europe. Several were more journalistic than fiction writing and could in all likelihood find their place in a magazine like The New Statesman. For me, the premise was inventive but a little too starchy – invariably pretty depressing – and often it was a struggle to care for the characters. The erudition at both the beginning and the end of the book didn’t really carry through the full body of the gathered texts.

As Eric C Anderson says in the Afterword “There is no before, during or after in the realm of ideas and spinning clocks. . . There is simply now and then another now“. I will leave you with that thought.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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