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Elvira Dones tackles cultural and gender disorientation and identity while seamlessly expanding upon immigrant and emigrant status and the multiple levels of transition. Mark's decision to shake off her oath after fourteen years and to re-appropriate what is left of Hana's body and mind by moving to the United States creates a powerful rupture. The transition to a new life as a woman striving to shed the burden of her virginity is fraught with challenges, and the first-generation assimilated cousins with whom Hana tentatively undertakes her new life make her task no easier.
Sworn Virgin is the first novel Elvira Dones wrote in Italian. She adds her voice to the burgeoning new generation of "blended" Italians, who deliberately adopt a "dirty" immigrant/exile approach to their language.
According to Albanian tradition, if there are no male heirs, a woman can "choose" to become a man—and enjoy the associated freedoms—as long as she swears herself to virginity for life.
Clever young Hana is ushered home by her uncle's impending death. Forced to abandon her studies in Tirana, she takes an oath and assumes the persona of Mark, a hardened mountain peasant—her only choice if she wants to be saved from an arranged marriage.
Born in Durrës, Albania, Elvira Dones is a novelist, screenwriter, and documentary filmmaker currently based in the United States. After seven novels in Albanian, she wrote the two most recent in Italian, her adopted language. Sworn Virgin is the first of Dones's books to be translated into English.
‘Only a man can be the head of a family. Men are free to go where they like, to give orders, buy land, defend themselves, attack if need be, kill, or order someone else to be killed. Men get freedom and glory along with their duties. Women are left with obedience. And the girl I once was had a problem with obedience. That just about sums it up.’ She says this looking Jonida straight in the eyes, her words like sharp pins, accusing. But it’s no good. Her niece can’t be blamed for anything, except
from Paris. Now you’re a man. You’re a man. A man! You’re not allowed to look at real men anymore. Everything is just fine, she makes herself believe. The snow, the dark nights, the dogs chasing each other, the shadows of the wolves across the snowy landscape, hurrying like busy travelers. The mountains protect you and overwhelm you. The echo of centuries rings in your heart. They save you from the greasy panting of redneck truck drivers. The memory is still alive. The terror she had felt. The
know you don’t like being dependent on us,’ he adds apologetically. ‘And I didn’t do it to put pressure on you if you don’t feel up to it …’ Hana has cooked dinner, which they will eat at around seven thirty, when Lila gets back. Usually she rushes in and changes out of her work clothes, tearing them off as fast as she can. She takes a quick shower and then they have dinner. Hana quit smoking a few weeks ago and is still coughing up phlegm. Shtjefën called her a traitor. Jonida is happy: ‘Go
with her hands thrust into her pockets. It’s Blerta; Blerta’s head peering shyly round the gate. They look each other up and down. Hana imagines the effect she’s having on her old schoolmate, but decides not to care. She pushes her hands deeper into her pockets. Blerta is so womanly, so beautiful. Long, straight, very blond hair, a long black V-neck sweater over a shirt and red pants. Almost no makeup, just a hint of lipstick. ‘Hey, Hana,’ Blerta says. ‘I’m Mark. I’m not Hana anymore, and you
She notices he’s not looking at her, so as not to embarrass her. She lights a cigarette and takes a long drag. She turns around and offers her guest the pack. If she takes no notice of his disappointed expression, there may be some hope of recovering at least some of her dignity. ‘I shouldn’t have drunk anything,’ she murmurs, sitting back down. ‘I used to drink a lot. It was part of being a man, but you wouldn’t understand that.’ ‘Yeah, right. I wouldn’t understand because I’m American?