All Walls Collapse, edited by Sarah Cleave and Will Forrester review – separation stories | Short stories

Jhe central tenet of the English PEN charter is that “literature knows no boundaries”. This richly varied collection of 11 short stories explores the barbed wire fences of refugee camps, the barriers that divide communities today, and the legacy of historic walls, all while celebrating how literature unites us across borders.

Brazilian author Paulo Scott, translated by Daniel Hahn, weaves an imaginative tale around the acrylic barriers erected during the 2016 Summer Olympics to ‘prevent tourists with their photographic equipment from feeling like they’re on display to a Rio de Janeiro that they might not prefer to face so closely”.

Muyesser Abdul’ehed’s poignant contribution, translated by Munawwar Abdulla, reminds us of the persecution of Uyghurs – incarcerated in re-education camps, forbidden to speak their native language – and the devastating effect this has on children. The bittersweet tale by Kyung-sook Shin, translated by Anton Hur, describes the homesickness suffered by a grandmother cut off from her native village by the border between North and South Korea; an area navigable by cats, but not by humans.

Both Rezuwan Khan and translator Hla Hla Win live in Kutupalong refugee camp and I suspect Between Hell is their reality rather than fiction. It is a grim portrait of Bangladesh’s “black pit” inhabited by Rohingya refugees. The narrator surely speaks on behalf of all incarcerated when he asserts: “The barbed wire which surrounds the camp on all sides has dismantled my state of mind, left my life definitively without foundation.

There are also stories that celebrate human resilience. Organized in a series of vignettes around the nine drinks consumed by different inhabitants of a hotel on the green line of Cyprus, Constantia Soteriou’s Brandy Sour, translated from the Greek by Lina Protopapa, takes us deftly through the years of conflict.

Commissioned for English PEN’s centenary, this powerful anthology also marks 10 years of its translation award and proves a fitting tribute to its work of free expression and support of diverse voices.

  • All the walls are collapsing, edited by Sarah Cleave and Will Forrester, is published by Comma Press (£12.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at Delivery charges may apply

Comments are closed.