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The Albanian Virgin

In reading “The Albanian Virgin” I started thinking to myself, “is this story about Lottar or Claire (whose name we don’t find out until we’re 25 pages into the story, interestingly enough — more on that later) or is this story about both of them?”

This follows a format similar to the Okparanta story in that our narrator is telling the story of another person, in a sense creating a third person narration from a first person perspective. Though a first person story must be about the narrator, this story is almost entirely Lottar’s. Page after page is filled with the story of the woman who becomes a virgin and gives up her femininity. This story is about how the woman traveled and her relationship with the Franciscan. The narrator seems to be simply retelling the story with very little interpretation or emotional inflection on the circumstances. This is at first presented to us as a movie idea, though we come to believe it is instead the female-patron-of-Claire’s-bookshop’s story. The question is still there for me. I don’t see this story as two different points of view, but rather Claire retelling the story of Lottar (Charlotte). With so little influence from Claire, does this story then become about Lottar, or does the reader have to look harder at what Claire does mention in order to understand what the importance of this story is to her?

In reading this, I also noticed that the reader had gone an awfully long way without having been informed of the narrator’s gender or name. If I was to read this critically, I’d tell you this probably has something to do with the virgin status and lack of gender that Lottar experiences. I’d explain that this is perhaps a feminist story about how losing ones femininity is better than being forced into sexual slavery or into a marriage that you weren’t interested in. It could perhaps be interpreted as a story about the terrible circumstances for woman in Albania. Instead, I’ll tell you that if any of this was the intention of Munro, holding off on gender and not giving us the narrator’s name is wonderful example of craft in this story. A detail like that creates this much of an understanding. That’s interesting, incredible, and used very, very effectively.

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