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The Complete WWB Decameron

By Words Without Borders

A little over ten weeks ago, as borders were closing and our world convulsed in the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked ourselves how we could join together with our readers for solace, stimulation, and contact with a wider world. We drew inspiration (as we often do) from literature: in this case, Giovanni Boccaccio’s classic Decameron, in which ten posh Florentines hole up in a villa as the Black Death ravages their city. To pass the time and keep up morale in their Renaissance-era shelter-in-place, they tell story after story for ten long days. 

In this vein, every Friday for ten weeks, our editors selected a story from our archive to share with our readers across the globe. The ten weeks of the WWB Decameron have passed, and sadly, our pandemic has not. But over the course of the project, we have come together to read stories from Italy, Turkey, Thailand, Argentina, Senegal, South Korea, Madagascar, Serbia, Iran, and Syria. 

While the Decameron series has come to an end, we hope your reading will continue on. We’ve gathered all ten stories here for you to revisit at home and, hopefully sometime soon, on the go (or, who knows, maybe in a Florentine villa).


Week 1: "Maternal Pride" by Matteo Bianchi, translated from Italian by Liesl Schillinger

Bianchi tracks multiple participants in Padua's Pride Parade; his droll panorama captures both the teeming crowd and the individual stories within. Read it now.


Week 2: "The Little Bathroom" by Sine Ergün, translated from Turkish by Ayça Türkoğlu

A young academic conducts a diffident affair with an equally unenthusiastic colleague. His tepid interest turns to ardor with his discovery of an unused, and magical, bathroom in her apartment. Read it now.


Week 3: "Ascending Scales" by Ae-ran Kim, translated from Korean by Jamie Chang

A girl grows up practicing piano in her family's home, in the back of their dumpling shop; when she leaves for college, her father, hounded by creditors and not wanting the instrument repossessed, insists she take the piano with her. Read it now.


Week 4: "Life's Lexicon: Everyman's Bangkok Edition" by Win Lyovarin, translated from Thai by Peter Montalbano

Marooned in Bangkok's immobilizing rush hour ("Traffic Jam: A free gift that comes with the purchase of every car"), an exasperated working man offers a mordant vocabulary lesson for urbanites. Read it now.


Week 5: "The Bather" by Ángela Pradelli, translated from Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger

Falling into the caregiving profession by accident when a neighbor asks her to tend to his incapacitated mother, Olga develops a thriving private practice bathing the old, the bedridden, and the solitary. Read it now.


Week 6: "The Belly of the Atlantic" by Fatou Diome, translated from French by C. Dickson

An illiterate girl sneaks into an elementary school classroom; the teacher first ejects her, then, seeing her hunger to learn, convinces her suspicious grandmother to enroll her. Read it now.


Week 7: "One Times Two" by Cyprienne Toazara, translated from French by Allison M. Charette

Identical twins Hamban-Joky and Hamban-Jandry are separated for the first time when the latter is conscripted into the French army in World War II. When Hamban-Jandry returns to their Madagascan village with a French wife, the brothers' joy is tempered by an unexpected marital complication. Read it now.


Week 8: "Orkish Cornbread," written and translated from Serbian by Ranko Trifković

Don't worry if your grocery's out of flour and yeast: the ingredients for this delicacy come from more exotic sources—Giants of the Corned Hills, Goblin blacksmiths, and, most crucially, forest nymphs. Read it now.


Week 9: "Hitchcock and Agha Baji" by Behnam Dayani, translated from Persian by Nahid Mozaffari

After seeing Psycho, the Hitchcock-crazed narrator returns home in a fog of fear. The events that follow—involving the narrator's toothless great-aunt, a collapsing floor, and a life story straight out of the Thousand and One Nights—are as entertaining as anything Hollywood could have dreamed up. Read it now.


Week 10: "The Lanterns of Seville" by Abd el-Salam al-Ujayli, translated from Arabic by Taline Voskeritchian and Tania Tamari Nasir

A visitor to Seville meets the elegant Professor Alsido, who spins an improbable tale of exile, loss, and return grounded in Andalusian history. The skeptical visitor assumes the elderly professor has constructed a dream world; yet roaming the shadowy alleys later that night, the visitor discovers not only confirmation of Alsido’s claims but a jaw-dropping link to his own past. Read it now.

Published Jun 12, 2020   Copyright 2020 Words Without Borders

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