Cover image for
Sworn virgin
Dones, Elvira, 1960-

Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Vergine giurata. English
Physical Description:
275 pages ; 20 cm
Several years after choosing to identify as male to become a sworn virgin according to Albanian tradition, Mark accepts an invitation to join his cousin in Washington, D.C., allowing him to escape his vow and revert back to life as Hana.
Geographic Term:
Pub Date:
And Other Stories, 2014.


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Adult Fiction Book DONES
Adult Fiction Book DONES

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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 assimilatedcousins 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.

Author Notes

Born in Durrës, Albania, Elvira Dones is a novelist, screenwriter and documentary film-maker currently based in the US. After seven novels in Albanian, she wrote the two most recent in Italian, her adopted language: Vergine giurata (Sworn Virgin, 2007), and Piccola guerra perfetta (Small Perfect War, 2010) about the Kosovo war. In her prize-winning documentary on the phenomenon of 'sworn virgins' in Albania, Dones interviews twelve survivors of the tradition, one of whom has recently emigrated to the US, like Hana inthe novel. A film of the book is due out in 2014.

Clarissa Botsford studied Italian at Cambridge and Comparative Education in London before moving to Rome, Italy. She has worked in the fields of teaching, intercultural education and publishing and is also a musician. She currently teaches English and Translation Studies at Rome University and translates contemporary Italian fiction and poetry.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Dones's deft and lively novel finds its sweet spot in a handful of dualities. Aspiring writer Hana Doda, newly arrived in Washington, D.C., from her native Albania, suffers sensory overload. Before coming to America, Hana returned to her mountain home, from her university in the capital city of Tirana, to take care of her Uncle Gjergj, who was dying of cancer; his wife Katrina died not long before. Gjergj presses Hana to find a husband so that she will be provided for after he's gone, unaware that Hana has been flirting with his doctor, Artan, while also being pursued by a fellow student, Ben. But Hana is not inclined to be tied down. Her rejection of marriage triggers a bizarre but time-honored Albanian custom: she promises, in exchange for her independence, to live a celibate life as a man, using the name "Mark." All of this is spun out over the course of the novel through a series of flashbacks interspersed with Hana/Mark's present experiences in the U.S. Dones writes in a clean and breezy style, raising sly questions about culture, art, and, especially, gender. Her novel is provocative without being confrontational. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.