Ferenji review: This means war

Helena Mulkerns’s engaging debut collection features stories set in conflict zones

Helena Mulkerns: tries to show the humanity behind the wars in faraway lands

Helena Mulkerns: tries to show the humanity behind the wars in faraway lands

Ferenji, a word for foreigner from old Byzantium, appears in various guises in langugages across the world. Derived from the historical term “Franks”, or Europeans, it ranges from affectionate to pejorative, depending on how and where it is said.

It is a fitting title for Helena Mulkerns’s themed collection of short stories, depicting the lives of soldiers and civilians working in conflict and postconflict zones. Each of the narrators, many of whom make repeat appearances, are foreigners trying to help or document worlds that are vastly different from their own. An Irish lieutenant struggles to remain professional while dealing with a child ravaged by a landmine. A photographer can’t handle the chasm between life in Dublin and his experiences in the field. An Afghan woman who has spent years training abroad comes back to Kabul with her degrees to be treated like an animal.

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