Trafika Europe Corner with Clayton McKee: THE PARADISE OF THE WATERS by Isabelle Eberhardt, translated by Donald Mason

Some young women were dancing, their lithe slender bodies bathed in a bluish light, their ebony faces smiling curiously and shining whitely with their teeth. Their long supple forms were draped in flowing veils of reds, blues or sulphurous yellows swirling close about them; unfurling to the bizarre rhythms of their dance, and becoming, at times, diaphanous, like strangely floating mists. 

Their hands alive with the savage clacking of castanets ringing out in the fiery rhythms of Sudan; or clicking noiselessly to the softened cadence of their dance.

Gradually the dancers detached themselves, and took flight, their bodies elongated, distorted, and twisting and swirling like the desert sands at night.

Finally, they rose and faded into the dense blue shadows of smoke drifting beneath the ceiling. 

Slowly the vagrant’s eyes opened and wandered vaguely about the room, searching for those strange creatures who, what had seemed but moments before, had been dancing there before him. He had seen their forms, had heard their throaty, muffled laughter, had felt the warm breath stirring from beneath their veils on his brow. And then they had vanished, moving from his sight like some dark mist . . . 

Exhausted, he struggled to free himself from this queer limbo. He seemed to be returning from some chaotic abyss where things, where the spectre of living beings, floated aimlessly about him, governed by different laws than those which ruled the world of everyday reality . . . 

Slowly, his fatigued, overheated brain forced these confused and troubling visions from his thoughts.

By Isabelle Eberhardt

Translated by Donald Mason

Trafika Europe’s motto since its conception in 2014 has been “Some of the best new literature from Europe.” We constantly question terms, for example: what is Gothic, or what does “from Europe” mean? We recognize that places, people, and styles change, and so we are happy to push the envelope on what “new” means. The author of the above short story, Isabelle Eberhardt, lived at the end of the 19th century and passed away in 1904. The original story, thus, is not new by any means; however, Donald Mason’s translation brings the text into English for the first time. Translation imbues literature with a new life, meaning that it sheds a shell and re-emerges as a new entity—albeit tied to its former being. “The Paradise of Waters” is new and we are excited to be publishing this work in our upcoming issue of Trafika Europe. 

Eberhardt transports concepts of the Gothic to Northern Africa, mixing the supernatural with ideas of mystery surrounding the Arab world in the European mentality. We see colors of these dancers evaporating into the air, until eventually, we cannot tell if the dancers were physically present or only existed in the mind of the vagrant. Rather than a forest or mountain inspiring awe and fear, we see the effects of the heat playing with the man’s mind as he first appears in this piece. Interested in seeing how Eberhardt adapts the Gothic through the rest of the story? Intrigued by Mason’s splendid revivifying of the work? The full story will be published in TE Gothic Revival in July 2024. Come back to see how it ends.


The Swiss-born daughter of a Russian anarchist, Isabelle Eberhardt (1877-1904) spent much of her brief life traveling and writing in North Africa. An Arabized European dressing as an Arab boy, Eberhardt was killed in a flash flood at Aïn-Sefra, near the Algerian-Moroccan border, in 1904. She was twenty-seven years old.


Donald Mason has published translations in the Columbia Journal, Brick, Alchemy, and The Antigonish Review. He is currently working on a proposed collection of translated stories by Isabelle Eberhardt, entitled Daughters of the Casbah. One of the stories from this collection was recently awarded the prize for best translation for 2024 in Columbia University’s Columbia Journal.


Read previous posts in The Trafika Europe Corner series:

Trafika Europe Corner with Clayton McKee: An excerpt from the play AGAINST FRATERNITY written in Catalan by Esteve Soler, translated by H.J. Gardner

Trafika Europe CornerLOST IN TRANSLATION by Hannah Katerina

Trafika Europe Corner with Clayton McKee: Three poems by Károly Lencsés, translated by Ágnes Megyeri

Trafika Europe Corner with Clayton McKee: Three Poems by Guðrið Helmsdal, translated by Randi Ward

Three poems by Deniz Durukan – in Trafika Europe Corner II.11 by Andrew Singer

Three poems by Marius Burokas – in Trafika Europe Corner II.10 by Andrew Singer

Three poems by Franca Mancinelli – in Trafika Europe Corner II.9 by Andrew Singer

Three poems by Nina Kossman – in Trafika Europe Corner II.8 by Andrew Singer

Three poems by Alexander Kabanov – in Trafika Europe Corner II.7 by Andrew Singer

Three poems by Andrey Gritsman – in Trafika Europe Corner II.6 by Andrew Singer

Kosovan poet Fahredin Shehu – in Trafika Europe Corner II.5 by Andrew Singer

Three poems from Icelandic by Gyrðir Elíasson – in Trafika Europe Corner II.4 by Andrew Singer

Trafika Europe Corner II.3 – New Latvian poet Jānis Tomašs by Andrew Singer

Trafika Europe Corner II.2 by Andrew Singer

Trafika Europe Corner II.1 by Andrew Singer

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