For those planning to travel to Albania this year or searching a gift for country lovers, here’s a short list of books by Albanian and international writers who lived or traveled through the land of Eagles.
HIGH ALBANIA, EDITH DURHAM
Mary Edith Durham was a British traveller, writer and author who wrote a number of anthropological accounts of the Balkans in the early Twentieth century. High Albania was published in 1909 and is her most famous work High Albania and confirmed her position as the pre-eminent expert on the customs and society of the Balkans. Durham spent twenty years of her life travelling through the region, focusing particularly on Albania and Kosovo, some of the most underdeveloped regions of Europe. Through this book Durham explains the history of the country, geography, and cultural interactions including the ancient blood honor system, which led feuds between families to persist for generations. Durham was a staunch supporter of the Albanian people and is still revered today in Albania and Kosovo.
CHRONICLE IN STONE, ISMAIL KADARE
The internationally-renowned Albanian author, Ismail Kadare, wrote numerous books and novels and every of them would make a perfect gift for Albania lovers. One of the best is Chronicle in stone, a touching coming-of-age story and a testament to the perseverance of the human spirit. Written from the perspective of a young boy, the novel is set in beautiful Gjirokastër, Kadare’s birthplace, and tells the deprivations of war as he suffers the hardships of growing up. Through his eyes, we see the terrors of World War II as he witnesses fascist invasions, allied bombings, partisan infighting, and the many faces of human cruelty -as well as the simple pleasures of life.
SWORN VIRGIN, ELVIRA DONES
When Hana’s dying uncle calls her back from the city to the family home in the Albanian highlands, he tries to marry her to a local man who could run the household. Unable to accept the arranged marriage and determined to remain independent, Hana’s only option is to follow tradition and vow to live the rest of her life in chastity as a man -and so she becomes Mark. For a sworn virgin, there is no way back. Years later, Mark -now a raki-drinking, chain-smoking shepherd- receives an invitation to join a cousin in the US. This may be Mark’s only chance to escape his vow. But what does he know about being an American woman? Born in Durrës, 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.
FREE, LEA YPI
Family and nation formed a reliable bedrock of security for precocious 11-year-old Lea Ypi. She was a Young Pioneer, helping to lead her country toward the future of perfect freedom promised by the leaders of her country, the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania. Then, almost overnight, the Berlin Wall fell and the pillars of her society toppled. The local statue of Stalin, whom she had believed to be a kindly leader who loved children, was beheaded by student protestors. Uncomfortable truths about her family’s background emerged. Lea learned that when her parents and neighbors had spoken in whispers of friends going to “university” or relatives “dropping out,” they meant something much more sinister. As she learned the truth about her family’s past, her best friend fled the country. Together with neighboring post-Communist states, Albania began a messy transition to join the “free markets” of the Western world: a dystopia of pyramid schemes, organized crime, and sex trafficking. Her father, despite his radical left-wing convictions, was forced to fire workers; her mother became a conservative politician on the model of Margaret Thatcher. Lea’s typical teen concerns about relationships and the future were shot through with the existential: the nation was engulfed in civil war. Free won several international prizes and was named Best Book of the Year by New Yorker, Washington Post, Financial Times, Guardian, among others.
ALBANIA THROUGH ART, FERID HUDRI
For Albania and art-lovers, Albania through Art (Shqipëria ne Art is the Albanian version) by Ferid Hudhri, a professor and art historian based in Tirana, is the perfect combination: this rich collection of the best-known artworks by renowned Albanian artists and painters is, undoubtedly, an ideal gift to discover the country as well as Albanian art. The book has a great selection of paintings, beautiful images, and a chronological narration that make it a useful encyclopedia of Albanian art.