Free : a child and a country at the end of history

by Lea Ypi

Ebook, 2022



Call number

MG 86000 Y85



New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2022.


"A reflection on "freedom" in a dramatic, beautifully written memoir of the end of Communism in the Balkans. Lea Ypi grew up in the last Stalinist country in Europe: Albania, a place of queuing and scarcity, of political executions and secret police. While family members disappeared to what she was told were "universities" from which few "graduated", she swore loyalty to the Party. In her eyes, people were equal, neighbors helped each other, and children were expected to build a better world. Then the statues of Stalin and Hoxha were toppled. Almost overnight, people could vote and worship freely and invest in hopes of striking it rich. But factories shut, jobs disappeared and thousands fled to Italy, only to be sent back. Pyramid schemes bankrupted the country, leading to violence. One generation's dreams became another's disillusionment. As her own family's secrets were revealed, Lea found herself questioning what "freedom" really means. With acute insight and wit, Lea Ypi traces the perils of ideology, and what people need to flourish"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Beamis12
My knowledge of Albania was, until reading this, almost non existent. This historical memoir begins when Lea is a child, totally convinced that her country under communism was free. She was taught in school to revere Enver Hosta and couldn't understand why her family, unlike other famous, didn't
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have a framed picture of him. She couldn't understand why her biography, actually status, wasn't as promise nent as her classmates. She wouldn't find out the answer to her questions until the death of their leader, and the protests for true freedom that followed.

An interesting book that shows a country fighting for democracy, the challenges faced and how things changed, for not only her family, but for the country as a whole. She finds out the many secrets her family kept, and that their political views had been different from those they were forced to expouse.
I loved how this started when she was young because one can chart her personal and political evolution. As her country changed so did she.
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LibraryThing member oataker
Lea as a child is a true believer in communism, their socialism is going to mature into real communism, under Uncle Hoxna's kind wise rule. Strange that the family will not put a picture of him in the sitting room. Long discussions about relatives going to university but they will never tell her
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where the colleges actually are. Then suddenly everything changes, communism is abandoned overnight and she is told they were really talking about prison not university. People who graduated were released, those who dropped out had been executed.
"My parents had simply mastered the slogans, just like I did, but there was a difference, I knew nothing else. Now I had nothing left. In the following days my parents revealed their truth, that their country had been an open air prison for half a century...
I found it difficult to process the fact that everything my family had said had been a lie, they continued to repeat so that I would continue to believe... They had encouraged me to be a good citizen when they knew full well that with my biography, I was only ever a class enemy."
She then experiences the disaster of clumsy liberalisation, made worse by the World Bank, pyramid schemes and neighbouring countries, who pitied the natives when at home but were terrified of them all moving in.
How much really changed? "Civil society" was substituted for Party, liberalization replaced democratic centralism, privatization replaced collectivisation, transparency self-criticism, transition meant socialism to capitalism not socialism to communism, and fighting corruption replaced anti-imperialist struggle.
At the end of the book she still talks with her friends about true socialism.
Her parents wanted Albania to be "like the rest of Europe": fighting corruption, promoting free enterprise, respecting private property, encouraging individual initiative. This would be "freedom".
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LibraryThing member CarltonC
Freedom, democracy, uligans, protest.
The first part of this book describes Ypi’s childhood in Albania under Socialist rule, with her parents and grandmothers being outside the Party even though they were left wing, because they came from bourgeois backgrounds. But Ypi’s parents never spoke
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about this until 1990 when the socialist regime fell and multi-party elections took place.
In March 1991 Ypi is eleven and travels to Athens with her grandmother, as her grandmother’s family had owned property and a business in Greece before the Second World War, but too much time had passed and laws changed, so this amounts to nothing. However Ypi provides an insight into how vastly different a Western society appeared to her.

Upon Ypi’s return to Albania (chapter 13 entitled Everyone wants to Leave) she finds that migration has started, but Western countries are now enforcing immigration controls to prevent emigration. At this time Ypi’s parents are still employed and settled in Albania, but this is about to change with liberal economic “shock therapy” creating unemployment, where the one party state had ensured near full employment, albeit on very low wages.
Ypi’s father was generally “socialist”, became unemployed and was unable to obtain immediate employment, but because of his education takes on managerial responsibilities in a business, then the local port, before becoming a politician for a short period. Ypi clearly conveys her father’s “political outsider” personality and human warmth.
Ypi’s mother was generally “capitalist”, so on taking “early retirement” became involved in the progressive liberal party and sought to reclaim properties expropriated by the State after the end of the Second World War.

Ypi describes her impressions as an individual of Albania leaving its socialist past by “market restructuring” through her encounters with the Dutch NGO adviser (nicknamed “The Crocodile”), her parents political involvement, her gradual awareness of the likely stories of friends who have emigrated to other European countries (to become sex workers or traffickers), and the Ponzi savings schemes. These stories lead the reader to the reality of Albania’s 1997 civil war, with Ypi providing extracts from her diary to glimpse at the history, from her personal experience (chapter 21).

Ypi is lucky, and made her luck by studying hard (something in which she was encouraged by her family), she emigrated to Italy to study philosophy at university and is now a professor at the London School of Economics.

This is an excellent memoir, which through the personal story allows you to explore what Freedom might be, socialist, libertarian, perhaps the struggle, the journey.
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LibraryThing member bhowell
absolutely brilliant, was shortlisted for the 2021 Costa Book Awards, and was the 2022 winner of the RSL Ondaatje Prize. and just missed out on the Baillie Gifford prize for nonfiction. I picked this up in London, both my husband and I read it and enjoyed it.
LibraryThing member streamsong
As a school child in the 1980’s, Lea Ypi learned the Communist slogans and a love for Uncle Hoxna (Enver Hoxha). But she noted there were puzzling aspects to her existence. Adults in her family talked of people ‘going to University’, but never coming back. And the ubiquitous portrait of Hoxna
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did not appear in her family’s home – when questioned, they always made excuses, such as saying they were waiting for the perfect frame before hanging it.

Student unrest grew and riots followed leading to a revolution in 1989 and the first multi-party elections in 1991.

Both of Lea’s parents tried to further Albania’s march toward Westernisation and the acceptance into the European Union and NATO. However, liberalization led to massive layoffs and unemployment. Western financial and peacekeeping forces seemed to add to the chaos. Many citizens lost fortunes in financial ponzi schemes which were often supported by the government.

I had shockingly little knowledge of Albania’s history when I started this book. I found this memoir of communism and the post communism era in Albania really interesting and often humorous.

Eventually the author moved to Italy where she studied philosophy. She is currently a professor of political theory at the London School of Economics.
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LibraryThing member RickGeissal
I love this book and think it is an extraordinary work of insight & expression. Basically, it is the story of a person born in 1979 in Albania, what it was like as she grew into girlhood during the isolated, intentionally distant from the world nation run by Enver Hoxha from the end of WW II to
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1990 when it came unglued. It then goes through some of what life was like in the post-communist period up till she was 18. During the communist period there were numerous contradictions, and their parents were not communists who had to mouth slogans and never tell anyone - including her - what they really believed. Some of their immediate relatives had been imprisoned for long periods. In the 1990's there was freedom & improvement in the lives of most people ... until things fell apart in 1996 and became a violent revolution in 1997. The author, a professor of philosophy, was always someone who read & thought; and her articulation of those 18 years was so well-written & compelling that I felt joy much of the time that I was reading it. I admire the author and respect what she has done in writing this book.
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