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A Child and a Country at the End of History

by Lea Ypi

Free by Lea Ypi X
Free by Lea Ypi
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  • Published:
    Jan 2022, 256 pages


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Tonyia Robinson

What does it mean to be free?
Sometimes sad, sometimes amusing, Lea Ypi’s memoir brings both communist and post communist Albania vividly to life. The novel makes you think about how people live in a world where they thought they were free in communist Albania and what is true freedoms after post-communist, especially from a child's perspective. It’s a country I knew very little about, so it was both interesting and informative, and well worth the read.
Tonyia Robinson

Romania and Cold War from a child / family perspective
I was given this book to read and comment before from book browser but did not get a chance to read/comment on the book, due to illness (Covid/MS). I enjoyed this book greatly and others should read this book. From a child's/family's perspective of dealing with the Cold War, and so much more. What it means to be Free relative to our living surroundings; culture and political climates. And did the truth set them free. The truth change what they were accustom and comfortable relative to the past, present and future. They had become so accustomed to the lies. They didn't know how to embrace the freedoms they really wanted. Her parents didn't feel free living in a different world, despite they were suppressing the truth. But for their daughter, the truth set her free. Children, young adults adapt better to change than older adults who learned to live with restricting their true identities to survive. Wonderfully written and inspiring.
Adrian S.

“Free” - A story that was waiting to be told
Lea Ypi's “Free” is a story that was waiting to be told, a riveting memoir of a childhood abruptly severed into “before” and “after.” Thirty years on, reconciling those shattered fragments remains elusively hard for many of us who came of age in the Albania of the 1990s.

“Free” is an equally depressing and humorous account of a jarring transition from a failed pseudo-socialist utopian experiment to a pseudo-capitalist society. It is a stark chronicle of a rupture in our collective identity, marked by fear, confusion, and hesitation. A rupture we were ill-equipped to process objectively as we anxiously strove to chart a new path, far away from an uncomfortable past, seemingly devoid of any useful points of reference.

“Free” is a compelling invitation to revisit a collective trauma most of us have archived, swept under the rug, dismissed, but rarely faced or discussed with an open mind. Yet, above all is a thought-provoking meditation on freedom, values, integrity, morality, and identity. It is a timely, honest, and critical reflection masterfully written in an absorbing narrative… because “when we don’t know how to think about the future, we must turn to the past.”
Peggy K. (Westminster, CO)

A Peek Behind Iron Curtains
I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir of Lea Ypi's life under socialism and communism in Albania. Her story is unusual in that, as a child, she was very much a believer in "the Party," and found her parents and extended relatives rather lukewarm about it. Halfway through, when the Party falls under protests and the push for a democratic government, Lea learns some shocking things (to her) about her family. This book is perfect for Cold War history buffs or those who are intrigued by all forms of socialism. It's a well-ordered and personal study into the mysteries families hold and how freedom can be as disorienting as it is liberating.
Mel F. (Auburn, MA)

Free-a memoir of growing up in Albania during a changing political landscape and impacts on ideological beliefs
This is a compelling novel in which the author recounts her childhood and maturity in Albania in the late 1980s and extending into the late 1990s when there was an extreme change in Albania's political landscape. The regime changed from communism under the leadership of politician, Enver Hoxha (referred to as Uncle Enver), to a parliamentary republic. It was during this period that the author experienced an ideological maturity about the concept of freedom.

Her story poignantly begins when she is a young girl clutching a decapitated statue of Stalin because she learned in school that he was the man who changed the world. She runs to this statue to seek refuge from protestors (her father called them hooligans) who are clamoring for freedom and democracy. That is what triggers her to question the concept of freedom. As the author states later in the novel: "That is the day that I lost my childhood innocence." Her family acts and describes their family history in terms of normalcy; however, she later learns they deceived her. The universities they attended were a ruse for prisons/deportation sites, curriculums were a variety of criminal offenses, and a degree of completion was the end of a prison sentence. The ultimate deception was that her family heritage included a Populist Part Prime Minister she detested.

Her teenage years were also tumultuous because Albania's road to democracy required multiple transitions- political, economic, social, and European integration. The environment was chaotic with violent protests, political corruption, pyramid schemes and widespread bankruptcies which sparked the Albanian Civil War of 1997. This period also resulted in significant ideological shifts in her parents and other Albanians.

This book is a beautifully written memoir reflecting not only the author's emotions but the formation of her strong political beliefs. It is well suited to someone knowledgeable in political science or who is interested in nonfiction with historical and philosophical depth. While I was unfamiliar with this topical area, it expanded my perspective on the impacts of changing political conditions on ideological beliefs. At the novel's conclusion, it caused me to contemplate - Is freedom a concept defined in the eye of the beholder?
Rosemary C. (Golden, CO)

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Ypi is a gifted writer who creates a vivid picture of her coming of age during the political and cultural changes in her home country of Albania. The stories she tells personalize the effects of these dramatic changes on her family and others in her community. She is at times humorous and witty, always passionate and seeking the truth.
I think this would be an excellent choice for a book group, allowing discussions about how the adults in her life protected her by not telling her the truths about the system under which they lived, but also exploring the ways in which political philosophies are distorted by those who claim to be creating a society based on them.
Patricia W. (Desoto, TX)

I found Lea Ypi's personal story of growing up in Albania during socialism and then as the country transitioned from socialism to political pluralism engrossing to read. It was enlightening to learn what she was taught in school, including how to think about her country. One of the most interesting aspects of the book was reading about the different perspectives of three generations: parents, grandmother, and daughter/granddaughter. Unlike Lea, her parents and grandmother had experienced life before socialism. I didn't realize how difficult the transition to democracy is for countries and for individuals. This book reminded me to think about what it means to be free and what freedom is. I will recommend it to my friends.
Patricia L. (Seward, AK)

Search for Utopia
Some time ago, during an extended stay on a remote beach, a few friends and I tried to imagine the perfect society. We were different ages, and came from opposite ends of the earth. After a few drinks and multiple attempts at creating this ideal nation, ultimately someone would say: "But for that to work some people would have to die!" Then with a resigned sigh of agreement we would go back to the drawing board.
In Free: A Child and a Country at the End of History, the author Lea Ypi recounts her experience as a young child in Marxist-Leninist Albania, and as a teen during the messy transition to a Socialist democracy just as the Soviet Union began to collapse. She pointedly recalls advocates of both systems regaling how free she and her friends and family would be once their goals were reached. Yet, as my friends surmised and Ypi remembers, freedom can have many interpretations, limits and degrees.
Born into a family with a "biography" of "liberals and liberalism" Ypi continually wondered why her parents didn't have pictures of the Party leaders prominently displayed in their home. The author's early teacher was Nora, a strict Party representative, who succinctly answered questions with sanctioned responses assuring the receptive students of the freedom that the Party promised. While her family didn't directly dispute Nora they did not readily agree. During her early teens she experienced the nuances of her family "biography" as she navigated high school and social activities. Only later upon reflection did she realize that the family had communicated with a kind of code to describe their history and that much of what she thought she knew was actually quite the opposite.
Free is readable and refreshing while providing an in-depth understanding of "foreign" culture and governments as experienced by those being governed. Ypi would have been welcomed as a seasoned voice in those long ago campfire summits. Highly recommended.

Beyond the Book:
  Albania, Then and Now

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