Free: Coming of Age at the End of History

Read Free: Coming of Age at the End of History by Lea Ypi

Lea Ypi grew up in one of the most isolated countries on earth, a place where communist ideals had officially replaced religion. Albania, the last Stalinist outpost in Europe, was almost impossible to visit, almost impossible to leave. It was a place of queuing and scarcity, of political executions and secret police. To Lea, it was home. People were equal, neighbours helped each other, and children were expected to build a better world. There was community and hope.

Then, in December 1990, everything changed. The statues of Stalin and Hoxha were toppled. Almost overnight, people could vote freely, wear what they liked and worship as they wished. There was no longer anything to fear from prying ears. But factories shut, jobs disappeared and thousands fled to Italy on crowded ships, only to be sent back. Predatory pyramid schemes eventually bankrupted the country, leading to violent conflict. As one generation’s aspirations became another’s disillusionment, and as her own family’s secrets were revealed, Lea found herself questioning what freedom really meant.

Around the World challenge: Albania

This is the best book about Albania I’ve ever read, which doesn’t tell you much because it’s also the only book about Albania I’ve ever read (for now).

It did make me want to read more, though.

In this book, we follow young Lea as she goes to school in Albania, the Only True Communist Country™, in the 1990s, and as her family goes through the journey of becoming a truly independent country, followed by the joys and pains of embracing capitalism, which includes unbanning religion, trying to figure out what religion even means, watching ads on Yugoslav television, collecting Coca-Cola cans, and needing to choose between several political parties.

There is so much going on, and following this one girl allows us to grasp how incredibly big this is while still keeping it to a manageable, understandable level. It’s extremely well-written, very engaging, reads very naturally and was a perfect first foray into Albanian culture and history for me.

Oh, also? I love memoirs that have plot twists. You’ll have to read the book to understand that one.

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