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Nonfiction Review: Free: A Country and a Child at the End of History by Lea Ypi

Title: Free: A Child and a Country at the End of History
Author: Lea Ypi
Year published: 2022
Category: Adult nonfiction (memoir)
Pages: 288 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location: (my 2023 Google Reading map)Albania

SummaryFamily 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.

Ypi’s outstanding literary gifts enable her to weave together this colorful, tumultuous coming-of-age story in a time of social upheaval with thoughtful, fresh, and invigorating perspective on the relation between the personal and the political, and on deep questions about freedom: What does freedom consist of, and for whom? What conditions foster it? Who among us is truly free?

Review: My dad recommended not reading the summary or anything else about this book before reading it so that's what I did and I am so glad. 

Ypi is a good story teller. She is able to share her experiences of life in Albania in the 1980s and '90s through the eyes of her younger self and to remember what she heard, saw, and felt. Her diaries probably served as a good reminder (she includes diary entries later in this book). She is obviously a thoughtful person and has spoken about the events with her grandmother and parents so has their experiences and perspectives as well.

I liked learning about the history of Albania through the author's eyes as I didn't know much about it before beginning this book. However, this is not a "history" book; rather it's snapshots of how history affected the lives of one family. She talks about rations, school, friendships, politics, and protests. She shows how the Albanian version of socialism shaped who she is and how she lives her life now (as a professor who teaches Marxism).

This is an easy read, but one that gets the reader thinking about ideas and experiences.

Challenges for which this counts: 
  • Alphabet (author)--Y
  • Literary Escapes--Albania
  • Nonfiction--History

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