Country Focus: Albania (Shqipëria in Albanian)
The Country Where No One Ever Dies
By Ornela Vorpsi
Translated by Robert Elsie and Janice Mathie-Heck
Originally published in Italian as Il paese dove non si muore mai by Giulio Einaudi editore, 2005.
My edition: Dalkey Archive, 2009.
Time period: 1970s-1990s
Throughout fifteen brief and non-chronological chapters, Vorpsi delivers random vignettes of life under communism, Albanian-style.
Although the young narrator’s name changes from Ormira to Ornela to Eva, she is the same person as far as I can tell. She admires her beautiful mother. She doesn’t love her father, who is serving time in prison for publicly complaining that there were no potatoes at the market. Her extended family repeatedly predicts that she will grow up be a whore – with her mother’s good looks and her father’s prison “experience,” what else could be expected? If only those relatives knew that she was more interested in women than men; latent homosexuality suffuses nearly every chapter.
Despite her claim that Albanians “live on and on, and never die,” the narrator’s tales of her acquaintances’ suicides and other tragic endings indicate otherwise. Hopelessness, resignation and bitterness characterize most of the adult females in this book, probably due to an environment of rampant misogyny. The disgrace of an unwanted pregnancy, the misery of internment camp, the spirit-crushing censorship…there’s not much for a young woman to look forward to in Albania except the dubious communist promise of “shopping without money.”
Vorpsi’s storylines often take odd and distracting tangents – too many when a chapter runs only five pages. As a whole, this collection of reminiscences feels tacked together and unfinished. The dreary aftertaste doesn’t help. I finished reading The Country Where No One Ever Dies with the impression that when applied to communist Albania, such a designation is a curse rather than a blessing.
But when communism finally arrives (and I hope it comes tomorrow), I’ll be able to go shopping without any money. I have my doubts, though, as to whether our people will really only take what we need. I can already imagine myself looking over at my classmates suspiciously: “Will they leave anything for me? Will they really only take what they need? Nothing else?”
And then: Would I only take what I really needed?
A good question.