Posted by: koolwine | July 1, 2012

Albania: The Country Where No One Ever Dies

There’s a understandable lack of childhood nostalgia in these tales of growing up in communist Albania.

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.
109 pgs.

Genre: Fiction
Time period:

World Lit Up Rating:
(On a scale of 1-5, with 1 book = turned off and 5 books = lit up)


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.




Keep Reading!


  1. Hi,

    I only just found your blog and I am so GLAD I did. While I am rather a newbie to blogosphere, I admire your work here and the blog above especially touched me, as it did photograph of Ismail Kadare. I grew up in a communist/socialist country which I left in midst of fully fledged civil war. Only recently and some 18 years after I am slowly mustering courage to write. I will be checking your blog to be sure.

    Kind Regards,


    • Do you have a favorite among Kadare’s novels?
      Or is there a writer from your birth country whose experience was similar to yours? Sounds like you are experimenting with writing your own story…18 years has given you time to sift through your experiences and emotions…share your journey!


      • I’d say ‘The Palace of Dreams’. Writers from my country (it was once Yugoslavia) share those experience, but in different ways … to say at least. It sounds a long time, but 18 years goes by in a blink of an eye. I have started (tentatively) publishing some of my short stories via my blog. That is how I started blogging.

        Many thanks,


  2. The quote you selected was very telling of that system of government. Thank you for the review, and I look forward to your next!


    • And how about this one, which Vorpsi claims is a popular Albanian adage: “Live that I may hate you, and die that I may mourn you.”


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