Remembering Names

The initial wistfulness of Lea Ypi’s memoir of growing up in communist, then post-communist, Albania reveals itself a rhetorical device in the unfolding of a political parable. Ypi exegetes the perfidy of concepts. In her childhood, everything and everyone was labelled. By the criterion of loyalty to Uncle Enver, all things fell into place. Even hairstyles could be described as loyalist or imperialist. The revolution of 1990 caused order to unravel. Ypi, still a child, discovered that many people, including her family, ‘had simply mastered the slogans’ without believing in them. It caused her a trauma. ‘I believed. I knew nothing else. Now I had nothing left.’ The book is an account of her piecing together a sustainable account of society. It is seasoned with humour; but the tragic is never far away. No reader will quickly forget Ypi’s friend who, at fifteen, was trafficked overseas to work the streets of Milan. Or the image of her father, charged with the management of a seaport, manically rehearsing the names of hundreds of Roma workers whom he refused to lay off: ‘If I forget their names, I will forget about their lives.’ The Albanian revolution, writes Ypi, had been ‘a revolution of people against concepts.’ How hard this outlook is to maintain over time.