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Free: A Child and a Country at the End of History

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4.28  ·  Rating details ·  1,802 ratings  ·  256 reviews
'Funny, moving but also deadly serious, this book will be read for years to come. . . Beautifully brings together the personal and the political to create an unforgettable account of oppression, freedom and what it means to acquire knowledge about the world' David Runciman

Lea Ypi grew up in one of the most isolated countries on earth, a place where communist ideals had off
...more
Kindle Edition
Published January 18th 2022 (first published October 28th 2021)
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Average rating 4.28  · 
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Maureen ( NOT RECEIVING NOTIFICATIONS)
*3.5 stars *

It’s always fascinating to read of other cultures, and Lea Ypi’s memoir of growing up in Albania is no exception. Albania was the last Stalinist state in Europe, and as such, very little was known about it. That all changed with the creation of independent political parties, bringing about the fall of communism, just a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
If some Albanians thought they were already free, they were about to discover what real freedom meant. It would be a time of ma
...more
Dem
Feb 19, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Dem by: Diane S ☔
An insightful and highly original memoir. A moving and witty story about growing up in Albania in the final days of the last Stalinist outpost of the 20th century.

Lea Ypi grew up in one of the most isolated countries in Southern Europe. 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,
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Barbara
Sep 11, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was unexpectedly brilliant. I say unexpectedly because over the years, I have grown wary of the literature (both fiction and non-fiction) produced around Albanian communism and its immediate aftermath. If not going the route of sterile allegories, those who write about Albania's past tend to portray life under Communism in a way that flattens all complexities for the sake of condensing as much pain on the page as possible. And there are several reasons for that, chief being a belief in the ...more
Diane S ☔
Feb 02, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nf2022
My knowledge of Albania was, until reading this, almost non existent. This historical memoir begins when Lea is a child, totally convinced that her country under communism was free. She was taught in school to revere Enver Hosta and couldn't understand why her family, unlike other famous, didn't have a framed picture of him. She couldn't understand why her biography, actually status, wasn't as promise nent as her classmates. She wouldn't find out the answer to her questions until the death of th ...more
Rebecca
(3.75) I knew next to nothing about Communist Albania (apart from what showed up in the novel Brass) before picking this up on account of its shortlisting for the Costa Award. It’s pretty astonishing that there was a country still in this condition in the 1970s-80s: Ypi writes, “When I was born, the chances of survival were put at thirty per cent. My parents dared not give me a name but celebrated the hospital number I was assigned: 471.” Days-long queues for food and kerosene were common. The c ...more
Vicky "phenkos"
Jan 31, 2022 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I'm listening to this on BBC Radio 4. You can catch up here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001... ...more
Robert Maisey
Jan 31, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an intensely moving, beautifully written book of political philosophy, which happens to take the form of a personal memoir. 'Free' recounts the author's childhood experience of late-communism, transition, liberalism, civil war, and state failure.

Author Lea Ypi presents us with two broad conceptions of freedom, mapping loosely onto what Isaiah Berlin referred to as 'positive' and 'negative' liberty. She describes an idyllic childhood under latter-day Albanian Stalinism - a poor and frustr
...more
books4chess
Sep 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley-arcs
"It wouldn't be exploitation without consent. It would be violence"

The story follows a young Lea, learning about daily Albanian life, when the Berlin wall falls, regime change comes and life changes quickly. 1990 was a year like no other for Albania and the migration, rise of pyramid schemes, civil unrest and structural reforms are presented from a very personal perspective.

I anticipated an Albanian memoir from which I could learn more about an area of the world and a history that I know little
...more
Barbara
A few years ago, I took a holiday in Dubrovnik. Local tour companies were offering day trips to Albania: a long day trip, passing through Montenegro and into one of the least well-known countries in Europe. I resisted. Honestly, I didn't need to put myself through such a long journey just for the kudos of being able to say I'd been there. Albania still holds that sense of difference. Whether it's the remnants of the most authentically Stalinist regime in the world (a regime that looked down upon ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
3.5 stars

An interesting memoir, one I didn’t entirely connect with but still found to be a worthwhile read. Lea Ypi grew up in Albania, which until she was 11 was an isolated nation under one-party Stalinist rule. Not knowing anything else, she was a happily indoctrinated kid, and in for a shock when the regime fell and she learned about her family’s secrets and her country’s dark side. The memoir is about her childhood and teenage years, and largely told from a child’s perspective, which allows
...more
Ruben
Dec 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4,5 - I love memoirs that place a life in the wider historical context. They are a very effective learning device. This one was particularly interesting to me because I did not know much of Albania at all, let alone about its peculiar brand of communism. Also Lea Ypi's family is a very unique bunch of characters with 'biographies' relevant to the larger story. It was fascinating, but what makes it stand out is its humour, warmth and intelligence. The style is deceivingly simple, given that we ha ...more
Kamila Kunda
Nov 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: europe, own, non-fiction
How does a child define freedom? What criteria do they use? How do they know whether they are (or are not) free? These and other relevant questions asks Lea Ypi, Albanian author and professors of Political Theory at the LSE in “Free. Coming of Age at the End of History”, a memoir about her growing up in the country governed by one of the harshest communist regimes in the world.

Ypi is a few months younger than me, was brought up - like myself - behind the Iron Curtain, but our experiences couldn’
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Jarvo
Jan 03, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a beautiful merging of the personal with the political. A memoir about growing up in the most steadfast of Europe's communist countries, and then watching it fall victim to the broken promises of liberalism and the turmoil of the 1990's. Until she is eleven the author is a happy participant in the socialist state, aware of some material challenges - long queues, power cuts - but blissfully unaware that her parents, who speak in code in front of her, are secret opponents of the system and ...more
Jonathan Downing
Quite possibly the greatest piece of writing I've read so far this year. Ypi recounts her childhood in Albania both immediately before and after the 1990 riots and subsequent transition to democracy. As someone who lived in Albania for seven years, the stories she tells are in familiar settings about daily life situations I remember well. Would highly recommend to anyone eager to gain a more personal account of Albania's transition. ...more
Sarah
Free: Coming of Age at the End of History tells author Lea Ypi and her family's story of their experience of end of communism in Albania in 1990. Ypi grew up in Albania's second most populous city, Durrës, and this memoir follows her life growing up under Enver Hoxha's rule in the early/mid 80s to post-Communist Albania in the early to mid 90s when the first free elections were held.

The author's childhood recollections and the historical experiences of her family members and their life under co
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Celine Nguyen
Nov 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most striking memoirs I’ve read. Lea Ypi describes her childhood and teenage years through the final years of Albanian state socialism, the post-1990 shift towards a multi-party system and free-market economy, the disorienting and destabilising turn towards free-market neoliberalism, and the Albanian Civil War. It’s rare, I think, to find stories of USSR/communist states that don’t present a flattened ideological narrative—by pandering to Western liberal exceptionalism or misplaced le ...more
Sonya
Ypi’s memoir describes her life in Albania from childhood to high school. The timeline follows the political and economic life pre- and post- the fall of the Soviet Union and breakup into current Eastern European countries. The memoir describes life under communism, early democracy, and the Albanian Civil War. Part I written in the language of a young, elementary age girl is sometimes confusing as the cultural and political descriptions are in her elementary voice. Part II clarifies to the reade ...more
Keenan
Feb 02, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A stunning memoir looking back on a childhood in the last days of Europe's last remaining Stalinist regime and a young adolescence spent navigating the hope and turmoil and terror that came after its dissolution.

Memoirs about life under communist regimes are nothing new, and stories about queuing up for milk or furtive discussions about jailed friends or the empty feeling when the system collapses are a familiar sight, but what makes this particular book so poignant is the description of her fa
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Rennie
Jan 03, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, memoir
I’m glad that I read Mud Sweeter Than Honey a few months ago, because I think that oral history/Polish reportage on Albania gave me a better foundation to appreciate this. But they’re great to have read together. This was really an excellent memoir, if I did feel some remove on the author’s part from some of the more emotional events that I would’ve expected more insight into. Still, the perspectives into a country and era that haven’t gotten a lot of attention on the world stage is so valuable ...more
Frederike
May 18, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lebenshighlight.
driola kraja
Jan 06, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Easy to read, lovely even. Beautiful writing, beautiful storytelling. It is funny, it is heartbreaking and it captures the historical and isolated Albania with a new and fresh set of eyes. I am often so bored of all socialist related novels of the country, since they’re always repetitive and show tremendous existential dread- the same type of unescapable dread I get from reading them. This was exactly the opposite. I breathed in the pages and the second I’d put it down I couldn’t escape the worl ...more
Bob Hughes
Oct 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tracing the life of an innocent child growing up in politically turbulent Albania, to a young woman who starts to understand the world around her, and what is really going on, this memoir reads both as a set of essays, but also as a novel itself.

It is a slow burn, watching at the beginning where young Lea is excited about chewing gum wrappers, ashamed of speaking French because her friends don't understand, and finding out from her parents that she is actually a Muslim despite the country's out
...more
Mandy
Nov 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Growing up in Communist Albania, Lea Ypi was unaware of what life was like in the outside world. Born in 1979 when the country had already disassociated itself from other Communist regimes and was firmly under the control of dictator Enver Hoxha, Albania was completely isolated and its citizens told that it was the only country standing up against the wicked empires of both east and west. Ypi grew up to believe that her country was the best. There was no reason not to believe it and her parents ...more
Richard Thompson
Mar 01, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
When I was little I was told that the American consort of King Zog, the last king of Albania, was a distant relative, so as a pretender to the Albanian throne, I have always had a soft spot for this odd little Balkan country where they speak an Indo-European language that is off on a branch of its own only distantly related to the Romance, Germanic and Slavic languages.

Lea Ypi's experience growing up in an intellectual family in Albania under the isolationist hardline Stalinist regime of Enver H
...more
Shoshanna
Feb 05, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-non-fiction
Incredible. I learned so much! Childhood memoir of growing up in Albania right around the time the country changed from socialism to liberalism.

I don't want to give too much away, but you really see the way these changes alter her society, for the better but also for the worse. There is so much loss of hope, the second half was a struggle to feel positive in. You basically see a breakdown of community.

I didn't know anything about Albania before, and now I have a perspective from someone who we
...more
Henry
Feb 19, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5⭐️bumped up.

A fantastic account of the so-called “end of history” that for the author seemed to have far more history than anything else. Really, the sense you get from this book is that the Stalinist years in Albania themselves were the pause from history, not the 90s when everything suddenly happened very fast.

Ypi writes as clearly and evocatively about her own experience as she does about property relations. She doesn’t dumb things down, but she does know enough about theory to explain th
...more
Jack Head
Mar 02, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
just read it
Olivia Newman
Jan 11, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In her memoir, Free: Coming of Age at the End of History, Lea Ypi recounts her childhood in Albania. It's a story told in two parts, delineated by the fall of Albania's communist government, and with it, everything Ypi thought she knew about herself, her family, and their place in the nation. Ypi tells her story through a series of anecdotes and reflections, some sad and some funny, with only limited context given on the Cold War, the Albanian government, and the Civil War.

At its heart, this boo
...more
Rachel
Apr 12, 2022 rated it it was amazing
I'd recommend this to anyone interested in a very personal account of a recent political history. Once I reached the halfway point, I couldn't stop thinking about it until I finished it. ...more
Ann
Lea Ypi recounts her childhood growing up in Albania, the last Stalinist country in Europe. The family dynamics and details of day to day life navigating in the oppressive environment are eye opening. Life was not easy, and change was abrupt, frequent and sometimes violent. From her youthful perspective, the gradual dawning of hidden secrets and struggles are revealed, her confusion and growing sense of unease turn to insightful understanding.
In the end, Ypi said she wrote this story to explain
...more
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Lea Ypi is professor of political theory at London School of Economics, and adjunct associate professor of philosophy at the Australian National University, with expertise in Marxism and critical theory. She lives and works in London.

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21 likes · 1 comments
“In the past, one would have been arrested for wanting to leave. Now that nobody was stopping us from emigrating, we were no longer welcome on the other side. The only thing that had changed was the color of the police uniforms. We risked being arrested not in the name of our own government but in the name of other states, those same governments who had urged us to break free. The West had spent decades criticizing the East for its closed borders, funding campaigns to demand freedom of movement, condemning the immorality of states committed to restricting the right to exit. Our exiles used to be received as heroes. Now they were treated as criminals.

Perhaps freedom of movement had never really mattered. It was easy to defend it when someone else was doing the dirty work of imprisonment. But what value does the right to exit have if there is no right to enter? Were borders and walls reprehensible only when they served to keep people in, as opposed to keeping them out? The border guards, the patrol boats, the detention and repression of immigrants that were pioneered in southern Europe for the first time in those years [1990s] would become standard practice over the coming decades. The West, initially unprepared for the arrival of thousands of people wanting a different future, would soon perfect a system for excluding the most vulnerable and attracting the more skilled, all the while defending borders to "protect our way of life." And yet, those who sought to emigrate did so because they were attracted to that way of life. Far from posing a threat to the system, they were its most ardent supporters.”
2 likes
“For some, leaving was a necessity that went under the official name of ‘transition’. We were a society in transition, it was said, moving from socialism to liberalism, from one-party rule to pluralism, from one place to the other. Opportunities would never come to you, unless you went looking for them, like the half-cockerel in the old Albanian folk tale who travels far away, looking for his kismet, and in the end returns full of gold. For others, leaving the country was an adventure, a childhood dream come true or a way to please their parents. There were those who left and never returned. Those who went and came back soon after. Those who turned the organization of movement into a profession, who opened travel agencies or smuggled people on boats. Those who survived, and became rich. Those who survived, and continued to struggle. And those who died trying to cross the border. In” 1 likes
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