Like a Prisoner by Fatos Lubonja

Like a Prisoner by Fatos Lubonja

Albanian shots stories

Original title -Jetë Burgu

Translator – John Hodgson

Source – Review Copy

Well, I move on to Albania today and the second book I have read from Istros books by this writer. Fatos Lubjona’s father was a close ally in the sixties to the leader Hoxha but when he started to distance the country from the soviets and Fatos’s father questioned the regime and was arrested as was Fatos who in his diaries whilst he was a student had questions, Hoxha. He was sentenced to more than 20 years he then spent 13 years in hard labour and was released after 17 years, during this time he kept a diary and there world he won is the world of this short story collection. He is also a critic of the leaders on both sides of the political divide in his homeland.

In the daily life of the camp, Eqerem was very reserved by nature, and apart from his epileptic fits and his rooftop dance, his presence disturbed nobody. None of his family came to see him, and he was therefore ‘without support.

He kept a large bowl that he filled with a mush of bread and soup from the cauldron. He ate everything and never scrounged off anybody. He never argued with the guards, and they generally left him in peace.

Pandi was the only person to call to him in the name of Suzi. Everyone was astonished how he had managed to induce Eqerem to take part in such a game. If anybody else tried to call ‘Suzi’ to him or make the vagina sign, he would give them a furious look and make threatening gestures.

The story Eqerem a man worn down by the camp

these thirteen stories paint a picture of the horrors and inner life of the hard labour camps. The character studies the people around the prison camp like Eqerem. Our narrator notices him after a few days in the camp he had a head that stuck out in the crowd of the camp where they all have shaved heads. he was there for a short time his hair grew just before his release but he then a few years later he came back but was then caught up in events in the prison and ended up in solitary when he came out that had had marks and a few days later he died. A life contained in a story.  The story that hit me hardest was Çuçi the story of Çavo the cleaner prisoner on the wing and his cat he fed it scraps and pieces but this cat wander the camp and was friends with over prisoners. This cat was a free spirit in a world of lost souls trap it caught rabbits and lived both in and out of the camp. The cat kept Çavo on the straight and narrow. So how will he react when the cat disappears and is eventually found dead? The following story follows John Smith’s it says one of the few prisoners that calms not to be Albanian he claimed his father had taken him from Australia to Albania away from his Australian mother well that is the tale he tells. Will the Australians help him ?

In the camps, most of the prisoners who kept cats did not keep them close to themselves. The cats wandered through the yards, ran off, mated wherever they wanted, and were in a much wilder state than Cuci. But she too was free to make love to the tom-cats of Burrel prison, and once had given birth to two kittens. They had not lived, and it’s said that kittens from a first pregnancy never survive. But Çuci also spent hours on end in the cell with us, even during the night. Almost every evening, she came back to the cell after wandering through the yards and hidden corners of the prison. She squeezed in through the observation window in the door, an opening fifteen centimetres square at the level of the human eye, which the guards always left open.

The cats of the camp are free spirits in a world of trapped souls.

I have tried to cover the bare minimum amount of stories as this is one of the collections that need reading there isn’t much out there of first-hand experience of the world of Hoxha and his hard labour camps. This weaves the world of Spaç and those prisoners into the hope and horrors of the camp and its prisoners. I think that is what hit me hard about the cat story one little animal had hope tied to it but also maybe made them forget the horrors of their daily life. As we see how each prisoner our narrator sees how to get by in their camps and what each one does to survive the horror of the numbing world they are all caught up in. This is one of the most grabbing collections of life in a prison camp from the writer’s own first-hand experience of it. If you like books like a day in the life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Have you a favourite book about being a prisoner in a labour camp?

Winstons score – +A  the world of Hoxha’s camps brought to life in this collection

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