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Biografi

Author
Lloyd Jones
Genre
Media
Book
Publisher
John Murray
ISBN
9780719522840
Reviewer
Steve

Synopsis

When Biografi was first published, it was met first with enormous critical acclaim -- only to become the centre of a heated controversy. Was it fact or fiction? Had Lloyd Jones concocted his story of life in the new Albania? Or was it travel literature as its publishers insisted? Equal parts travelogue, political reportage and bizarre mystery novel, Lloyd Jones crosses Albania as it reinvents itself - a volatile, surreal wonderland where nothing is quite as it seems.

Review

As a travel book this is more about the characters the author meets than the places he visits. It describes Albania in the early 90s emerging from the shadow of long-time Communist ruler Enver Hoxha. Hopefully the lives and living conditions of the Albanians have improved since and Albania is now a more appealing destination for visitors. The way the state documented ‘biografis' for many ordinary citizens, even encouraging relatives and neighbours to condem each other, was particularly striking.

A major theme in the book is the story of former dentist Peter Shapallo who was Envers double and took his place on many state visits. The revelation in the afterword that this part of the book was actually fiction came as a surprise to me. The encounters and conversations had seemed authentic. However, finding this out didn't make the book less enjoyable for me. It seems a useful device to explain Hoxha's relationship with his people and how his death left people ill-equipped to cope afterwards.

However, I did find the later extracts about Cliff in New Zealand distracting from the main storyline.

I would recommend this book as a companion to be read alongside a more conventional travel book about Albania.

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