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The Library of Babel

A Spin-off of http://bookwormshead.blogspot.co.uk

The Country Where No One Ever Dies - Ornela Vorpsi, Robert Elsie, Janice Mathie-Heck

Reading this book equals to trying to take off an old layer of plaster from a wall using some tin foil. Sure, if you scrub really hard, a few pieces of plaster could give way, but you know things would get better having a piece of sand paper.

For "The Country Where No One Ever Dies" (TCWNOED for short) by Ornela Vorpsi is not a bad book overall, but it's wrapped in tin foil thus merely scratching the surface of an interesting topic - Albania in the 1980s - leaving you dissatisfied at the end.
Still, it would be unfair saying that this collection of vignettes jointed to each other in a sort of novella is hard to read. In fact, quite the contrary: Vorpsi has an effective writing style mixing up childhood memories with fiction and reaching the heart of the matter with carefully chosen words.

Nothing seems superfluous here and that's good, but writing something more would have not been bad either. The point of view of a little girl growing up in Tirana is not always convincing but manages to give some insight on Albania.

Vorpsi works well when she focuses on what the little girl sees and perceives: odd elderly people, unfortunate neighbors, local gossip, the influence of the party on everyday's life, her mum, her dad.
Vorpsi doesn't sound very convincing when she tries to put sex in the context: here she overdoes it.
For example, I haven't quite understood why adults of her own family keep on calling "a whore" the young girl with different names whose short stories make this book.
Is it because the author wants to show us how male chauvinist, backwardish and sexually aggressive the Albanian society could be? Or maybe is it because the girl - like Vorpsi herself - tries to develop an independent personality against all odds?

I'm afraid only Ornela Vorpsi could answer.
She certainly looks happy to have left Albania behind her therefore, some ill feeling could be justified. But, believe me, this book would have been better without a few jarring notes about sex.

To recover Vorpsi's reputation as a novelist, I don't think it's an act of sacrilege stating that in its best parts TCWNOED has a certain affinity with "The Land of Green Plums" by Herta Müller. I hope miss Vorpsi will take it as a compliment. No plagiarism involved, just a similar choice of writer's palette.

Of course the Romanian Nobel Prize winner is a more talented - and more experienced - writer, but if Vorpsi will be able to get over herself and her obsession for sexual interludes, some pretty good books may follow "The Country Where No One Ever Dies". Let's see what's next.