I met Gazmend Kapllani, a Greek of Albanian origin, during a recent visit to Germany (for a British Council ‘Our Shared Europe’ conference). He’s a great conversationalist, so I was pleased when he promised to send me one of his books. A Short Border Handbook arrived this morning. I took it back to bed, planning to read the blurb and perhaps the first chapter before adding it to my enormous pile of books-to-be-read. But I read the whole thing in one go.
It’s not a novel but it feels like one, because it’s so lightly yet densely written, full of stories and humour and therefore with a texture more human than journalistic. Part autobiography, part fiction, part philosophy, Kapllani’s book reminds us that a migrant, unlike a tourist, is the weak pole in relation to his host society, and that the weak are never respected, however hard they work. The Handbook’s general ruminations are applicable to any migrant, but it also addresses very specifically the conditions in Albania in the 1990s which forced so many people to move.
It has the following to say about Enver Hoxha. Examples of other fallen dictators will leap into readers’ minds: