THE SUNDAY TIMES MEMOIR OF THE YEAR
‘Wonderfully funny and poignant. . . a tale of family secrets and political awakening amid a crumbling regime. One of the nonfiction titles of the year’ Luke Harding, Observer
‘Astonishing and deeply resonant . . . Ypi weaves magic in this book: I was entranced from beginning to end’ Laura Hackett, Sunday Times
‘I never asked myself about the meaning of freedom until the day I hugged Stalin. From close up, he was much taller than I expected.’
Lea Ypi grew up in one of the most isolated countries on earth, 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, it was home. People were equal, neighbours helped each other, and children were expected to build a better world. There was community and hope.
Then, in December 1990, a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, everything changed. The statues of Stalin and Hoxha were toppled. Almost overnight, people could vote freely, wear what they liked and worship as they wished. There was no longer anything to fear from prying ears. But factories shut, jobs disappeared and thousands fled to Italy on crowded ships, only to be sent back. Predatory pyramid schemes eventually bankrupted the country, leading to violent conflict. As one generation’s aspirations became another’s disillusionment, and as her own family’s secrets were revealed, Lea found herself questioning what freedom really meant.
Free is an engrossing memoir of coming of age amid political upheaval. With acute insight and wit, Lea Ypi traces the limits of progress and the burden of the past, illuminating the spaces between ideals and reality, and the hopes and fears of people pulled up by the sweep of history.
WINNER OF THE SLIGHTLY FOXED BEST FIRST BIOGRAPHY PRIZE
SHORTLISTED FOR THE COSTA BIOGRAPHY AWARD
SHORTLISTED FOR THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE FOR NON-FICTION
SHORTLISTED FOR THE ONDAATJE PRIZE
CHOSEN AS A BOOK OF THE YEAR BY THE GUARDIAN, FINANCIAL TIMES, SUNDAY TIMES, TLS, DAILY MAIL, NEW STATESMAN AND SPECTATOR
If you read one memoir this year, let it be this * Sunday Times, Books of the Year * A magical, timeless and important account of what life was really like under communism. Free brims with diamond-studded details, it lays bare the compromises, fear and betrayals of a secret police state, but is also an uplifting and humorous reminder of how much the human spirit can endure -- Alec Russell * Financial Times * Lea Ypi's Free is the first book since Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend that I have pressed on family, friends and colleagues, insisting they read it. . . a truly riveting memoir and a profound meditation on what it means to be free -- Ruth Scurr * Spectator, Books of the Year * Enthralling. . . a classic in the making -- David Abulafia * TLS, Books of the Year * Ypi's deliciously smart memoir of her Albanian girlhood at the end of the Cold War is a brilliant disquisition on the meanings of freedom - its lures, false hopes, disappointments and possibilities - in our time -- Lyndsey Stonebridge * New Statesman, Books of the Year * A tart and tender childhood memoir. But also a work of social criticism, and a meditation on how to live with purpose. . . A quick read, but like Marx's spectre haunting Europe, it stays with you * The New Yorker, Best Books of 2021 * An absorbing memoir of Ypi's Albanian childhood and its ideological delusions. The freedom she discovers is far more complex than we might expect -- Terri Apter * TLS, Books of the Year * A strange world and its legacy is now stunningly brought to life. Lea Ypi offers a moving and compelling memoir of growing up in turbulent times, as well as a frank questioning of what it really means to be "free" -- Frederick Studemann * Financial Times, Books of the Year * Lea Ypi's Free: Coming of Age at the End of History is a beautifully written account of life under a crumbling Stalinist system in Albania and the shock and chaos of what came next. In telling her story and examining the political systems in which she was raised, the author and LSE professor asks tough questions about the nature of freedom * Guardian, Books of the Year * An astonishing and deeply resonant memoir about growing up in the last days of the last Stalinist outpost of the 20th century. . . What makes it so unforgettable is that we see this world, one about which we know so little, through the eyes of a child.. . It is more fundamentally about humanity, and about the confusions and wonders of childhood. Ypi weaves magic in this book: I was entranced from beginning to end -- Laura Hackett * Sunday Times * Utterly engrossing . . . Ypi's memoir is brilliantly observed, politically nuanced and - best of all - funny. An essential book, just as much for Britons as Albanians -- Stuart Jeffries * Guardian * Riveting. . . A wonderfully funny and poignant portrait of a small nation in a state of collapse. . . gloriously readable. . . One of the nonfiction titles of the year, it is destined for literary accolades and popular success -- Luke Harding * Observer * Gripping. A book of political reality as lived from day to day by a young girl coming of age. It shows what can arrive all too easily in the void left by a suddenly discarded political system. Unforgettable * Daily Mail * A wonderful memoir. . . a uniquely engaging and illuminating account of a young life during a period of intense turmoil. So readable, yet Ypi does not sacrifice profound observations about politics and culture. Detailing the absurdities of the regime from a child's perspective, she pulls off the remarkable feat of emphasizing their cruelty with a light and often humorous touch -- Misha Glenny * TLS * Fantastically engaging. . . A breakout book. . . Such an engrossing story that it is (almost) unsurprising that it is already being translated into eleven languages. If a film follows, don't be surprised -- Tim Judah * Financial Times * Five stars. . . deserves to be added to the history curriculum * Daily Telegraph * Lea Ypi's experiences inspire a moving and profound reflection on the nature of freedom that avoids either liberal triumphalism or Stalinist nostalgia. She is most concerned with the futures that were lost in between -- George Eaton, * The New Statesman * With its delicious sour-sweet comedy and pages of precise observation, Free opens a window on to one of the most bleakly isolationist regimes in human history -- Ian Thomson, * Spectator * Free is a rare and nuanced glimpse into the history of Albania, offering the personal perspective of a childhood spent in the shadow of an oppressive regime, and the long and turbulent transition that came after * Geographical, Books of the Year * A really fascinating and wonderful book, and beautifully written too. Not many writers could have pulled this off with such grace and elegance. You won't regret buying this one, for sure -- Nigel Warburton * Five Books, Best Philosophy Books of 2021 * Ypi excels at describing the fall and aftermath of Albanian communism from the perspective of her childhood . . . rich and remarkable * Literary Review * Essential reading. Lea Ypi's gorgeously written text - part memoir, part bildungsroman - tells a very personal story of socialism and postsocialism. Poignant and timely -- Kristen Ghodsee * Jacobin * Vital . . . an extraordinary memoir of social upheaval and historical change in 1990s Albania * Huck * A powerful and thought provoking memoir . . . wonderfully human, it is a story of missed opportunities, disillusionment and hope that ultimately invites readers to ask themselves what it means to be free -- Katja Hoyer * History Today * This vivid rendering of life amid cultural collapse is nothing short of a masterpiece * Publishers Weekly * Remarkable and highly original . . . Both an affecting coming-of-age story and a first-hand meditation on the politics of freedom -- Caroline Sanderson * Editor's Choice, Bookseller * A probing personal history, poignant and moving. A young life unfolding amidst great historical change - ideology, war, loss, uncertainty. This is history brought memorably and powerfully to life -- Tara Westover, author of Educated Unique, insightful, and often hilarious. . . Albania on the cusp of change, chaos and civil war is the setting for the best memoir to emerge from the Balkans in decades -- Craig Turp-Balazs * Emerging Europe * A lyrical memoir, of deep and affecting power, of the sweet smell of humanity mingled with flesh, blood and hope -- Philippe Sands, author of East West Street Free is astonishing. Lea Ypi has a natural gift for storytelling. It brims with life, warmth, and texture, as well as her keen intelligence. A gripping, often hilarious, poignant, psychologically acute masterpiece and the best book I've read so far this year -- Olivia Sudjic, author of Asylum Road Lea Ypi's teenage journey through the endtimes of Albanian communism tells a universal story: ours is an age of collapsed illusions for many generations. Written by one of Europe's foremost left-wing thinkers, this is an unmissable book for anyone engaged in the politics of resistance -- Paul Mason, author of Postcapitalism This extraordinary coming-of-age story is like an Albanian Educated but it is so much more than that. It 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. Funny, moving but also deadly serious, this book will be read for years to come -- David Runciman, author of How Democracy Ends A new classic that bursts out of the global silence of Albania to tell us human truths about the politics of the past hundred years. . . It unfolds with revelation after revelation - both familial and national - as if written by a master novelist. As if it were, say, a novella by Tolstoy. That this very serious book is so much fun to read is a compliment to its graceful, witty, honest writer. A literary triumph -- Amy Wilentz, author of Farewell, Fred Voodoo Illuminating and subversive, Free asks us to consider what happens to our ideals when they come into contact with imperfect places and people and what can be salvaged from the wreckage of the past -- Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran A young girl grows up in a repressive Communist state, where public certainties are happily accepted and private truths are hidden; as that world falls away, she has to make her own sense of life, based on conflicting advice, fragments of information and, above all, her own stubborn curiosity. Thought-provoking, deliciously funny, poignant, sharply observed and beautifully written, this is a childhood memoir like very few others -- a really marvellous book -- Noel Malcolm, author of Agents of Empire Free is one of those very rare books that shows how history shapes people's lives and their politics. Lea Ypi is such a brilliant, powerful writer that her story becomes your story -- Ivan Krastev, author of The Light that Failed Lea Ypi is a pathbreaking philosopher who is also becoming one of the most important public thinkers of our time. Here she draws on her unique historical experience to shed new light on the questions of freedom that matter to all of us. This extraordinary book is both personally moving and politically revolutionary. If we take its lessons to heart, it can help to set us free -- Martin Hagglund, author of This Life I haven't in many years read a memoir from this part of the world as warmly inviting as this one. Written by an intellectual with story-telling gifts, Free makes life on the ground in Albania vivid and immediate -- Vivian Gornick, author of Unfinished Business Lea Ypi has a wonderful gift for showing and not telling. In Free she demonstrates with humour, humanity and a sometimes painful honesty, how political communities without human rights will always end in cruelty. True freedom must be from both oppression and neglect -- Shami Chakrabarti, author of On Liberty A funny and fascinating memoir * White Review, Books of the Year * A rightly acclaimed account of loss of innocence in Albania from a master of subtext . . . Precise, acute, often funny and always accessible * The Irish Times * A remarkable story, stunningly told -- Emma Duncan * The Times * A vivid portrayal of how it felt to live through the transition from socialism to capitalism, Ypi's book will interest readers wishing to learn more about Albania during this tumultuous historical period, but also anyone interested in questioning the taken-for-granted ideological assumptions that underpin all societies and shape quotidian experiences in often imperceptible ways -- Hannah Proctor * Red Pepper * A classic, moving coming-of-age story. . . Ypi is a beautiful writer and a serious political thinker, and in just a couple hundred readable pages, she takes turns between being bitingly, if darkly, funny (she skewers Stalinism and the World Bank with equal deadpan) and truly profound * New York Times * Beguiling. . . the most probing memoir yet produced of the undefined 'transition' period after European communism. More profoundly a primer on how to live when old verities turn to dust. Ypi has written a brilliant personal history of disorientation, of what happens when the guardrails of everyday life suddenly fall away. . . Reading Free today is not so much a flashback to the Cold War as a glimpse of every society's possible pathway, a postcard from the future -- Charles King * Washington Post *
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