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WINNER OF THE ONDAATJE PRIZE
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
‘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, 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
CHOSEN AS A BOOK OF THE YEAR BY THE GUARDIAN, FINANCIAL TIMES, SUNDAY TIMES, TLS, DAILY MAIL, NEW STATESMAN AND SPECTATOR
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 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 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 *
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