I wanted to buy books over the weekend. I was looking for specifically for fiction – something new, something edgy and experimental by an Albanian author. I went to three of Prishtina's bookstores and couldn't find anything. I found lots of classics, the same boring stuff that we had to read in high school. Either bookstores aren't buying books written by young people, or the majority of the people writing are old men who believe that they have a touch of the poetic in them.
The thing that annoys me about most Albanian language books is that the back of the book usually features a stupidly long biography, without giving you any synopsis or clue as to what is in the book. In most cases the biographies are ridiculous. The worst one that I encountered over the weekend was Matilda Musa Gorani's biography in Fillimi i Fundit: “She was born in Prishtina on April 14, 1974, in a family of six members. Her (now deceased) father Ali Musa was among the first economists who graduated from the Public University of Skopje. Her mother Shemsije Musa was a teacher at the Hasan Prishtina elementary school in Prishtina, she is currently on her pension.” Who the hell cares who Matilda Musa Gorani's parents are? Why is mentioning her family tree so important? I'm pretty sure the line of reasoning is this: Matilda comes from an educated middle class family, so she must be a good writer. This definition of writing as a fancy, class-bound activity that only the university educated can do makes my stomach turn. It's the equivalent of buying a fancy car to prove that you've “made it” to your poor friends. There seems to be a perception that writing involves putting words beside each other in a fancy way that you learn in school – that words and writing are about surface and imitation instead of substance and creativity. I ended up leaving the bookstore disappointed.
My mood improved when I picked up my copy of Lirindja a few hours later. Lirindja is a zine, the first one I've ever come across in Kosovo. A zine is a small publication similar to a miniature magazine – usually they are short, self-published collections of text and images with small circulation numbers. The title Lirindja is a play on the word Rilindja, the name of Kosovo's very first publishing house, and is also the Albanian word for “rebirth.” Lirindja is the creation of a group of people who are from here and have something to say. The first edition is filled with essays, poems and opinion pieces by people who have opinions about art, public space, language, memory and belonging. Their biographies are not included. The language is fresh and direct. The topics are broad, a collage of the interests of all of the people involved. Reading it is like breathing fresh air after being in a stuffy room all day. It's like sitting down and having a silent conversation with someone, which is exactly what reading should feel like. It is a relief not to have to read tired old cliches and formulas and poetry that rhymes. Experimentation, play and individualism – it feels sometimes that these are the things that contemporary Albanian writers are afraid of the most. That is not the case with Lirindja, and I'm not even sure that most of the contributors would think of themselves as professional writers.
More zines, more writing and less biographies. Get those old people away from their computers.
The article was originally written in English and Albanian.
Illustration: Zgjim Elshani
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