Free: Coming of Age at the End of History

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Lea Ypi grew up in Albania, an isolated country with communist ideals where equality, community and hope thrived. In 1990, the fall of the regime brought new freedoms, but also economic collapse, emigration and conflict. The memoir “Free” explores her childhood during this tumultuous political change while examining the contrast between ideals and reality.

Favorite quotes from the book:

My grandmother always said that we don’t know how to think about the future; we must turn to the past.

There would be gains and there would be losses. You had to avoid being flattered by victories and learn how to accept defeat. Like the moves in chess my mother used to describe, the game was yours to play if you mastered the rules.

That was the point, he explained, when he realized that “democracy” was just another name for the violence of the state, a violence that for the most part remains an abstract threat only to materialize when the powerful risk losing their privileges.

She was always calm and consistent, able to adapt to the most challenging circumstances, overcoming difficulties with an ease that suggested the greatest obstacles are those that we create ourselves, that all that is needed is the will to succeed. She had convinced me that our present is always continuous with our past, and that in every set of apparently random circumstances one can observe rational characters and motives. Her very look, her posture, her way of speaking - all of it contributed to conveying that same impression.

Perhaps freedom of movement had never really mattered. It was easy to defend it when someone else was doing the dirty work of imprisonment. But what value does the right to exit have if there is no right to enter?

The West, initially unprepared for the arrival of thousands of people wanting a different future, would soon perfect a system for excluding the most vulnerable and attracting the more skilled, all the while defending borders to “protect our way of life”. And yet, those who sought to emigrate did so because they were attracted to that way of life. Far from posing a threat to the system, they were its most ardent supporters.

My grandmother had taught all of us to put our best effort even into the most meaningless tasks, to always try to own the consequences even if we couldn’t own the causes.