Thursday, 23 June 2016

Enver Hoxha: The Iron Fist Of Albania by Blendi Fevziu

Enver Hoxha by Blendi Fevziu
Originally published in Albanian in 2011 by UET Press. English language edition translated by Robert Elsie. Published by I B Tauris in May 2016.

Where to buy this book:
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How I got this book:
Received a review copy from its publishers via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Other than a couple of Kiva loans to entrepreneurs in the country I knew practically nothing about the tiny Balkan country of Albania. Reading this newly translated biography of its former dictator, Enver Hoxha, has helped me to understand more about their forty year exclusion. Author Blendi Fevziu is an Albanian journalist and the whole book is written in a reportage style, not dry at all, but firmly factual and pragmatic. Where truth is uncertain this is clearly indicated by the language used and many key events, particularly during Hoxha's ascent and early years of power, are now difficult to establish exactly due to his having since ordered the deaths of witnesses who might have refuted his own version. A prolific writer, Hoxha wrote over 70 books during his lifetime many of which apparently were 'revised' versions of his life so, while Fevziu had extensive material from which to research this biography, gleaning the truth must have been incredibly difficult.

Hoxha's unremarkable early life and dissolute student years in France seemed a strange beginning for a paranoid dictator. His selection as Communist Party leader was more due to his lack of personal drive meaning that he hadn't alienated any of the factions fighting for control, but once he got the nomination, there was no way he was going to relinquish power and maintained absolute control for forty-one years. An incredible achievement even though he effectively destroyed his country and totally isolated himself in the process. I found Fevziu's biography absolutely fascinating both as a overview history of post-war Albania and as a portrait of Hoxha himself. It was disappointing to learn of underhand British interference and finances helping the Communist regime to establish itself as the war ended (is there anywhere we haven't helped to destroy?). I did find it difficult to keep track of who everybody was, especially during the early chapters when timelines frequently jumped around, but once the narrative settled into a more linear approach, identification became easier.

As a cautionary tale against the effects of personality cults and an illustration of how large numbers of people can be convinced to follow self-destructive ideologies, this is an important book. Details of Hoxha's obsessive public relations campaign to present himself as he wanted to be seen and remembered are interestingly similar to celebrity and brand campaigns nowadays and it worked. On its launch a quarter century after Hoxha's 1985 death, some Albanians burned original language copies of this biography in the streets because it dared to criticise their former leader even though he left their country technologically worse off than when he took power, with hundreds dead, thousands imprisoned or interned, and hundreds of thousands starving.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Blendi Fevziu / biography / Books from Albania

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