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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



The Country Where
No One Ever Dies


by
Ornela Vorpsi


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Country Where No One Ever Dies



Title: The Country Where No One Ever Dies
Author: Ornela Vorpsi
Genre: Novel
Written: (2004) (Eng. 2009)
Length: 109 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The Country Where No One Ever Dies - US
The Country Where No One Ever Dies - UK
The Country Where No One Ever Dies - Canada
Le pays où l'on ne meurt jamais - France
Das ewige Leben der Albaner - Deutschland
  • Italian title: Il paese dove non si muore mai
  • Translated by Robert Elsie and Janice Mathie-Heck
  • Although written in Italian, The Country Where No One Ever Dies was originally published in its French translation (in 2004), with the Italian original only published in 2005

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Our Assessment:

B : decent but limited slice of 1980s Albanian life

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 12/12/2009 Adrian Turpin
FAZ . 14/2/2008 Sabine Berking
Die Welt . 17/3/2007 .


  From the Reviews:
  • "Fascinating as her subject matter is, one comes away with the feeling that Vorpsi doesn’t much care for either Albania’s oppressors or the oppressed, an understandable response but one that is hard to love." - Adrian Turpin, Financial Times

  • "Dieses nostalgieresistente, auf Italienisch und nicht in der albanischen Muttersprache geschriebene Kindheitsmuster ähnelt mit seiner bitteren Lakonie und der verzweifelten Liebessehnsucht den Romanen des Russen Pawel Sanajew und des Polen Wojciech Kuczok; wohl nicht zufällig erinnert Vorpsis Affinität zum Mystischen an Herta Müllers Niederungen." - Sabine Berking, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Vorpsi räumt nicht nur nicht mit all den vagen Bildern von schlammigen Straßen und staubiger Hitze, von kaputten Menschen und bewaffneten Balkan-Mafiosi auf. Sie wartet auch noch Seite um Seite mit ganz neuen grauenvollen Details über dieses Albanien auf. Ein Grauen allerdings von derart köstlicher Absurdität, dass es einen den kaum 150 Seiten langen Erstling in einem Zug verschlingen lässt." - Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Country Where No One Ever Dies begins with the claim that:

     Albania is a country where no one ever dies.
       It is, of course, an absurd claim -- but also suggests the level of delusion necessary to survive in the totalitarian nightmare that was Enver Hoxha's Albania. Ornela Vorpsi's novel is clearly, to a large extent, autobiographical, the narrator -- sometimes, but not always, referring to herself as 'Ornela', as even identity is not a fixed state here -- recounting parts of her childhood in a world of "Albanian mysteries". She lives in a world where her fate is, as she understands (and is barely able to fight against): "predetermined by the State."
       Family life isn't particularly happy or pleasant. Her father is imprisoned, though it's never clear what his crime was, and when he eventually is released he is a largely broken man -- but it hardly matters: he does not figure all that prominently in her life. Sex hangs threateningly in the air, as it is taken for granted that the child is destined to act immorally soon enough. (The moral standards in this society are entirely unrealistic -- and hence also barely adhered too.)
       School is an ill-equipped indoctrination camp where, for example:
Sometimes, instead of a lesson, they tell us folktales. I love folktales, but there's one little problem: my country's folktales all seem to be about partisans who, whenever they get captured by the Nazis, swallow the Party's orders
       Yet she also comes across outspoken criticism -- as when her grandfather predictably praises Fascist Italy:
     "We were much better off in the old days under Italy. There was no poverty, not like today, and things were really going well for us. Today I can't even practice my own profession !"
       And the kids aren't all simply obedient, blind followers: while undergoing some basic military training, for example, they all decide they need some time off:
     I don't remember whose idea it was to desert (just for the day, come on !), but we're all enthusiastic about the idea. For once we all agree on something.
       (They are punished afterwards, but the narrator doesn't bother mentioning how.)
       Among the best of the short chapter-episodes is one in which two of the kids decide to duel it out, in a swordfight like that between: "Romeo and Tybalt of the Capulet family". They look for appropriate swords and finally come across a vase with some "long, thin objects" in it, and:
     We take the two longest swords. They're a bit thicker at one end, ending into little knobs.
       Yeah, those aren't swords, and when the grown-ups discover what the kids have done there's quite the uproar. But no one explains to the kids what they did, or what they did wrong:
     That evening, the entire family gathers to discuss the event. We're not allowed to take part. Obviously it's a matter of great secrecy. There's a good deal of whispering and then some tears. At last we're summoned to the table. A sorrowful dinner with somber faces.
       On a larger scale, that's what living in Albania is like for everyone: citizens excluded from everything like children, no explanations given (and the hidden secrets dirty and awful).
       An Epilogue sees the narrator -- here Eva, as in the first woman -- hoping to find a better life by going to Italy, 'The Promised Land'. But:
     In this country Albanians discover they're mortal.
       Albania, despite what little it offers, is still the place they belong -- and so: "they all go back to sunny Albania".
       The Country Where No One Ever Dies is a sometimes affecting collection of episodes, stories, and vignettes from 1980s Albania. Political oppression is clearly an incredible burden on these lives, but the ugly pettiness of so many of the characters and the lack of any attempts at clear communication also contribute to the pervasive misery of the place. Predictably, the narrator retreats into books -- "I needed book like a drug. I was hooked" -- but this, like everything in The Country Where No One Ever Dies, is only part of the story; unfortunately, throughout the books there's far too little follow-through. These are fine scenes from a (generally horrible) life, but they hardly amount to much of a whole (much less a cohesive one). Vorpsi unburdens herself, and there is a lot that is good here, but this hardly stands out from the countless other accounts of life under totalitarian regimes -- with even the Albanian twist not fully exploited here.
       The Country Where No One Ever Dies is a fine personal account -- or rather: the pieces of it are fine -- but it is entirely underdeveloped as a literary work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 September 2009

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Links:

The Country Where No One Ever Dies: Reviews: Ornela Vorpsi: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Ornela Vorpsi was born in Albania in 1968. She now lives in France, but writes in Italian.

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© 2009 the complete review

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