Finished December 29
Biografi by Lloyd Jones
This was a very unusual novel, a combination of a travel and history book set around a fictional character. The character is Petar Shapallo, a village dentist who was drafted from his home, life, and family to become the double for Albania's Great Leader, Enver Hoxha. Working from the rumour of such a man, Jones uses his own travels in Albania in the early 1990s and the real encounters he had with victims of the regime, both in Albania and out, remnants of the old order, and westerners with interests there, charitable or commercial.
Jones really did spend six weeks in Albania in late 1991 with photographer Bruce Foster, and he met and interviewed many people. One detail of the regime that struck him was the extensive record keeping. Every citizen had a `biografi` that detailed his life and his relations. These files were maintained by the secret police, and they were sometimes falsified to fit official positions. Over time, the term biografi came to be associated with the falsification.
Jones changed the names of some of the characters in the book and used only first names for others to protect them as the situation in Albania was still fluid.
He portrays the poverty, the waste of lives, and the remaining hope well, showing the outcome of a isolated country that suddenly becomes more connected. A fascinating read.