"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Gazmend Kapllani and Border Syndrome

Little enough contemporary Greek writing is translated into English so it's always good to see something new.  Gazmend Kapllani's witty 2006 account of the life of Albanian migrants in Greece, translated by Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife, has now been published by Portobello Books.  Kapllani writes with bitter humour about the realities of being a migrant, shrewdly observing that some of the Greek hostility towards Albanians comes from not wanting to be reminded of their own history of having to migrate to survive.  If you were a tourist, he suggests, "your broken Greek would endear you to people...but when an Albanian speaks broken Greek, he is classed as nothing more than a 'bloody Albanian'. When an American speaks perfect Greek, he is an 'exceptional American', but when an Albanian speaks perfect Greek, all he hears is, 'You'll never be Greek!'

This short book is written in thirty sections which combine the stories of a group of those Albanians who, after the fall of the Communist regime, poured over the border with Greece, as Kapllani himself did in 1991, with reflections on what he calls "border syndrome" which is "an illness that's difficult to describe with precision".  There are vivid moments, like the first visit of the Albanians from a brutal and Spartan political regime to a supermarket in northern Greece, and overall the book offers an insight into the condition of the migrant in a week when British newspapers reported the deaths from hypothermia of some European migrants living in tents in the British countryside.  We tend to think that exploitation and hardship of a kind meted out to migrants in our midst happens elsewhere, not in the farms that supply our cheap supermarket fruit and vegetables, making us complicit in that suffering.  Fortunately, migrants of this kind conveniently stay out of sight so that we don't have to think about them and our responsibility for what they go through.


夏娃 said...

老天爺賦予了強者的能力,就是要他比弱者多擔待 ..................................................

Nicholas Murray said...

I welcome comments from around the world but I regretfully confess that my knowledge of Chinese and Japanese is non-existent so I can't respond to this. Are you able to translate?