BIOGRAFI: A Traveler's Tale by Lloyd Jones

BIOGRAFI: A Traveler's Tale

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A New Zealand novelist mixes fantasy with fact in this unusual recreation of his search through post-Communist Albania for the late dictator Enver Hoxha's former double. As a child, Jones writes, his knowledge of Albania was limited to what he overheard on a neighbor's short-wave radio: the self-congratulatory message that heroic Albanian Communists flourished under the guidance of their wise leader, Enver Hoxha. Years later, after Hoxha's death and the fall of his regime, the novelist heard rumors of the reappearance of the dictator's double, a village dentist forced to undergo extensive plastic surgery in order to stand in for Hoxha at official events. Once the dictator was dead, the dentist was so abused by Hoxha-hating Albanians that he attempted to cut out his eyes with a razor, then disappeared. Making it his mission to find this dentist, Jones arrives in chaotic Albania, where food is virtually nonexistent, electrical power switches on and off at will, and governments topple at a moment's notice. The author encounters citizens obsessed with recreating and recounting their own life stories after having been persecuted for decades due to supposed political flaws in their biografis, official dossiers compiled by the secret police. Overwhelmed by accounts of routine betrayal and torture, Jones abandons his attempt to find the real dentist and simply invents (without stating so in the text) a dying vagrant whose biografi is pieced together from the stories of people he met. A hard winter leads to this fictional dentist's death, while Jones -- the character and the author -- hightails it back home. Intended to reflect the bizarre, Alice-in-Wonderland quality of Albanian life in the 1990s, this account makes no distinction between what is and isn't true -- which unfortunately imparts an annoying sense of unreliability to the tale.

Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 1994
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Harvest/Harcourt Brace