Agron Tufa was born in 1967 in Dibra, Albania. He studied Albanian philology at the University of Tirana and later world literature at the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow. There he also studied at the Russian State University for the Humanities (RGGU), where he obtained his MA in literary translation, with emphasis on the poetry of Joseph Brodsky. He is a poet, author, translator from Russian and a 20th Century Foreign Literature professor at the Philological Faculty at the University of Tirana. His works include the books of poetry Aty tek portat Skee (There at the Scaean Gates), Rrethinat e Atlantidës (The Surroundings of Atlantis), Avangardë engjëjsh (Vanguard of Angels), Fryma mbi ujëra (Spirit upon waters), Gjurma në rrjedhë (Footprint along the stream), the novels Dueli (The Duel), Fabula Rasa for which he won the National Albanian “Silver Quill” Literary Award; Mërkuna e Zezë (Black Wednesday) and Tenxherja (The Pot), for which he won the National Kosovar Rexhai Surroi Award for the best Albanian novel; as well as the collection of essays Janusi qindfytyrësh (Hundredfaces Janus) Kuja e Mnemozinës (Mnemozine’s Howl) and the monographic work Dibra me sytë e të huajve (Dibra seen with a stranger’s eye). Actually he is Executive Director of the Institute of the Studies of Communism’s Crimes and Consequences.
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The plot: The Albanian world is filled with magic, and Albanian women know a lot of things about it. The novel “Black Wednesday” written by Agron Tufa is the gathering of all this female experience put in a book, which, with a fast pace and without any complexity (at first glance), explores that deep mystical part women have inside, starting from their womb on to the power of their beauty, passion and needs, which women themselves wouldn’t know to explain.In “Black Wednesday”, Guri, the main character, visits his Uncle’s faraway village and finds himself as the only boy in a house full of women, between the seduction of magic, sexuality and nakedness, surrounded by women that he can’t tell what do they want from him: to be pregnant with him, protect him or rather to kill him? The novel has many levels: under the poetic simplicity of the narration there’s a hidden myth, an archaic myth of the rival genesis matriarch/patriarch, where in the novel, the matriarch genesis prevails through the sect of witchery and the cult of their goddess “Wednesday”. It’s quite a paradox this parallelism now, for the era of overall triumph of absolute feminism in the postmodern society! Guri, the teenage hero who never makes it to back to his house.
From the beginning of the novel, we understand it, when a “soul” without a body narrates over the sad experience he had at his uncle’s village, from where he never got back.
“Black Wednesday ” is an opportunity to enter into the deep mountains and the imaginary (I believe so) village of Ivranaj, the place where women knit black wool, where the village has a more intensive sexual immensity than in Tirana, where the women are more witches than in the Block area, and where the woman’s spirit ruins the man’s life.
In “Black Wednesday”, Agron Tufa leaves the symbolic, built out of the realist empirical subject and charms us beautifully, simply and sweetly in a narration where happenings, episodes, realistic landscapes merge with imaginations of mythic practices, in a world where dramatic mystery intertwines with sex, the winter life of the mountain village which enters into a dense fog of magic relationships, the characters have a semantic weight and a psychological depiction that puts them under a dramatic mobile tension.
In the back yard, half covered in snow, the aunt was sobbing. She was coming towards a tall wooden fence, surrounded by fruit trees, bent under heavy snow, with a narrow dirt road winding nearby. As soon as she approached the fence, at the spot where the layer of snow was the thinnest, she stepped on the muddy ground, moving the snow aside with her stick. I was annoyed by this pottering so I ran through the back door towards her. A strange thing, this aunt, I thought. She was doing the very same thing yesterday, thrusting her spindle where some stranger had urinated… The aunt spotted me drawing near and tried to hide her stick, regretting immediately having done so: she continued to pursue her aim on the muddy soil by the fence. When I approached at the distance of a dozen meters, I realized that the stick was but yesterday’s spindle. What I was told by Nafaka of her dappled spindle suddenly assumed a completely different meaning, by all means more extraordinary. How could a plain piece of wood have such a significance? The aunt stopped several feet away from me, right next to the huge trunk of a walnut tree. A sort of cavity appeared in front of my feet, oval-shaped and enclosed from the back by the walnut tree. Right at that spot Shartima was standing, a spindle in her hand and her eyes wide open: it seemed as if she were joining a dance at the only place not covered in snow. It was a hole disappearing deep in the ground.
“Moles! I’m following their trails”, – the aunt said.
“Why?” – I asked.
“Moles are real pests. It’s impossible to catch them in the summer. But in the winter they are easy to track, since they leave their trails behind in the snow, as they just did. It is easy to exterminate them in the winter so as to stop them from eating plant roots in the summer.”
“Do you think you’ll manage to catch it?”
“No. I just wanted to make sure where its molehill was. Let’s wait for it to come out in search of food.”- she flapped both her arms about while still holding the spindle, as if aiming a vertical blow.
“With a spindle?” – I asked.
“It’s much better with a spindle. The spindle has magic powers: it drives all moles right into this hole so that you don’t have to look for them elsewhere. But not now, it has only just returned… later on, perhaps.” – she explained, pointing her spindle towards the molehill.
“Give me the spindle and I’ll wait for it, it might show up”- I said.
“No way!”- she protested, abruptly hiding the spindle under her clothes, as if it were a precious flute.
“It won’t come out at least for another three or four hours… it has only just returned ”- she said and hastily went away.
I suspected she might be lying. I’ll return here on my own in the afternoon, and try to catch it with a pitchfork, I thought.
Behind the curtain of orchard trees and a mallow bush, a crunching sound of snow could be heard, under the weight of someone’s footsteps in the street. The footsteps stopped a few meters away: between the branches heavy with snow. A silhouette of a man appeared, the one who was cleaning the snow from the path on that very spot yesterday, and after that urinated in the snow.
“Hello, Shartima!”- she caught sight of him and greeted him back: “Hello, nephew!”
“Hello, Mitush”- the aunt replied.
“Where were you?”
“Look!” he said, a few steps away, parting the branches so that we could see. Above his shoulder, on the left, a barrel of a shotgun was sticking out, and around his waist, on both sides, two dead hares were hanging loosely.
He turned his back to us in triumph, showing his military rucksack, which was dangling like a trailer attached to a tractor.
“Such an easy catch, no trouble: no fuss, and no hounds! You simply choose a spot and wait for the hares in snowdrifts.”
He untied one of his hares and threw it at our feet.
“Take it, prepare it, you’ve got a friend. Enjoy your meal!”
Blood was still trickling from the dead animal thrown in the snow. It was a hare of an impressive size. Shartima took it by its hind legs, twisting it slightly.
“My hat is off to you!” – she congratulated him.
“If you have any worries, let me know and I’ll be pleased to help you. And now the Big One is on our side!”
“My hat is off to you, Mitush”, – the uncle’s bride thanked him once again, her eyes fixed on the barn and the shed. Then she added:
“If it’s no bother for you… there, we have a path to the shed and the barn…
If you happen to come round tomorrow morning, let me know. One never knows how much snow can pile up during the night…”
“No problem, Shartima. Piece of cake. So… wait for me around lunchtime.
“You’ll be rewarded!”- the uncle’s bride kept thanking him.
“It’s a deal” – he replied.
“After midday nap… when the moon comes out…”- he added, his eyes roaming here and there across the sky.
“After ample lunch, oh, much later…”- Shartima muttered. After a long silence, Mitush agreed. “Stay safe!” and started off.
The uncle’s bride set off towards the house holding the catch by its feet, and I made my way towards the barn and shed.
The extract is translated from the Albanian by Marija Barjaktarovic & Vesna Bratic