Title: Autoportret me Teleskop (Self-portrait with a Telescope)
Author: Besnik Mustafaj
Place of publication: Tirana
Year of Publication: 2013
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The plot: The story depicts how a writer from South East Europe can lose literature if he gets involved in politics. The new politician feels very comfortable in Europe’s first class hotels talking with powerful people. Through these talks, he tries to improve the fate of his country. After a while, the suppressed writer comes out and revolts. The subject is permeated by the concept of double identity, that of the writer and that of the foreign politician. The two persons are not identical to each other. The author plays with schizophrenia, which brings different selves in the foreground. Through this book, the reader gains an insight, not only of the dispute between the foreign minister and the writer, but also a panorama of a whole generation, which has to learn how to live in freedom, before it steps forward. This generation is presented in a very realistic, but at the same time in a very humorous and touching way. The title, but also the plot of the book involves a telescope, which can be understood in two ways, including a real object, given as a gift to a friend. This friend lives in the mountains of north Albania. There unravels a CIA-theory, and communist Albania. The novel offers a literary journey from communism until now. The novel brings us to a literary labyrinth that grasps the attention of the reader.
In the beginning of it all, my senses were reached by her perfume – a mixed fruity fragrance, subtle but persistent in seeping into my body through all my skin pores, just like light rains that without much ado, drench one to the bone. It was a scent scaled to perfection so as not to stifle the invisible steam that a woman emits around herself and that is so essential in affirming her feminine presence. The aroma reached me just in time to take my mind off the argument between my superior and Arto Paasilinna, the Finnish writer, an argument in which I had refused to get involved, thus giving my superior a bitter impression, one that, knowing him like I did, he would not forget easily. To him I was nothing more than a deserter now. But I wasn’t feeling good myself either, although deep down I kept thinking that the argument had been a mistake of my superior and my involvement in it would only provoke more malevolence. This sensible reasoning was unable to ease an ancestral twitch of remorse: I had abandoned my fellow citizen against a foreigner. And not just any fellow citizen, but the leader of the country.
I breathed deeply to fill my lungs with that pleasant smell, but wasn’t curious to investigate where it was coming from. One of those dangerous questions sneakily went through my brain: what is the man’s sense that first perceives the invisible steam that the woman emits around herself? In this case, I imagine, in the male, as in the involuntary emission of that steam by the woman, there surfaced an instinct that humans have inherited by their animal past. But through what sense does that instinct start taking effect on the male? Or what is more: does that instinct awaken in the male for all the women that he happened to meet, or was there a mysterious selection mechanism where other elements were involved in addition to that steam? And also: did that steam of the female body work with the same intensity on all the males that were around a specific woman at the same time? I was telling myself how little I knew about the male and female body, suddenly and aimlessly bringing into my mind the writer, who had not been a part of my everyday life for years. I was telling myself that, once I had been freed – I saw the end of my employment as freedom, but I had no agenda on helping myself to be freed – so, once I had been freed from my job, I would prioritize the filling of this void, which was more than a cultural scarcity in the background of the writer. At that point, I heard:
- You must know me, there’s no need for me to give you my card.
When I set to write this story, I remembered clearly that the voice sounded too close to my right ear, that I startled and turned my head. It was a young lady; one could call her a woman. She was next to me. I was sitting and she was standing. She was looking at me from above.
The extract is translated from the Albanian by Manjola Nasi