Title: Engjëj të Armatosur (Armed Angels)
Author: Diana Çuli
Place of Publication: Tirana
Year of Publication: 2008
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The plot: The novel is inspired by a true story. It handles a topic of the Antifascist War. The story unfolds at the seaside and the main characters are partisans Dorothe Gjika and Aleks Lazari. He is a famous commander, she a commissar in the same battalion. They fall in love with each other, breaking one of the most important rules of the national army. Such a breach of moral – according to the partisans, but also to the social norms of that time – would mean a hard sentence, probably a death sentence. The partisan court condemned Dorothe Gjika to death, she would be shot and Aleks Lazari would be dismissed from his duty. Desperately, he goes to fight alone against the German invaders and as he is left with no more ammunition, he doesn’t flee, but waits for his death. This novel introduces us to life in the typically Mediterranean area of the Albanian Riviera, with elements of legends, real characters, foreign missionaries, partisans etc. This novel’s structure allows each character to tell his own story and his connection to the main event. Through the love story, the reader is able to discover a whole world of human relations in times of war, sudden human behaviours and dark sides of the human soul.
March 9, 1944
According to the outcomes of the process that the Assault Brigade Vetetima prepared against the partisans Dorothea Gjika, Commissar of the first Unit and Aleks Lazari, Commander of the same unit with the accusation of breaking the moral code of the war, the General Council of the Brigade declares as follows:
- The partisan Dorothea Gjika is discharged from the position of the Commissar of the first Unit Assault Brigade Vetetima and is sentenced to death by firing squad.
- -The Partisan Aleks Lazari is dismissed from the post of commander of the first unit of the Assault Brigade Vetetima of the Albanian Anti-Fascist Army and remains at disposition to the Military Command of the district of Vlora.
Order to be executed as soon as received.
Demir Hasani, head of the Military Command of the district of Valona, member of the Council of the Albanian Antifascist Army, signed and sealed the mandate. He put it with a firm hand in an envelope thick paper, yellowish. The courier, a boy of sixteen, followed carefully the movements of the commander. My hand, thought Hasani, must appear sure and fast, so the boy could not tell later that it had quivered. Tomorrow he would know, how everybody will know, what was written in that letter that he had to bring in the deep South, to reach the first unit.
Demir Hasani stood upright for two or three hours, his eyes keep staring the mountaintops poking through the window. It seemed they were bringing the rain, veiled by clouds and fogs. He did not want to think. Above all, he did not like to think why, the night before, the night when it was decided the fate of the partisans Dorothea Gjika and Aleks Lazari, and no one had spoken of the true causes of the last battle defeat against the Nazis. He got up and approached the window. He could not see in the dark, but it seemed that the courier was still down there, running through the narrow path. He wanted to call him. He was not sure if, for a moment, he would wish that the time would stop, that he could call back the courier or whether he only feared that the order was going not to be executed. Now the courier should have arrived. Probably, in that moment they were already reading the order. They were looking into the faces of each other, with their eyes of age- twenty or something, barely marked by the first wrinkles. In the first unity, none of the partisans was over twenty five years old. Dorothea was only nineteen.
He watched the clock on the wall. Leon could come from Tirana at any moment. Demir Hasani suffocated the feeling of revenge as soon as he felt it sprouting inside him. Leon Nasta would look at him with his piercing green eyes that he hated since the first day he met him. He would look at him with those amazed eyes, those eyes that would become too narrow slots for disbelief, then for horror… for the pain. How many years he has waited the moment, when the handsome face of Leon Nasta would be disfigured by the pain? That face that denied him a smile, that never offered him its usual charm, but looked at him with a hided irony, cynicism and indifference.
Would he finally see Leon Nasta kneeling down and praying him to withdraw the order? Or, the only thing to see would be his eyes clenched in pain?
He jumped and went away from the window; he did not want to search for the horse that was bringing Leon Nasta. He did not want to think that he had signed the order to quench the thirst for revenge against the old classmate and comrade of struggle; to the dark motives that prompted him to order the shooting of a young woman: the pleasure that the suffering on the face of unbearable Leon Nasta would give him, or the desire to occupy his place in the General Council.
Demir Hasani could already hear the objection that it would come out of the rigid lips of Leon Nasta: why only Dorothea? To that question, that even many others would ask, there was not a precise answer. The owner of the house entered to say that comrade Nasta had just arrived and was waiting for him in the other room and, as he pulled the door behind him, Demir Hasani had the impression that the mouth of the man trembled in pronouncing the name of Leon Nasta. He hesitated to touch the door handle: to talk to him would be more terrible that to go to the battle field against the Nazis.
Leon Nasta was standing before the crackling fire, with his back to the door. The thin shoulders of Leon Nasta sprouted under the fabric of the military jacket. His long brown hair felt down over his shoulders. – Are you here? – Nasta said without turning his head. It would have been better if he would have looked into the eyes.. – So, you did it, at least! Since when you were conspiring this massacre? – The landlord entered with a stump in his hands. He put it near the fireplace to warm it up and began to pour the raki.
-So? – asked Nasta turning in face of him. Demir Hasani could finally say that he saw the pain over the disfigured face of Leon Nasta. – Why just Dorothea?
-Why? – repeated the question Demir Hasani. Suddenly Leon Nasta pulled out a pistol from his pocket and handed it to the Demir’s front. His green eyes became darker. – How much time do we have? – asked Leon Nasta. His voice was deep and hoarse. – How much time?
-To do what? – Demir Hasani was surprised by the fact that he did not feel scared by the metal barrel of the gun on his face.
-Where is the courier? When did he leave? Did he go walking? How much time do we need?
-If we get the horses, – said the landlord, – maybe it will take only three hours to arrive to Llogora.
Leon Nasta lowered his gun from the face of Demir Hasani.
-Let’s go, – he says. – Prepare the horses.
-You cannot violate the order of the command, – Leon, – said Demir. – You will go against the rules of war.
-I will take my responsibilities, – said Leon Nasta, putting his hands through his hair, as if to fix them. – How many more people must die, to calm you down?
(…)What was stronger inside him, wondered Demir Hasani, while was staring at the fire embers: the pleasure he felt looking the suffering of Leon, or the principles for which he thought he had entered in this war? Or, what was to do if those principles were as unattainable and as dark as this night, that Leon Nasta, desperate, was trying to pass through, riding his tired horse?
The extract is translated from the Albanian by Diana Çuli