Title: Histori (e)skatologjike [(E)scatologic Stories]
Author: Arben Dedja
Place of publication: Tirana
Year of Publication: 2014
Publisher: Pika pa sipërfaqe
Genre: Short stories
© all rights reserved to the author: email@example.com
Description: The book is a collection of 15 short stories which describe the communist period and the turbulent transition following it. The reader is taken to the realm of black humour. The characters are half-crazy linguists, crazy sociologists, buffaloes shot by the regime, secret services ridiculously fighting each other, medical students representing the lost generation, the crowd and its uncontrolled instincts, former footballers, corrupted physicians, dedicated physicians, sellers of all kinds of things (children, sores, queues, graves), archivists of secret information, frightened and fleeing shadows of the past or current grotesque reality.
The book fair prize certificate contains the following motivation: “Prose full of spicy details, fluent and rich language, and narration of life under dictatorship through a fine sense of humour that follows the characters in the numerous grotesque situations. This book is an important achievement for both the author and the Albanian short prose.”
“Approaching with humour “the banality of evil” (Hannah Arendt) is in itself an act of balance where the lack of equilibrium makes the balance lean towards the sketch, the variety show, the comedy and, at the end, towards rowdiness. But Dedja manages to avoid this trap, thanks to the precise use of words, a polished language, the distance from the objects, and the kind of humour that he uses, which does not simply aim at “amusing” the reader, but exposes them to new points of view in reflecting upon dictatorship, its absurdity and – last but not least – in reflecting upon themselves, the society, the world of today and always.” (Arb Elo – InfoKult)
“Dedja has chosen the short stories to knock on the door of contemporary prose. His knock with Histori (e)skatologjike (E- Scatological History) is a strong one, it is a confident push on the door of the world of writers. He has his own original style and confidence which relies on his always elegant capability of self-irony. He flogs human absence and at the same time he calls for a search for it at any cost.” (Agim Baçi – MAPO)
When stronger ties were forged with China, the quality of fireworks drastically improved. Now they were set off not only for the holidays at the end of November (Independence Day and Liberation Day) but for May Day as well. A platoon of soldiers from the National Guard would fire them into the air, back and forth, from the balconies of the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior. Dramatic effect was the key goal. So, during the show that filled the heavens for May Day, the grand finale made its appearance: an impressively big one that shimmered as it floated down ever so slowly and meditatively on a huge parachute. The parachute was pure white silk. It had thick cords, also made of silk. No one had seen parachutes like that since the Allied airdrops during the Second World War. People said one of the young guys from the neighborhood managed to catch it and sewed himself an undershirt. According to another version, rather than an undershirt, it was a pair of panties for his girl. But as usual with these stories, no one had ever seen the undershirt, let alone the panties (except maybe the girl). We couldn’t help gawking at the neighborhood swell. He was corpulent and ill-shaven. For the late November holidays, though, the parachute chase was a bust. The wind had blown it toward the hills outside of town. Some boys tried running it down (some even on their bikes) but found nothing. Maybe it wound up in the lake, but in any case the dimming light of late fall brought the search to an abrupt end. So now, after six months of downtime, people were itching to try their luck on May Day.
When the sharp cracks of the first fireworks rang out, everyone, young and old, poured into the streets. The direction of the wind over the capital that day meant that those who had gambled on Martyrs of the Nation Boulevard soon flowed into our street, Stalin Boulevard. The city buses were trapped on the edge of town, the ambulances at the hospital, the taxis in the square by the National Bank. The burlier drivers locked their cabs and joined the crowd, while the others chanted slogans about the Party and the Great Leader, honking their horns in rhythm. But our ranks on Stalin were so serried that new arrivals had a hard time making inroads. We children were the first to tire of craning our necks, yet the wait was worth it, not for the show going on just then so much as for what would follow. By that time, everyone was waiting for the parachute with the final number, and when it appeared, a stifled groan of pleasure welled up from the gullet of the mob. It sparkled, because the dusk of those long May evenings had not completely fallen and the full moon was shining over everything. It was a majestic parachute. When it came level with the first apartment buildings, the wind suddenly dropped and the chute started gliding diagonally, as if surveying the crowd. At that point, the murmur along the whole avenue swelled to a peak. The women, an enigmatic glint in their eyes, watched the scene from their balconies. The old or older men, those past their prime, were backed away centrifugally without even realizing it. The rest were there, right in the arena, many of them bare-chested. We kids wouldn’t have been surprised at all to see them grab the parachute and don it there and then. Some had climbed up on the shoulders of an ally, who staggered forward. Maybe they’d agreed, in the event of success, to split the booty: it would be enough for two pairs of panties, at the very least, if one tacked on a little lace. Except that what they gained in height (two body lengths) they lost in agility. When the chute came down to the third floor, someone on a terrace ventured a last-ditch grab using a long pole with a wire hook tied to it. Threats and insults flew. Luckily for him, the attempt failed. In a few seconds, it became clear that out of all the youth on the avenue, about a hundred would be in the running for the parachute, equally divided between the brawny and the lucky. The rest were cut off from the landing point. A heroic, sensual reek of sweat suddenly filled the boulevard. At the center of the crowd, a knife blade flashed.
The extract is translated from the Italian version of the Author by Johanna Bishop