Author: Irma Kurti
Place of Publication: Tirana
Year of Publication: 2015
The plot: This book tells the story of a family of Albanian origin who left their country to live in a foreign land. Italy has welcomed Sotir and Louise, two spouses advanced in years, and their three adult daughters, Ema, Ines, and Keila. Their lives flow placidly and undisturbed amid daily difficulties and small family squabbles, until Sotir has a severe stroke that endangers his life. The balance of the family is lost, and the tragedy brings out old wounds and memories full of nostalgia. Through the eyes of the protagonists, we witness fragments of their past lives, unresolved problems of the present, and the troubled history of Albania. Ema, Ines, and Keila reveal the reasons that forced them to leave their country to build a new life in Italy, where not all have since found what they were looking for. Their mother, Luisa, faces for the first time a process of self-criticism that leads her to discover that she has been too hard with her silent, standoffish, but profoundly good husband. Thanks to the pages of a diary that Luisa has never read thus far in her life, the dramatic details of Sotir’s life emerge, from the death of his parents, to a miserable life with his brothers and sisters, the humiliation of being the servant of a violent person, and the realization of his dream to become a doctor and have a family of his own. As he did when he was a child to overcome feelings of isolation and marginalization, Sotir can only express his feelings by talking with the trees. When all the protagonists come to terms with themselves and their ghosts, the novel ends on a sunny day, with Sotir, seeing for the first time his newborn grandson, Edgar, managing to pronounce a word, thus ending months of silence caused by his illness.
That known and familiar path called me with the singing of birds, with the wind running through the branches, with the bending of the trees as an approval, their swaying left and right as a denial. My heartbeats directed me exactly there, where for entire years the trees had been my most attentive interlocutors.
Intact, tall, with looks directed to the sky. So I found them. The leaves expected and filtered the sun’s rays, which reached me as a blessing.
I sat on my place. I was not wearing the elegant beige trousers, but exactly those of the past, the three-quarter ones, which had lost their brown color, and here and there were threadbare and torn. The branches trembled under the caress of the breeze, but not more than me.
“Hello”, I wanted to shout, but I refrained. Now I was no longer a child, but a man.
How much do we change over time? Does our essence remain the same? And if so, why do we waste time and energy trying to get away from ourselves and adapting to others?
“Here we are, after a myriad of years. You hold the same beauty and majesty, the same rustle of leaves. As for me … there have been so many changes. I’ve realized dreams, I have matured, even though deep inside I remain that child of one time that talked with the trees”. Like a photographic flash in my mind, the afternoon when the person for whom I worked took me by surprise, as if he had caught me red-handed with the trees. His arrival startled the words that I kept on my lips. In those moments, his words, ”You’re crazy. I’ll show you how to talk with the trees,” caused more pain than his beating me without mercy.
I got up as if I wanted to escape from that episode. I touched the trees. It was not a caress, but the need to get closer to the feeling of childhood memories. Bits of bark remained in my hands, and my glance fell on them thoughtfully, like on the pieces of a broken mirror.
This was the place that made me dream, my oasis of tranquility.
“I’m a doctor now, and I have a wonderful family, but my silence often troubles me. I have to learn to express aloud what I keep locked inside me. One day, surely I will. I do not know if I will come back to you. Yet… I am grateful to you for the moments of solitude that we’ve shared together. There are people with whom you talk and they do not listen to you. There are those who approve with their heads and meanwhile think about their personal problems. You regret confiding in them your thoughts and emotions when you realize that their souls are avalanches of snow. It’s enough to talk to you. You feel that the same pain, the same tear has been split in two as if by magic. Goodbye!”
Inadvertently, I had uttered aloud those words, I had talked with the trees. As in the past. Their murmur answered to me, and two leaves fell on my shoulder like caresses.
The extract is translated from the Albanian by Irma Kurti