Free: A Child and a Country at the End of History (Hardcover)
Shortlisted for the 2021 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction
Shortlisted for the 2021 Costa Biography Award
The Sunday Times Best Book of the Year
A Financial Times Best Book of the Year (Critics' Picks)
A reflection on "freedom" in a dramatic, beautifully written memoir of the end of Communism in the Balkans.
For precocious 11-year-old Lea Ypi, Albania’s Soviet-style socialism held the promise of a preordained future, a guarantee of security among enthusiastic comrades. That is, until she found herself clinging to a stone statue of Joseph Stalin, newly beheaded by student protests.
Communism had failed to deliver the promised utopia. One’s “biography”—class status and other associations long in the past—put strict boundaries around one’s individual future. When Lea’s parents spoke of relatives going to “university” or “graduating,” they were speaking of grave secrets Lea struggled to unveil. And when the early ’90s saw Albania and other Balkan countries exuberantly begin a transition to the “free market,” Western ideals of freedom delivered chaos: a dystopia of pyramid schemes, organized crime, and sex trafficking.
With her elegant, intellectual, French-speaking grandmother; her radical-chic father; and her staunchly anti-socialist, Thatcherite mother to guide her through these disorienting times, Lea had a political education of the most colorful sort—here recounted with outstanding literary talent. Now one of the world’s most dynamic young political thinkers and a prominent leftist voice in the United Kingdom, Lea offers a fresh and invigorating perspective on the relation between the personal and the political, between values and identity, posing urgent questions about the cost of freedom.
— Tara Westover, author of Educated
Free is astonishing. Lea Ypi has a natural gift for storytelling. It brims with life, warmth, and texture, as well as her keen intelligence. A gripping, often hilarious, poignant, psychologically acute masterpiece, and the best book I’ve read so far this year.
— Olivia Sudjic, author of Asylum Road
Illuminating and subversive, Free asks us to consider what happens to our ideals when they come into contact with imperfect places and people, and what can be salvaged from the wreckage of the past.
— Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran
Written by an intellectual with storytelling gifts, Free makes life on the ground in modern-day Albania vivid and immediate.
— Vivian Gornick, author of The Odd Woman and the City
A new classic that bursts out of the global silence of Albania to tell us human truths about the politics of the past hundred years… revelation after revelation—both familial and national—as if written by a master novelist. As if it were, say, a novella by Tolstoy. That this very serious book is so much fun to read is a compliment to its graceful, witty, honest writer. A literary triumph.
— Amy Wilentz, author of Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter From Haiti
Lea Ypi is a pathbreaking philosopher who is also becoming one of the most important public thinkers of our time.… This extraordinary book is both personally moving and politically revolutionary. If we take its lessons to heart, it can help to set us free.
— Martin Hägglund, author of This Life
Free is one of those very rare books that shows how history shapes people’s lives and their politics. Lea Ypi is such a brilliant, powerful writer that her story becomes your story.
— Ivan Krastev, coauthor of The Light That Failed
Written by one of Europe’s foremost left-wing thinkers, this is an unmissable book for anyone engaged in the politics of resistance.
— Paul Mason, author of Postcapitalism
This extraordinary coming-of-age story is like an Albanian Educated, but it is so much more than that.
— David Runciman, author of How Democracy Ends
A lyrical memoir, of deep and affecting power, of the sweet smell of humanity mingled with flesh, blood, and hope.
— Philippe Sands, author of The Ratline
The author’s narrative voice is stunning, expertly balancing humor, pathos, and deep affection for the characters and places that defined her past. She is adept at immersing readers in her childhood experiences of unquestioned loyalty to “The Party” while also maintaining a tongue-in-cheek, critical distance from what she now recognizes as a tyrannical regime.
A uniquely engaging and illuminating account of a young life during a period of intense turmoil... Free offers gem after gem of the bizarre reality that Hoxhaism produced.....Detailing the absurdities of Hoxha’s regime from a child’s perspective, Ypi pulls off the remarkable feat of emphasizing their cruelty with a light and often humorous touch... Free concludes with important lessons about sustaining the ability to ‘reflect, apologize and learn,’ given that ‘people never make history under circumstances they choose.’
— Misha Glenny - Times Literary Supplement