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Book Title: The Accursed Mountains|
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Reader ratings: 6.3
The author of the book: Robert Carver
Edition: Abbeville Press
Date of issue: July 9th 1998
ISBN 13: 9780999912768
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 5.38 MB
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Lake Pogradec by the ‘not quite so accursed mountains’ of south east Albania, scene of the now famous ‘fish restaurant stitch-up' incident. Pic. A. LaSavio.
In the pocket of his increasingly tatty travel trousers Robert Carver carried an impressive business card during his 1996 passage through Albania: it said ‘Freelance BBC Broadcaster - author - film-maker’ (in 7 languages) to establish his credentials where necessary. ‘The Accursed Mountains’ is his fabulous account of the country post-communism and pre-anarchy of 1997. It is a personal travelogue with rich seams of the land’s history running through it.
Having lived in Albania myself for a decade, it is with some self-reproach that I took so long to arrive at reading it. Carver’s observations are highly insightful about the culture, funny and at times painfully déjà vu to read, like how, as a foreigner, he got financially skinned at a fish restaurant on Lake Pogradec... poor man. He writes poignantly of one refugee being evicted off a bus near Leskovik and left at the roadside ‘staring at us as if at a passing lifeboat in mid-Atlantic’. He records a Greek taxi-driver’s description of Albania as: “...just like Greece used to be after the civil war. No cars, much poverty, broken houses, donkeys and mules, no work, but... but...”
“...a sweetness?” suggests Carver.
“Yes, a sweetness,” the driver replies. He writes of the whole place resembling the post-war Italy of Vittorio De Sica’s film ‘Bicycle Thieves’, and of the surreal aspects of ‘90s Albania: a brown bear chained up outside a gynaecological clinic in Tirana, and the broken neon lights of ‘Ali Pasha’s Disco-Boogie Club’.
Though at times what he records strikes a relentlessly bleak, even brutal tone, it is nevertheless not unfair: the cruelty in the country’s past; the tragedy in its present; the ruined, shabbiness of everything then were so. Albanians, though, are given occasional voices for a reverse assessment. One woman says of Britain after she had just holidayed there: “Very clean, very rich. But there is no family life and everyone works so much, all the time. And the women are hard, like men, and the men are soft, like women. In England the women are beating the men, I think,” she says. His respect for the missionaries who helped him around the remoter north comes through, despite the insinuation that two of them in Bajram Curri, ‘the Dodge City’ of northern Albania, were probably CIA agents.
The postscript ‘where are they now’ raises an ache to know that the cast of characters Carver met were okay, that they made it out of the ensuing chaos of ’97 alive. Some of them didn’t. His mountain guide, Major-Doctor Bajraktar, was ambushed and murdered whilst gun-running for the KLA. And what really happened to ‘Natasha of the nomenclature’ in the UK? It was with some delight that one central character was discretely pointed out to me, alive and well in August 2013, just a few feet away in a crowd. “No... it can’t be him... is it really?” I said. “Yes,” my confidant assured me, “That’s him.”
This is a vivid and perceptive travel narrative from an erudite writer who wowed me with his capacity to repeatedly nail things so well. It holds its own with the works he refers to, Edith Durham’s ‘High Albania’ and Julian Amery’s ‘Sons of the Eagle’, on the top shelf of British sojourners in the country.
A book by the reviewer set in Albania: The Silencer
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