I was looking for Petar Shapallo but the face that had been Petar Shapallo’s had vanished under a surgeon’s knife.
In Enver Hoxha’s Albania you could spend years in prison for an act of dissent wrongly attributed to a distant relative. For half a century under the old dictator, every citizen was at the mercy of their biografi: a state record, often wildly inaccurate, of their life, deeds, antecedents and associates.
By the 1990s Enver Hoxha was dead and things were changing in Albania. The Party still held precarious power, but the statues were being pulled down. And there were persistent rumours of a man, chosen for his physical likeness to Enver, who had been torn away from his own life, forced to undergo plastic surgery and put to work as a stand-in. But where was he now? In 1991 Lloyd Jones travelled through Albania in search of Shapallo.
This tantalising early masterpiece was greeted on its original publication as a triumph; later, controversy erupted as some critics challenged its imaginative approach. Now the jury is in: part travel narrative, part fable, Biografi is an inquiry into the nature of identity itself.
‘Beautifully written, evocative and deft.’