The book is packed with insights, on family as much as on politics. Ypi is a beautiful writer and a serious political thinker, and in just a couple hundred readable pages, she takes turns between being bitingly, if darkly, funny and truly profound ... On one level, Free is a classic, moving coming-of-age story: A girl becomes a woman, a family struggles through hardship. The book’s intimacy comes in part from Ypi’s childhood diary, which she draws from to recount memories of classrooms and first crushes and teen angst. Her parents and the grandmother who helped raise her are her main characters, lovingly and vividly described. They have stuck with me. It helps that there’s a universality to the family.
Ypi’s memoir is instead brilliantly observed, politically nuanced and – best of all – funny ... What makes the memoir utterly engrossing is not just how little Lea’s politics develop, but how she comes to find out how her parents and beloved granny, Nini, hide things to protect her ... How delightful to read a book about Albania that doesn’t cite the country’s obsession with Norman Wisdom, but instead has its own jet-black humour ... It’s a story that, in its laughably hellish bureaucratic absurdity, lies and pointless suffering, typifies the professor’s experiences as a little girl ... An essential book, just as much for Britons as Albanians.
... a brilliant hybrid of memoir and political theory ... original, a badly needed corrective to the usual script. Where many tales of state socialism are somber, even maudlin, Ypi is witty and acute ... Gracefully and irrefutably, Ypi uses her family story to show that even for a society as repressive and immiserated as socialist Albania, the transition was not a happy ending, as the standard narrative teaches. Liberal capitalism brings its own brand of unfreedom ... a riveting memoir, written with the skill of a novelist. But it is also a struggle against the political void that followed 1989, the supposed 'end of history'.
... astonishing and deeply resonant ... What makes this Baillie Gifford-shortlisted memoir so unforgettable is that we see this world, one about which we know so little, through the eyes of a child. Eleven-year-old Lea tries her best to interpret the events unfolding around her, and readers are left to decode her impressions ... The result of Ypi’s lyrical and evocative writing is the recreation not only of life under totalitarianism, but of childhood itself — the slow process of navigating unspoken rules, of working out the things your parents won’t tell you, and of understanding their fallibility. Ypi conjures up in loving detail ... the energy that propels this book is not politics, but feeling ... a book about what it means to be free, or even whether such a thing is possible. But it is more fundamentally about humanity, and about the confusions and wonders of childhood. Ypi weaves magic in this book: I was entranced from beginning to end.
Ms. Ypi’s story is confounding and also beautiful ... What isn’t open to question...even as we agonize over her adult politics—is the sweetness and charm of Ms. Ypi’s own story. Her memory, rich with personal and social detail, is remarkable. Free proceeds as a series of vignettes, each serving as a parable that sheds light on what it was like to grow up under the gaze of the Communist Party.
... brilliant and moving ... gorgeously written ... Ypi’s reflections on the stability and comfort of her youthful Marxist worldview speak to the experiences of hundreds of millions of individuals who had their entire lives overturned by the rapid succession of events that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 ... Ypi is not shy in criticizing the many faults of Albania’s previous regime, particularly as they relate to the persecution of her own family, who lived their entire lives haunted by having the wrong 'biographies.' But she avoids the simplistic, knee-jerk anti-communism of so many other memoirs of the children and grandchildren of the expropriated bourgeoisie. Ypi balances her condemnations of authoritarian rule with an equally critical view of the social, political, and economic processes that typified the arrival of democracy in the 1990s ... lurking beneath the lighthearted prose of the memoir are serious interrogations of how a specific set of idealized notions about liberty proved disastrous to those whose lives were ruptured by the largely unexpected collapse of communism in Eastern Europe ... what makes Ypi’s book so important is its lack of didacticism and her ability to let the narrative flow without too many political asides ... Just maybe, Ypi’s poignant and timely book will inspire a much-needed East-West conversation about the most effective ways to resist the hegemony of liberal definitions of freedom and their complicity in upholding the savage rapacity of global capitalism today.
This prize-winning memoir recounts with wit, charm, and wisdom the author’s life before and after the fall of communism in Albania ... Drawing philosophical lessons from her experience, she dismisses both socialists who cling to utopian ideals and libertarians who espouse a minimal state, opting for a more moderate commitment to social democracy.
... beguiling ... the most probing memoir yet produced of the undefined 'transition' period after European communism. But it is more profoundly a primer on how to live when old verities turn to dust. Ypi has written a brilliant personal history of disorientation, of what happens when the guardrails of everyday life — a family’s past, the signposts of success, the markers of a normal future — suddenly fall away.
... 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 ... Her criticism is almost always implicit but devastating nonetheless.
Ypi’s memoir is gloriously readable. It is a subtle inquiry into the meaning of freedom, personal and philosophical, and a wonderfully funny and poignant portrait of a small nation in a state of collapse ... Ypi is amusingly scathing about western leftists ... one of the most thoughtful texts to emerge from the debris of communism. Its title is ironic – with irony a mode of survival in dark times, as Ypi’s joke-loving father noted. Her enjoyable book is neither nostalgic nor embittered. Rather it seeks to tell how real people can be caught up in history: individuals who loved, fought, struggled and muddled through, just like us.
Lea Ypi, a politics professor at the London School of Economics, wanted to write a thoughtful book about concepts of freedom. She succeeded, quite brilliantly, although by means other than she had intended at first ... This book has twists in it, and feints, and foreshadowing. Guns (most, though not all, metaphorical) are deftly planted, and go off at just the right time. Her characters and scenes, though non-fictitious, are skilfully dramatised, and her writing is precise, acute, often funny and always accessible. Yet Free remains, throughout, the serious book that she set out to write ... Like many modern memoirs, Free presents itself as a journey, but in this case, mercifully, that narrative is in no way contrived.
The point of view of a child, for whom weirdness is normal and small things loom large, is a good one for examining how the death throes of a failing despotism seep into the tiniest corners of its subjects’ lives.
... a poignant, charming, thought-provoking, funny and ultimately sad exploration of Albania’s journey from socialism to liberalism through a child’s eyes ... Ypi’s book is filled with wonderful humor.
... still bears traces of its original conception: under the limpid surface the ‘themes’ are checked off one by one: feminism, religion, migration etc. Yet the result is a plunge into the vanished world of Albanian communism and the new system that was meant to replace it. The fun of the book (for a Western reader at least) is that Ypi has made communism her control, with the market-based revolution of the 1990s the estranging experience that forces her to reckon with what it means to ‘come of age at the end of history’ ... Free: Coming of Age at the End of History ... Ypi recovers the sensory world of communist Albania: its privations, its ecstasies, but also its banalities ... The set pieces most praised by Anglophone reviewers seem to me to be among the weakest: Ypi is, if anything, too heavy on the commodity-comedy so familiar from Eastern Bloc memoirs. It’s all there: the fight over the talismanic Coke can that nearly tears two families apart; the dishwasher fluid used as shampoo; the comforting purr of a functioning Western refrigerator; the first touch of a plastic bag; the intoxicating scent of sunscreen ... At its best, Ypi’s prose is tart, tactile and unsparing in its account of a society undergoing ‘transition’ ... one would expect more introspection from a philosopher of Ypi’s standing when it comes to local critics ... The problem with some of Ypi’s scenes isn’t really about memory or truth – whether or not her Stalin statue had a thigh for her to press her cheek against. It’s about whether she may have submitted a bit too readily to Anglo-American publishing imperatives that want stories of far-off places served with a spoonful of kitsch ... Ypi’s apparent over-compliance with certain narrative expectations makes one wonder if she has oversimplified other aspects of her passage through 1990s Albania.
... trenchant ... That indictment of liberalism rings uncomfortably true in 2022, even for someone who grew up as I did in Ronald Reagan’s United States of America, in the land of the free, in the shining city upon a hill.
... vivid ... Ypi’s prose is colored by the innocence of her youth as she delivers a beautifully straightforward analysis of the world around her. This is also a gripping portrait of all ill societies struggling with socialism and capitalism. Ypi’s experiences and perspective are invaluable, especially for politically minded readers dreaming up the future.
Ypi’s presentation of the post-Communist world, is decidedly objectivist. The reality that unfolds is of Albanian society: elections, waves of immigration, Ponzi schemes, political turmoil. The personal ingredient is there, to be sure, but the author’s story goes far beyond what she herself experienced ... What is unusual is that someone with Ypi’s biography would not only turn to Marxism but also treat it as an intellectual key to understanding freedom. I would rather imagine that such a person would turn to non-Marxism—that is, to the enormous area of human thought that the Marxist apparatchiks kept closed or downgraded with their ideological clichés. Marxism, after all, is a tiny island in the ocean of philosophy and far from the most interesting one. I could more easily imagine such a person learning about freedom from Aristotle, the Stoics, St. Augustine, Hobbes, Descartes, Burke, Tocqueville, Hegel, Bergson, and others ... I do not understand Ypi’s decision, and her book, interesting as it is, doesn’t give a satisfactory explanation. My only guess is that it has to do with some form of continuity or consistency. The Albanian world she depicts, both before and after the political change, was drab, arid, socially and intellectually impoverished, and closed off to all but a few simplistic formulas. I cannot resist the feeling that the author, having liberated herself from the Albanian environment, failed to move to a much richer and livelier philosophical world. Whether she was unable to do so, whether her Albanian upbringing killed any interest in this world, or whether it was Western academia that did the job, I cannot say.
... beautiful ... an electric narrative of personal and political reckoning, suffused with sharp cultural critique, that underscores history’s contentious relationship with independence and truth. This vivid rendering of life amid cultural collapse is nothing short of a masterpiece.
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. However, while the scenes and characterizations are captivating, the book lacks a clear narrative arc, making the chapters feel more like a loose collection of memories than a cohesive story ... A poignant, humorous memoir about growing up during the decline and fall of the Iron Curtain.