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'.