Summary

Brought to you by Penguin.

Shortlisted for the 2021 Baillie Gifford prize and the 2021 Costa Biography Award. 

Lea Ypi grew up in one of the most isolated countries on earth, a place where communist ideals had officially replaced religion. Albania, the last Stalinist outpost in Europe, was almost impossible to visit, almost impossible to leave. It was a place of queuing and scarcity, of political executions and secret police. To Lea, it was home. People were equal, neighbours helped each other and children were expected to build a better world. There was community and hope.

Then, in December 1990, a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, everything changed. The statues of Stalin and Hoxha were toppled. Almost overnight, people could vote freely, wear what they liked and worship as they wished. There was no longer anything to fear from prying ears. But factories shut, jobs disappeared and thousands fled to Italy on crowded ships, only to be sent back. Predatory pyramid schemes eventually bankrupted the country, leading to violent conflict. As one generation's aspirations became another's disillusionment and as her own family's secrets were revealed, Lea found herself questioning what freedom really meant.

Free is an engrossing memoir of coming of age amid political upheaval. With acute insight and wit, Lea Ypi traces the limits of progress and the burden of the past, illuminating the spaces between ideals and reality and the hopes and fears of people pulled up by the sweep of history.

©2021 Lea Ypi (P)2021 Penguin Audio

Critic reviews

"Funny, moving but also deadly serious, this book will be read for years to come.... Beautifully brings together the personal and the political to create an unforgettable account of oppression, freedom and what it means to acquire knowledge about the world." (David Runciman)

More from the same

Author

Narrator

What listeners say about

Average customer ratings

Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

must read

truly incredible book, would give it 6 stars if I could. very well written and a remarkable journey.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A powerful and enthralling read.

What a great listen.
I was absolutely engrossed from start to finish.
The way Lea Ypi has told her stories bring human experience to the big political backdrop of Communist and post-Communist Albania (and, I feel, Eastern Europe more broadly).
I found it utterly fascinating!

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

My favourite kind of book

This book has so much of what I love about reading. Colorful characters and interesting story are one thing, but a chance to step into someone else shoes, see life at different angle, take the old and familiar and give it all a new flavour - this is what great storytelling is. I finished the book feeling my head expanded and my heart grew a little.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

when university meant prison camp

Lea Ypi was 13 when Comrade Enver Hoxha the Stalinist communist leader of her country Albania died. She had been a keen child communist and accepted Hoxha as revered leader (she had even wanted his picture displayed in their home) and she couldn’t understand why her parents seemed to have different feelings. Lea Ypi now teaches Political Theory at the LSE and this memoir is on one level a child’s eye view of the disintegration of a country (and her family) and an adult inquiry into the nature of ‘freedom’.
There was a great deal that Ypi didn’t understand about her family and her country when she was a child, not least the mysterious importance attached to ‘biography’. During the Hoxha years she was impressed by all her family members who’d been to university and achieved great honours, only to find years later that her parents had been speaking in code and all those accounts of friends and family who had graduated so illustriously in fact had been in prison camps and prisons, survived (or not) dreadful punishments, been executed or committed suicide (the ultimate graduation). She came to understand her parents’ status as intellectuals only later, and how her highly connected Grandmother who spoke only French had suffered such cruel loss in Greece. When she saw pictures in her reading book in late childhood she saw pictures of shops where there were NO QUEUES (Albanian queues could last for days and your place was kept with a stone or a bag), and she experienced her first highly prized Coke can. After Hoxha the family suffered the political collapse of Albania with the failed efforts at reform: the lack of electricity, the rumbling civil unrest – and then the failure of the pyramid saving schemes which lost so many Albanians their life savings and Ypi’s mother joined the emigration and fled to Italy. There’s a huge amount more and the whole is a very special human testament which creates the adult and the child view.

As an audiobook it has a problem which isn’t the narrator’s fault as no doubt she was instructed to read this way. The problem lies with the accents. Ypi’s father didn’t speak English until well into late middle age, which frustrated him; her grandmother spoke only French; Ypi herself resented speaking French and not Albanian, but learned faultless English; others spoke Albanian (and probably other languages too) – language is a very important part of this history freighted with very great significance. The problem is for the narration – how do you read the dialogue? The decision here was to give them regional English accents – Grandmother is aristocratic English and others are rough London, northern or something else. I think this was a mistake. The text tells us what language these people spoke and reading the book you’d have no trouble, but forcing English regional and cultural accents on the listener raises all kinds of issues which are confusing and distracting. I think the only way would have been to read it as the narrator reads the rest – it’s only the dialogue which raises the difficulties. So it only gets a 3 for performance and a 4 overall. The content is definitely a five.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Fantastic crash course in all things Albania.

Interesting, informative, surprising, moving and exquisitely read. I am in love with the writer and the narrator!

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Very good reading except the voices

A very interesting memoir on a country I knew nothing about.

The reading is fine, but the childish voices the narrator puts on are completely unlistenable- it’s strange the editors didn’t step in and tell her to stop as they are awful on the ear.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

An excellent book - well worth re-recording...

I really enjoyed Free, both as a tale of childhood in Albania, but also a commentary on Albania's trials under Communism and Capitalism. As several reviewers have already suggested, this audiobook would be much improved if Lea Ypi were to narrate it herself. The comedy English regional accents applied to different characters (seemingly at random) really aren't a good thing...

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Fascinating BUT Lea Ypi should have read this herself

Interesting book - but seriously held back by the fact the author did not read it herself, so much is lost in the accents of the reader (who did a good job) but in the context of an audiobook fell short. Lea Ypi should consider re-recording this herself

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Freeeeeedom

Nice autobiography of a childhood lived through a period of upheaval, transformation and violence. It was interesting to read about the authors childhood faith in Hoxhaism and how her beliefs developed as Albania changed. The book is a critique of the lived experience of socialism as well as Western concepts of freedom which is a refreshing angle.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Ms
  • 20-05-22

Excellent

Lea Ypi has managed to show in an easy, intelligent listen what life was like in communist Albania and during its collapse and change. We hear about what the experience was like for her, for real people, from family, friends, neighbours to the wider community.
You are left understanding how the experience is so much wider than just Albania and how pertinent the question remains currently and globally of how we can create governments and systems for fair and happy societies.

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Haim Shalom
  • Haim Shalom
  • 20-06-22

not what I expected

went in thinking it would be a deep delve into the meaning of socialism and liberalism. as childhood memoirs go, it was good, but I felt the faux childish reading was a mistake.