Prison camps in Communist Albania were as brutal and claustrophobic as Stalin’s gulags, with the additional and unique horror that Albanian prisoners could be charged and re-sentenced while already in prison.
In this raw and moving memoir, the prize-winning writer Fatos Lubonja brilliantly evokes life for prisoners of the state as they struggled to cope with the physical and psychological deprivations of imprisonment.
Second Sentence opens in 1978 with a vivid description of the author’s experiences as a forced laborer in a copper mine in Northern Albania. In the tense camp atmosphere, Lubonja discovers that two of his co-prisoners have written a letter to the Party criticizing “the foremost leader,” Enver Hoxha.
Shortly afterwards they are spirited away under mysterious circumstances. Lubonja does not make the connection until he is himself re-arrested in the camp with seven others and sent to stand trial as part of an alleged counter-revolutionary organization. With heart-breaking honesty, Lubonja describes the long months of interrogation and solitary confinement as he awaits his second sentence.
This is an extraordinary portrait of the impenetrable world of Communist Albania and an unforgettable memoir of friendship and betrayal.
About the book
”Second Sentence’ reports from Albania, from the communist era. As ever the grimness of the tale is made endurable by the courage and wit of the prisoners. What wonderful people the communist regimes everywhere persecuted, or murdered. It is as if what they wanted to extinguish was simply excellence.’ –Doris Lessing
‘Fatos Lubonja reveals the dark heart of Stalinist Albania in an unparalleled account of prison life and human dignity in a political system that knew no mercy. ‘Second Sentence’ offers a rare glimpse into the workings of the Enver Hoxha dictatorship. It is a moving story of resistance and survival that only Lubonja could tell.’ –Robert Elsie
‘The opening descriptions read like a novel (and of course, Lubonja is also a novelist)… Fatos Lubonja’s book is the first account that has been translated into English, of someone’s personal experience of their trial and imprisonment, and it is both terrifying and absorbing. As well as Lubonja’s spare and lucid descriptions, its testimony rests on the factual data from records of the trial. We will now never forget the courage and eloquence of the principal man on trial, Fadil Kokomani. For his words alone, this book is important.’ –Morelle Smith, The Albanian
Fatos Lubonja is an Albanian writer who spent a total of 17 years in prisons and forced labour camps during Enver Hoxha’s regime. He is the author of a number of books which have been translated into Italian, German, English and Polish. Among other prizes he received the Alberto Moravia Prize for International Literature in 2002 and the Herder Prize for Literature in 2004.
John Hodgson studied English at Cambridge and Newcastle and has taught at universities in the Republic of Kosovo and Albania. His translation of Ismail Kadare’s The Three-Arched Bridge was published by the Harvill Press.