Notes about the book “Confessions of a thief” of the writer Shefki Hysa
1. Our short prose even in these years of transition has point out new occurrences, innovations that are evident in the creativity of many young and old prose writers, who have made name with their books, have got readers’ attention and have been appreciated by them.
In this sense even Shefki Hysa’s creations, widely known by the reader and which have left traces in the literary circles, should be analyzed. And certainly, a varicolored creativity, written with an emphatic realist spirit, where are entwined even elements of contemporary prose like surrealism and magical realism, with a deep and complex view in the reality of time, with a variety of individualized personages, through pointed artistic situations and a rich literary language, is impossible not to get our critique and scholars’ attention. This creativity gives a hand and opens the way to an artistic analysis, because precisely some of the most positive characteristics of contemporary Albanian prose are part of it.
2. Republication has been always an important test of creativity, to understand once again how deep it has nested in readers’ heart and mind. That is why the republication of “Confessions of a thief”, stories-miscellanea of writer Shefki Hysa, is in addition a new venture for the author when he confronts the readers, to give them again the impressions and the emotions aroused by the stories of the miscellanea, where are artistically recreated tableaus from different periods of life and where are vivified really interesting personages, who have been sculpted with an artistic taste and mastery.
The two opening tales of the miscellanea “The horror of Aids” and “Confessions of a thief” (Rrëfimet e një hajduti) are a bit similar at their composition. The episodes in them are evolved in a situation and the artistic discovery is displayed in the end, leaving the reader in anxiety and curiosity, during the reading, until he knows the end of the story, discovers its message and especially the personages’ features. The girl in the first story appears differently from the way the young journalist imagines her with her drama that maybe in a certain sense is dirtier than Aids, while the robber boy in the second story discovers all of a sudden his unchangeable character in a special situation, joyful as well as grotesque. It is important that the two stories have naturally evolved, with a vital verity and a satisfactory tempo-rhythm, evidently felt during the reading, due to the author’s experience and ability.
While “The emperor of idols” is more a sketch or essay, with an allegoric meaning, the story “The black widow” catches the eye as one of the most beautiful and prominent of the miscellanea. In this prose, you can find in miniature all the characteristic features of Shefki Hysa’s creativity; a narration full of artistic color, a lithesome and dense dialogue, the tempo-rhythm of his way of telling, elements of surrealism of modern literature, the derisory and jeering subtext that reaches the margins of grotesque, and above all the varicolored drawing with special colors of the widow’s figure, whose portrait stays in your memory for a long time. With an exquisite finesse and artistry the author has succeeded in weaving an interesting subject that keeps alive readers’ curiosity and in bringing to light all of a sudden in the end a rare artistic discovery, which gives an unmasking exquisite whip to the black widow’s figure, this woman with dimensions of a monster in life as well as in sex. That is why the erotic scenes of the story are given with the function of discovering the personage’s character and of displaying the author’s message. The black widow remains a prominent and rare personage in the gallery of the most striking personages ever realized in our short prose.
Judging all this variety of ways of writings the author of the miscellanea “Confessions of a thief” has been able to create with artistic mastery and emotive pathos the story “Didini”, which remains one of the strongest pillars of this book. As one researcher of this author’s creativity, Bardhyl Maliqi, emphasizes by rights “Didini”… is an artistic model of masterly using the magical elements, an expression of the magical realism in our literature”. The hero of the story “Didini”, a progeny of a nationalist family is depicted in this work with the best qualities and characteristics a young guy, with life and future dreams, can have. But in those war times the tragedy of the nationalist teenager was inevitable because those who leaded the war, the communists, were adversaries to death with the Albanian nationalists. Fighting with a file against partisans, Didini becomes their slave and in the end, due to his convictions, is massacred by the partisan commandant “The pine”.
The whole story is displayed in retrospect. The utilization of magical elements has given a hand to the author to put as pivot of the book the main personage, not Didini, but the disturbed soul of the guy massacred during the war. This fantastic as well as conventional discovery has deeply affected the whole artistic structure of this prose evidently realized. So, the whole vital material is enlaced round the soul-personage, who goes by himself as a turbulent dust cloud everywhere in the regions of his homeland and brings back in mind those past and stormy times. We don’t exaggerate if we point out, being familiar with author’s and his family’s turbulent life and childhood, that Shefki Hysa, with Didini, has aimed to artistically create a portrait of his ideals, “embroidering” the personage, that we can feel he loves so much. The guy, Didini, is given to us as a man with a rare human spirit, courageous and spitfire, who has freely wandered all his life, like the roe of the mountains around.
“Soul-Didini was invaded by the sensation of a distention of sorrow inside that invisibility roll that used to determine his existence. He wanted to hate and he couldn’t hate. He wanted to rebel and he couldn’t rebel. Surprisingly, unlike other souls that had escaped, Didini’s soul doesn’t contain in itself the criminal inclination per se, the embryo of phantasm that suddenly explodes at nights the soil of the tomb and magically rushes on the human peace with all the power of evil. Even the basilisk souls, every time they met the soul-Didini while flying, used to tease, deride and make fun of him about his deaf-and-dumb weakness. The basilisks wondered why runaway souls, in stead of revenging themselves used to observe quietly the human world from that deaf-and-dumb as well as air angelic roll. Neither devil nor angel and however a homeless soul, lost in its deafness and dumbness, in the swirl of its sorrow. Even Didini himself was sometimes astonished at his passive existence. What meaning could that kind of resistance between sky and earth have, when he couldn’t undertake anything to change a little the fatal flow of events, as the souls escaped from hell could do?! And to give him his due he had to revenge himself for that perfidious murder. With bullet. Behind his back, in the twinkling of an eye?!… (“Didini, pg.55-56).
It’s excessive to say how much compassion the reader feels and how much down-hearted the reader is for the tragic destiny of this personage who nests at people’s hearts with his rich inward world and his humanism.
We find this human character in the story “Qopeku”, uncle Miho in “The old man of the lakes”, Hido and Leta in “Saturday afternoon”, Xheki and Dudija in “Destiny game”, Lirika in the story with the same title.
The story “The olives” evolves in another olive. It treats an event of the past years. The author, like a subtle and astute watcher of life, in this story glances over in that time, when the population was clenched under the oppression of dictatorship.
The subject of the story is simple as well as shuddering. A young girl, sixteen years old, pushed by her mother and poverty, which induces her to do a squalid work just to gain something. She goes in the cooperative land, at Habibi’s grass-plot, to steal olives. And the girl commits this act, but she falls prey to the brigadier of the arboriculture, Rauf, who tries, incited by sexual lust, to rape her. It is understood, his infamous and criminal gesture toward a woman is more infamous than secretly stealing a sack of olives. The author, through a figurative parallelism with the pigeons, emphasizes forcibly this message in the end: “The girl, who envied the flight of those pigeons, imagined for a while herself as a pigeon that has already escaped from the falcon’s wings. And she broke down in tears again. They were tears of joy. She felt free, free, and free”… But this story interests us even in another view; written some years before, it discovers clearly the author’s non-conformism with the method of socialist realism, with his aim to break the frames of that method and to reveal even the eyesores of the acrid reality in that period, when the heroine of the story, in the end “whispered again thinking that the reality was more acrid than the olive”…
In many other stories of the miscellanea, the author weaves the subjects putting in the center of attention the problem of love. We can see how the author, through clear-cut artistic tools, succeeds in describing emotional situations and a lot of romanticists of love with a limpid, human, gentle and vital purity. Love is conceived as a sacred, divine feeling, but anyway, when the author wants to whip the personages, he knows how to describe even physical love relations, as it happens in the story “The beautiful beast”, where the main personages of the work, who have been highlighted by the author, are whipped and unmasked through a derisive and grotesque description of love relations and a banal vocabulary.
3. Critics have pointed out that prose writer Shefki Hysa in his creativity has often utilized many autobiographical data to weave the subjects of his creations. This ascertainment is right because there is no writer, well-known or unknown, who doesn’t utilize his life’s memories and impressions in his own creativity. It’s important that the artistic recreation of that past, as literary art gives you this opportunity, should be at higher, deeper and more thrilling dimensions than the reality of life it describes gives you.
Owing to his origin, his painful, dramatic and disturbed life and owing to the talent that characterizes him, the author of the miscellanea “Confessions of a thief” (Rrëfimet e një hajduti) has successfully succeeded at spreading in some stories, with a special dramatization, with a variety of staring colors and with a hair-raising pain, tableaus of the unlucky Cham population’s past life, on whose back the flow of time threw sufferings, misery and tragedies rarely heard. The phrase that often in art, great works come out of big pains is not futile. We think that the artistic value of the story “Bota Saddle”, which is one of the main pillars of the miscellanea, can be interpreted in this sense. The author has written this work with a special love and inspiration, because he feels precisely near himself, his life and origin in it, because this life’s painful and shocking impressions and memories, which has been fanatically and perseveringly saved in subconscious, have created a strong impulse and a rare inspiration to pour in paper a creation realized with artistic values.
In fact the subject of this story is simple, without many situations, as are in general the subjects of Shefki Hysa’s books. He is not inclined toward extraordinary events but otherwise he focuses the attention on his short prose, on the expressive figurative narration, on the symbol and allegory, in a word on the figurative tools, which highly help him for the emotive discovery of the events and personages’ characters. The famous saddle or Bota saddle can be viewed as a salient symbol of the story, which serves in the artistic meaning for the organization of the compositional structure. The figurative parallelism between two periods, of that period when the ill-fated Cham refugees used to climb over this saddle, which separates two countries, and nowadays when hundreds and thousands refugees push through thorny bushes in mountains to find the “paradise” in the neighboring country, can be explained this way. The author himself reinforces this artistic occurrence when he points out in the story that “the tragedy of the Cham refugees is being repeated, here, at Bota Saddle… Although it is said that history comes back in a comic way, the only thing that an acrid smile can cause in this new history of refugees is maybe the fact that, while the Chams were persecuted by the foreigners, the new refugees, figadhes, as the Greek calls them, are persecuted by our people… Yes, yes, our chair-inclined people, as the journals of opposition describe them!… (Bota Saddle, pg.84)
So, comparing in a figurative way two historical periods, separated by some decades, a mature compositional discovery this, the author opens the way in the story to confess us with realism what kind of horrible and monstrous jobs have happened and are happening in this saddle, or as the author describes it: “Bota Saddle looked passably like that secret door of the tale that connects our world with the one beyond tomb, dead with live persons”. (Bota Saddle, pg.78).
After he has “paved” the way of his narration, Shefki Hysa permeates in the tissues of the story, recreating artistically, through his extending narration, where is saved the tempo-rhythm, some dramatic and very painful situations. Through two boundary soldiers and the hidden refugee who is looking forward to crossing the border, we find out some tragic jobs, rare in their kind. This is warned by the augural caws of death, of the black ravens, which pulse in the work as bad augury. Look what the old boundary soldier says in the story: “If it begins to rain you will see across the Saddle tens and tens of horrifying flames exploding suddenly. As epilepsies and boggles are seizing you and you wait for them thrusting their claws on your throat. It’s dangerous because you can go crazy if you are alone, in this Saddle, at rainy nights. That immensity of flames jumping upwards, here and there, is caused by the phosphor of the remains, which is activated by moisture. To the bushes, among blackthorns and the grass that covers this land, if you search, you will find many human remains’ bones and skulls. Unburied people’s cadavers have remained since then in this Saddle. But, as it is said, the Cham refugees, in 1945, victimized by the Greek bands, have left many dead to the alleys of this Saddle. They died exhausted by wounds, illnesses, cold, hunger and sufferings that a normal man’s mind can’t perceive.
So, without help and protection, they used to huddle and give up the ghost, groaning near the shrubs and the brushwood. Other frightened people, used to climb over known and unknown people’s cadavers, to die, maybe, at the first curve of those ways, just created from the toes of the bloody feet or onward, in a sward or near a rock. So many cadavers of innocent victims in few days and weeks! The Saddle, used to reek of tainted meat from far away…”(Bota Saddle, pg.80-81). You can find such shocking descriptions that arouse even a feeling of horror, even in other lands of the story, not only for that acrid past of meanders, after the ouster of the Cham refugees from their lands, but also in the following years, when the poor Albanian refugees, who aimed to cross the border for a better future, were murdered on the border and as the author says: “the people of our government, wise as they are, had dispatched the dead persons on a car carriage. Without biers. Bloody, muddy, face-shredded by the bullets. An ugly death that could burst even the stone with its view, not less than human hearts made of meat and blood. (Bota Saddle, pg.83).
Aiming to be not only a writer, but also a rude protester for the tragedy with unimaginable dimensions of the poor Cham refugees, related by blood to him, Shefki Hysa has summarized in the book another salient and too much dramatic story. The story “The testimony” is in fact a shuddering testimony, which authentically discovers the monstrous massacres of the bands of Greek General Zerva against the undefended Cham population. Overfilled with inspiration by hatred and the strong rancor against these human-faced monsters, the author has poured in letter a situation that nearly drives you crazy for its macabre.
This situation, when gentle mother Fatije, to testify to the strangers of the commission the monstrous massacres of the cursed recreants of Zerva over the innocent Cham population, takes out before them the peeled scalp with a plume of hairs of her son’s head, slaughtered by the bands of the Greek General Zerva, although is a bit similar to the episode of granny Nice, who throws to the Italian general’s feet the sack with colonel Z’ remains, in the novel “The General of the dead army” of Ismail Kadare, remains anyway rare in the Albanian prose of today. This situation of the story “The testimony”, with almost unreal dimensions, expresses with an admirable density the quintessence of the sufferings, of the tragic and the prosecution that this Albanian population proved on its back in those horrific years. In front of it stay the inward beauty, humanism, love and the great nobility of the Cham mother and you shed tears, deeply shocked, when in the end of the story “Mother Fatija took with caresses and sorrow the scalp of her son’s head, winded it on with caution and care, unbuttoned the wrapper and put it on the breast, near the heart, as if she wanted to give her life from her life. She took a look at the people one more time with the tearful eyes and so, with the hands on the breast she turned her body, ready to go” (The testimony, pg.75).
4. We couldn’t conclude these notes without saying some words for the style and the rich artistic language that the author of the miscellanea “Confession of a thief” (Rrëfimet e një hajduti) has used in his stories. Shefki Hysa is one of those Albanian prose writers, who pay a special attention to this artistic form of their creativity components. And this fact confesses about the high professional requests that the talented author has toward his creativity. As researcher Bardhyl Maliqi notices “the realist character of Shefki’s prose is distinguished by a language rich of phraseological phrases, a dialectical language, jargons that are functionalized especially on the personages’ mouths. Besides the realist inclination of Shefki Hysa’s prose, we notice in it even elements and conceptions of a prose, which, based on the national creations and on contemporary literary techniques, appears complex as well as rich in its structures, apparently simple but too much expressive”…
In conclusion I emphasize that prose writer Shefki Hysa has his special voice in our prose, has his own individuality already artistically created and with his creations he occupies an enviable place in the Albanian realist prose.