By Peter Tase
In Angjelina Marku’s first novel in English there is encountered a perfect balance of historical facts with literary flair. In Winter of the Century snow intermits, bus windows are covered by steam up, loved ones suffer from a burdening war and a metaphoric world embraces figures that struggle to remain standing and speaking against forces of gravity, time, and language. From the challenges of the violinist and painter to swaying attempts of love, this novel tumbles and hums, revealing a hinge between the Balkans and the world.
In her novel, Angjelina Marku writes:
“The peak of hell was becoming a clear blue sky. The road to the pyramid, that was divided on the left of those eight people, who had decided to enter in the black triangle, was not so challenging. They were walking together. The Midget Girl, before taking the turn, was looking in the horizon towards the direction were the people of peace were headed. They were walking towards the home of Good Mother, and Ela was not understanding herself why she was separated from the Brave Man only to enter in that giant stone and to extinguish the curiosity of Nora.”
The extraordinary juxtaposition of the imaginary with historical reality, inherited over the centuries in Marku’s native land, is a sobering debut that begins with a literal stutter, encouragement, passion for peace while always weaving the spirit of `Good Mother` and `Brave Man`, historical emblems that have a direct compatibility with Albania’s geographical propensity towards the Western world and transatlantic partnership. In Marku’s novel, is certainly assessed a unique style and that is ever more relevant to what European societies have lagged over the last decade, a style that emphasizes humanism, Judeo-Christian traditions and admired freedoms.
In her narrative Angjelina Marku continues:
“It appeared that she was disappointed because everything made her upset. Even herself. She had grabbed Melani by her arms that was ready to fall upon the sharp edged rocks and with her inflated nose was looking at the journalist, which pulled a pencil and paper from the beige colored bag and started to write something over the white paper, then looked at the painter, that, although he was constantly painting, he had not finished a single painting. He was not stopping from painting the peak of the pyramid. The Lady Cook was even looking at the pretty girl naked who came close to the Queen of Besa and timidly asked her for the mantle of wool – Guna – that covers the shoulders. The girl wanted to cover her naked body before entering inside the mysterious stone. Nora whose nick name was Midget Girl pulled away her mantle with broidery and shamed for not remembering to do this by herself, begged for pardon while placing her mantle over the girl’s shoulders.”
The scenery described here is a classical description of Albanian ethnography and a combination of cultures, with Albanian landscape in mind and European Characters that further enrich “Winter of the Century” novel.
Marku is talking to the entire planet —to her heroes, brave women and polishing her nation’s history; she braces closely the sky and stars while promoting the gallantry of her countrymen while embarked in unraveling old glowering battle scenes. The reader would immerse in this novel, just like being in comfort, solace and cherished by a novel depicting Europe’s oldest battle spaces. In her novel, Angjelina Marku continues:
“The blue light girl extended her blue hands and instead of taking the cover she squeezed Nora and said to her: – You have to pardon me, – because I have always bothered you. From being nearby the Midget Girl was able to see a few signs of violence on her body. She was frightened. They were open wounds on the girl’s flesh that were still pouring blood.
-Do they hurt? – Nora was asking while touching with fingers some deep lines over the fractured arm. She was squeezing a little, and then said:
-Oh, yes, they hurt more than never. These are the wounds of the world of isolation. In slavery cells are irreparable. The Midget Girl pulled her softly towards herself, laid her on her chest and said:
-There is nothing in the world that cannot be fixed? The cells of women are not irreparable. They feel pain, but they can heal. You understand? – was talking with her just like with a little girl that needed to hug her.
– Earlier you told me that you have become a burden to us, – Nora was talking again.
-Yes, we have become a burden for you, – responded the girl.
– In regards to this you don’t have to worry because the burden of the dead is held by the living ones. You see that girl before us? – she pointed with her finger towards Ela that was walking before them.
– Yes I see, – responded the blue lady.
– The entire weight of darkness is held by her. The blue eyes full of light were pointed at Ela’s body. Even though the lady cook was a little far away, it was enough for her to see the girl. From that distance was not a big deal for her. The shape of her body did not show whether she was developed or was a brave fighter. From behind was not giving any hints, that she was able to handle the whole burden of hell, but from the dress was not perceiving anything except the elegant mantle that she liked due to the color that was similar to the skin of her body.
-From the appearance she does not appear to be a fighter, – said the woman of sea.
– It does not mean that you have to appear as a fighter, but to be a fighter, that is what counts. Ela is a magic triangle. She is shaped by three powerful items, that very few people have: good soul, healthy body and conscience. If a person has these three gifts, he becomes unbreakable. For the lady with a sky color, that Ela was a magic triangle, that she owns this and that were not clear enough. And if we start to explain to her it will certainly become burdensome for both ladies, especially for the lady that has just come into the shores…”
As windows of fantasy are steaming up, Marku is introducing, Nora, Midget Girl and Ela, three characters that remind us of the bravery of Albanian women and brighten the sky of glory in a geography were the gloomy clouds of the East have always pulled apart this European corner.
For Violeta Allmuça, a distinguished Albanian writer and novelist: “Angjelina Marku’s novel, through the substance of biblical discourse and calling upon the historical actors, is describing even in space (from the battle fields covered by knights and swords) all the way to the war of 1999 when Serbian Air Forces were pouring bombs from the sky. She is also uncovering the symbol of the eagle, national hero and the motherland established while her predecessors were fighting in Gjakova, these elements lead us much closer to the truth and historical facts.”
The shifting, metaphoric world of “Winter of the Century” stands tall and is speaking against overwhelming gravity and hinges of invasion from outside evil forces. Robert Browning once said: “Best be yourself, imperial, plain, and true.”
“Winter of the Century” is plain, solid, all heartedly magnificent, in distilling the principal themes of Albanian history and women’s role in national renaissance; values that bring Europe closer to Albania, its people and to Albanian iconic literary tradition.