Book Review: My Name is Europe by Gazmend Kapllani

, by Ilona Vichnevskaia

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

Book Review: My Name is Europe by Gazmend Kapllani

The Albanian author Gazmend Kapllani was born in Lushnje, Albania and migrated in 1991 to Greece and later on to the United States of America. Today he is one of the most popular columnists in Greece.

In his first novel “A short border handbook” Kapllani focused on migration and borders, this time, the Greek-Albanian writer turns his attention to the dangers of rising nationalism in his new book “My name is Europe”.

He highlights issues on migration, borders and identity by telling personal stories from a migrant perspective while also pointing out the treatment of immigrants in Europe, by sketching out a scenario of the future.

The plot-deficits in Europe

The novel “My name is Europe” begins with an autobiographical narrative that develops various migrant stories. One of them is about Katerina, an 18 year old girl born in Athens experiencing first-hand rejection by the Greek government. Her parents are from Africa and migrated to Greece. At the age of 18 she realises she has been living under her mother’s passport and must now obtain a personal one. She is no longer a Greek citizen, but a sans-papiers, a clandestine and the Greek government forces her to obtain a passport in her parent’s country of origin, in Ghana. But if she goes to Ghana, she may never be permitted to return to Greece.

Kapllani works hard to place himself in very different shoes of characters who are well and truly alive. Katerina has to face the Greek government rules, where the nationality is based on birth conditions, which implicates that only children from Greek parents can obtain the Greek nationality.

It is fiction, but still, the novel points out current treatments of immigrants in Europe. Unfortunately, stories like Katerina’s one are not uncommon in Europe. Applications for asylum are rejected and people are refused.

This is not only a story about the negative experience of being a migrant, but also about the complexity of identity, jumping from one culture to another, learning a new language, adapting to a completely foreign culture, the same that Kapllani experience migrating from Albania to Greece in 1991. Kapllani shows an acute awareness of the damages created by some European borders, those that are holding us back from living in a multi-nationalist state founded on the coexistence of different cultures.

Rising nationalism

Having experienced a life under a totalitarian regime in the Balkan States, he argues that Balkan States’ nationalism is something that grew later. During the huge empires of Alexander I, the Romanian Empire, the byzantine era and the Ottoman Empire, the Balkan States used to be a multi-national state. Kapllani reminds us of the manufacturing of nationalism, and sourcing inspiration from Milan Kundera, he writes about "The unbearable similarity of being the other". He expresses the ridiculous fear of some balkan states of admitting their common similarities. National sovereignties have eliminated all traces of cosmopolitism, the coexistence of difference cultures that existed before and represented an important historical cultural heritage of those countries.

New borders in Europe

Kapllani’s novel does not stop at the challenges created by borders, the complexity of migration, or the unfair treatment of immigrants, he advances an appeal for a united Europe, one without borders and for a world in which men and women are free to choose where they want to live and where they we want to travel.

For more information on the author and his writing, see this interview (in french) in Courrier des Balkans, and Mediapart.

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