To the heart of hidden lives
By Maire Holmes*
Ndrek Gjini’s core is Albanian. His vision promotes peace. His book, ‘In Death’s Queue’, engages the reader to the heart of hidden lives and introduces us to other souls. His personal sense of aesthetic reveals truth, beauty and love; illuminated here with powerful insight by using the dark contradictory opposite: calumniations, distortions and indifference flourish, showing scenes of retaliation. The following harrowing stories are showered with empathy.
Knowing about the Kanun is painful, it is a practice carried out to this day. Death by the ritual of Kanun has been and remains the fate of many innocent people. Gjini’s style of writing encourages the reader to reflect. He places each true story in location, time and situation. He draws us immediately into the conflict, both historic and personal. Shame and honour are like victorious flags, strangling each other, to make honour glorious. To feel honour, one must not be shamed; what remains uppermost in the mind of this Irish reader; is the shame of what it means to be honourable.
The loss of life and promotion of this custom brings fear to families. In the aftermath, destroyed hopes, unfinished dreams and lives are cut short. It amounts to toxic pride, particularly for those who act in revenge. Counting bodies, leave us turning pages in a book as we sink into a world of deep distrust. It is a haunting impression of an ancient shadow.
Gjini shows his own personal courage. Sharing his knowledge he delves into Albania, and tells what is not widely known. He cares for those killed in the past, is anxious about the present and paves a proposition for the future. Gjini is to be trusted. His first hand encounters fill us with dread, knowing his sensitive nature. He has met or known many of the real people in these stories. He has suffered immeasurable loss. His cries of help are full of anguish. His tears spill for humanity and for his Country. He has lived this reality and it echoes in the knell of sorrow.
His writing touches the spirit of Albania and his stories here reflect a dispirited people clinging to the bullet as revenge lies in waiting – be it near a forest, a house, a taxi or in an Irish pub. The Kanun, respected by some, disregarded by others seeks no respect from neighbouring nations. It spreads across boundaries and boarders, killing sons of Albania, wherever footfall finds a target. What may look like a random killing in a small village, is telling a story of a life for a life. The value placed on life is undermined by what is deemed honourable. To estimate is to terminate.
When Ndrek Gjini was studying for an M.A. in Writing at the National University Galway, Ireland; his fellow students were astounded by his command of English. His interest in all things Irish and the depth of his poetic abilities impressed everyone. It occurred to me on first hearing Ndrek Gjini reading one of these stories, that he felt safe. He felt secure among those who valued his passion for honesty. He was willing to share insights to an audience who did not judge Albania on the basis of the Kanun. He was greatly encouraged to read and write more stories.
There is an immense difference between writing; recording the event and being privy to central characters during the real experience. Meeting the survivors, and in some cases the accused, Gjini has brought us as close to the situation as is possible. Gjini is able to transcend law by empowering emotion, imagery and dialogue without trespassing into a cloud of censorship.
Here as poet and writer, he uses depth to get us beneath veiled truths. His words need to be heeded to stop the spilling of blood.
Where death leads to more death, it can never annihilate the birth of new hope. Ndrek Gjini spreads wings across his vision. He lifts our level of consciousness.
Gjini is a gentle man. He hosts a gentle soul.
If he does not raise a flag of awareness, who will?
*Máire Holmes is an Irish poet and playwright. Holmes was the outreach writer for the National University of Ireland, Galway form 1998 to 2008. She won many literary prizes in Ireland and abroad.