Prishtina -Poetic Memories, by Valbona Shujaku (or thoughts on a book promotion)

I normally don’t attend many Albanian book promotions, unless I am specifically invited, know the author or I am helping in some capacity. I prefer to stumble upon books on my own, to pick what I like and express my opinion. Instead, during these book promotions I have to smile, compliment something I haven’t read, or be appropriately impressed at meeting “great writers” who can only be deciphered by the old ladies in their villages of yore.

Furthermore, when I want to support, inviting other people to these events (even with the lure of free cheese and wine) becomes a dreadful chore. The location! the circulating “great minds”! the mangled Albanian and English! the hopeful look in the poor author’s eyes! the horrific, coma-inducing “presentations” and “book analysis”! the rabid egoes! etc etc etc…

One could argue that the attitude described above is probably keeping me and other “connoiseurs” from enjoying some geniuine good work and supporting books I would otherwise “inhale” in one sitting. However, enough pretenders have squandered my time, attention and money, that diving through drivel to find that one “rough gem” has become physically impossible.

Anyway, I went to the “Prishtina – Poetic Memories” promotion simply because it was hosted by Fadil Berisha’s studio and I was guaranteed meeting a friend or two. And yes, free cheese and wine were a factor too. I told some people about it as well, and curiouser and curiouser they showed up.

I am glad that I went. I had surmised from the invitation that the book was indeed a collection of photographies, and it was. While I have never been to Prishtina, the book evoked a feeling of nostalgia and simplicity, and the author was pleasant enough that I bought it. I browsed some pages when I was mingling with the other participants and I enjoyed it.

The “author” (I use the term loosely because Ms. Shijaku was actually the curator who collected, selected and printed the pictures of the Prishtina museum) was very pleasant and kept her introductionary speech to a minimum, without (gasp!) hailing herself as the next best thing to sliced feta, or as the greatest patriot since Ismail Qemali. The participants were mainly young, learned and interesting, and most (unheard of) bought the book simply because they were intrigued by it.

The book has a simple monochromatic cover with only a splash of light blue, and the pictures inside are black and white. It did remind me of old Korca for some reason, even though the two cities are probably nothing alike. My favorite picture is Nr. 76, (spoiler alert!) that shows a young boy drinking from a public water fountain in the middle of a cobblestone street with old and low houses. The fountain is almost as big as a house and totally out of place in that environment, which makes it very intriguing to me.

Kudos: Keeping it simple and unpretentious. The simplicity permeates the whole book and makes it easy to connect to, especially if someone grew up in the stony and rundown streets of Balkan cities like me. The map was a great way to extend an invitation to visit Prishtina, possibly with this book book and camera in hand. I also liked the fact that the text was in four languages, all given the same amount of space in the book.

Suggestions: for a Prishtina virgin like me, it would have been better if the author had chosen to go with her original idea (include photographs of the same locations in modern times). While the photographs were interesting, I would have liked to have that perspective from past to actual times. Also, I would have preferred that the captions were included with the photograph, instead of being listed at the end. Possibly a couple of sentences with memories, or why the author chose to feature that particular photograph.

Conclusions: Although, there is room for improvement, the book is well-made and a very good tool for the people who need retro inspiration, historians, nostalgics and curious bunnies like me.

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