They are heroes by chance, the six Tota brothers protagonists of "Il sogno italiano". Or at least unintended heroes.
From the literary point of view, this is - in my opinion - one of the fascinating elements of the novel by Ylljet Aliçka, inspired as it is known in the story of the Popa brothers.
Even if the Tota later attribute a revolutionary value to their gesture, that of slipping into the courtyard of the Italian embassy, it must be said that they did it to earn a better life than the sad one who lived in Albania under the Enver Hoxha dictatorship.
In the second part of the novel, set in Italy, they will claim to be recognized as the "heroes of the 1985". Such are considered for a series of reasons: for having fled the communist regime by breaking into the Italian embassy and asking for asylum in our country, for those five years spent in the basement of the embassy, for having left the regime shocked before their resounding gesture, because for them the Italian government was mobilized at the highest level and even the UN secretary Perez de Cuellar.
And finally they believe they are the forerunners of the great exodus from Albania to Italy and, indeed, they have been: the arrival in the port of Bari of the merchant ship Vlora, with its cargo of over twenty thousand Albanians fleeing their country , will in fact take place six years later, in the 1991.
However, in my opinion, between them and the masses who will follow their example, there are differences in the motivations of the escape. It has been said and written, for example, on Italian television as a magnet capable of attracting many Albanians from a country devastated by a deep crisis towards a country that was painted rich and happy, Italy "of the white mill", as then it was said. Well, this does not seem to be the case with the Tota. Italian TV did not look at it. They turned to Italy for a sort of credit that they believed they had, for family history reasons, against our country.
But back to the days of Hoxha. A paranoid leader who ruled with the country for forty years with an iron fist. A dictatorship under which it was easy to fall into disgrace and thus end up in prison or forced labor, or lose a job, or worse, be executed. It didn't take much. Also reading wrong books, listening to American rock music or Italian radio and television programs.
The Tota brothers, beyond making up the meters of light and water, listening to the Italian radio and harboring a certain intolerance towards the regime, behaviors and thoughts that moreover shared with most of the Albanians, beyond this they did not nothing subversive. They simply aspired to a normal life. And for this they adhered to the idea of Simon, the youngest of the brothers, and they crossed - not without fear - the embassy gate.
A normal life was inhibited under the regime. The Tota had in fact inherited a fault, the fault of the pharmacist father, who had been accused at the time of having sympathized with the Italian occupant and not having joined the resistance. For these reasons he had been imprisoned and his children had been prevented from attending university. The six brothers therefore carried out modest work: worker, porter, embroiderer, at best an accounting work. Even love and normal social relations were prevented from them, because due to this original fault, this mark of infamy, they were kept at a distance, considered a bit like plague victims.
When Enver Hoxha dies in the 1985, they would like everyone to participate in the solemn funeral of the father of the Fatherland. But this is prevented by two thirds of the family because, precisely, they are "marked by a compromising political biography". Only two obtain "the authorization to express their pain", as Aliçka writes in the first lines of the novel, a very incipit incipit with which the author already sows some elements on the protagonists of his story.
In the pages that follow, the author recounts the dictatorship through the funerals, those of Hoxha and those of other former Communist Party leaders. As we have said, there is a need for proven loyalty requirements to be able to participate; but they are also more or less coded - and observed by solemn informants of the secret services - the ways in which the participants express their pain. This is what Professor Mauro Geraci very effectively defined as "the theater of tears".
Aliçka tells a worker: "Even a donkey knows that, depending on the way in which it manifests pain, therefore of how it cries, everyone expresses his feelings", or "sympathy or dislike for the regime". For this reason there are these spies that with the accuracy of an accountant take note of tears shed, sobs, expressions of condolences. And on the occasion of the death of the father of the country it is evident that the mourning must be expressed in exceptional ways and therefore there are those who throw themselves on the ground, those who beat their heads, those who tear their hair, those who recite verses ...
We cannot fail to recognize that these pages are really fun. The author has the uncommon ability to adopt different narrative registers for the different situations he describes. And here, to tell the regime, he uses farce. The critic Goffredo Fofi rightly referred to the "Italian comedy", about the novel. It is - as I said - a rare ability, that of Aliçka, typical of mature, better storytellers.
The author will instead use the tragedy to tell what should have been the happy moment in history, or the arrival and life of the six brothers in Italy. Here they thought they would find dignity, freedom and perhaps even love. Here they thought they would get a reward for those five long and very hard years spent in a basement of the Italian embassy in Tirana. Thus it will not be because precisely, as we shall see, their existences will gradually turn into tragedy.
In the second part "The Italian dream" turns out to be a powerful Kafkaesque novel. It reminds me a lot of "The castle" of Kafka, the fight of Mr. K. against the bureaucracy of the Castle to obtain the legitimization of his position. He claims to have received a letter of appointment as surveyor employed by the West West Count - the elusive entity that dominates the village - and therefore fights and consumes himself to claim the place that the bureaucracy denies him instead. Even the Tota brothers in this part of history, the Italian one, consume their existence in claiming a recognition, a legitimacy. In vain.
Returning to Kafka, you will remember the lesson that the village superintendent held for Mr. K., the aspiring land surveyor, about the castle bureaucracy. Among the things we learn is that it is an immense human machine that acts alone, to which the cases of real people do not matter, the destiny of this or that creature with its load of desires, happiness and pain. The Castle machine does not know what charity or love is: it is formalist. Thus writes Pietro Citati, his splendid essay on Kafka. The Tota brothers, once they arrived in Italy, instead of the coveted recognition found themselves facing a human machine like the one described by Kafka. A bureaucracy that has no interest in their "load of desires, happiness and pain", always to use the words of Citati.
Other than the heroes of Tirana! We read how they are addressed by a grim and arrogant official of the Prefecture of Rome. "The living rooms, what else ?!" - the woman burst out in a sincere laugh. "Do you see those sitting there? They are waiting for six years to receive a residence permit and come to present themselves once a month. Do you think you are so privileged to get them in one day? "
The Tota are now a practice of the Prefecture. Against them there is not I say love but not even some form of human participation.
In truth, a practice - even of international diplomacy - was also a practice when they were in the embassy besieged by the Albanian police and protesters. They were a mess for the ambassadors (one of whom even fell into depression for not being able to solve it) and also for the Italian government. In the book Andreotti, Minister of Foreign Affairs, with impatience whispers to Craxi, then head of the government: «There is no mica asking for asylum Solzenicyn or Sacharov. It is not that you are strangers! "
But just arrived in Italy the Tota have the concrete awareness of being only a bureaucratic practice. "Nobody cares about the heroes of 1985 - says Vangjel, the older brother - they forgot about us and they won't remember any more".
Humanity towards the Tota brothers in the book of Aliçka there is little, indeed there is none for nothing. The only gesture of humanity towards them comes from a Senegalese immigrant, met in the refugee camp where they are hosted immediately after arriving in Rome. In fact, the Senegalese will offer Maria, one of the four sisters, a job - in her butcher's shop - and, who knows, maybe even a marriage and love.
The Tota will get political asylum two years later. They will also get a small apartment in the extreme outskirts of Rome and a modest maintenance allowance. Therefore, compared to many refugees, we can say we are lucky. But they will never get the legitimacy they expected, they will never get to be recognized as "the heroes of 1985" and be treated as such.
How Mr. K., the surveyor, will not get his legitimacy.
We do not know how K.'s story ends because, as is well known, the author did not finish his book. In a note to the first edition of the Castle, Max Brod, the literate friend and supporter of Kafka, explains that Kafka's expressed question would have confided to him the intention that K. would die of exhaustion, and that at that moment he came from the Castle the formalization of his right to stay in the village and work on it.
We can match this hypothetical final of the Castle with that of the beautiful novel by Ylljet Aliçka, in which the Tota family receives a very partial recognition from the Giuseppe Dossetti Association and from that paragraph in the Corriere della sera. But it's too late, even in their case.
I conclude with a warm invitation to read this book, a book that leads us to reflect not only on the past but also, and above all, on the present and on ourselves.
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