The title of a book is always a sort of handle through which that book can be grasped or grasped better. In this case the first impression that comes from reading "The winged visionary and the forbidden woman" (Rubettino) by Visar Zhiti is the one that comes from having crossed over three hundred pages of a dense and fascinating book.
The winged visionary and the forbidden woman, of Visar Zhiti
A book that gradually draws you into the whirlpool of "many things that change in their terrible immutability" (to use the same words of Zhiti). And that through the imprinting of the image of the "winged visionary" and the "forbidden woman" you have the impression of grasping better.
Or anyway that doesn't slip from your hand. His reading needs an extended time that gradually becomes more and more narrow and engaging, while the strong and disseminated image emerges and consolidates in the story of the couple formed by Felix, the young novice photographer and Ema, the young high school student victim of the Albanian communist regime.
"The winged visionary and the forbidden woman" is a novel with a deep narrative depth that is organized and stratified inside its structure, so to say "open" or at least very broad, not strictly bound by its format. In which each of the six chapters is a story in itself, a sort of prelude - repeated, cyclical and at the same time regenerated - of a tragedy that continues to repeat itself, that of Albania. It could be said that Zhiti's is in his world a work-world of considerable complexity in which the narrative could stretch to infinity. Where the digression, the deviation, the sinusoidal gait seem to undermine the lacerating centrality, the hard and infusible core of what narrates and is narrated.
But at the center there is always - visible, invisible, silent and powerfully implied and subtly alluded - there is always something piercing and insistent, like a painful thorn. A wound never closed, which continues to bleed, which will continue to bleed: And it is the secret and inexhaustible source, even if sometimes with a karstic gait, which led to the story.
It is that pact that Zhiti has somehow established with his own biography and his first-person witness that he condemns to ten years of forced labor in the mines for his verses considered anti-regime, with his voice which leads to the irrepressible necessity of the story, of its story. A story that, because of the structure I mentioned, is refracted like the light reflected on the diamond. It multiplies and spreads and shatters.
That is, it multiplies, disseminates, shatters its recurrent stories in images, memories of ancient and recent horrors, obsessions, images of cities in the flow of a fast kaleidoscope, with an almost panting rhythm, sometimes almost schizoid. And without a precise road, but with a line that traces it and erases it continuously. A line or rather a trace that zigzags can put together observations, quotes, comment lists, memories, dreams, life stories or notes for stories to write and maybe still not written. What matters is the editing, the juxtaposition, the mixture, the alternation of the case, the up and down, going in all directions, the documentation both selective and uncensored, the memory of the horror and of the horrors that generate anguish, anxiety, torments.
To write, retrace or invent the hallucinated report, the reportage of the soul of a man overwhelmed by history and of a woman like many others, like so many victims of the dictatorship, the chosen form is classic, is that of the symbolic journey, representative. Digging into their wounds with the cognitive insight that is also of a paranoid gaze, Felix composes a portrait of the homeland and of its wounded children, lost in European cities, attracted by neon signs and the false promise of an unattainable freedom.
A portrait that is both a first-person account of one's own experience. And also an identity book, like a mirror even deformed (the figure of the mirror is recurrent in the paranoid fantasies of Felix), a mirror in which to read, represent, find thought and experience, suffering and anger, passions and mortifications, the many masks of all those who have suffered history in a complex and tragic era in Albanian history.
And the journey is like the test to which heroes or protagonists are subjected in popular stories. One could say the initiation - to which he subjects his Felix through a borderline itinerary. A little dreamy, a little real, in which the harsh and stony reality has angles and plans of real hallucination. And the hallucination has the expressive and disruptive force of a shrill and invasive hypereality, in a Europe at the end of the last century, looking for a chance to do justice to the infamies of the communist regime and the violence perpetrated in the Albanian prison system.
A journey marked by three purposes, as Mauro Geraci wrote, who, as an anthropologist and writer, dedicated to the Albanian cultural reality of today, including writings, publications, fairs, presentations, diatribes, exchanges, a fundamental essay, "Prometheus in Albania" , published by Rubbettino. The first is to visit the places you dreamed of: Rome, Venice, Bologna, etc. The second aims to find the twin spirit of her, a high school student put in jail and then killed because she wears a cross in her chest and prays, contravening State atheism imposed by Hoxha. The third is to deliver a dossier on his tragic death of Brussels or to the tribunal of The Hague.
A journey that is a bit like a shamanic flight of dazzling knowledge and mysteries within cities, landscapes, atmospheres. All seen as from above, but through an invisible glass against which Felix crashes, in one of the most clear and symbolic scenes of the whole novel. From the top of a vision in which the time of memory and that of the present often converge and overlap, with the vision that blinds the eye and the eye that creates the vision.
And all this is very much alive, happily represented, I think for example of the many horror scenes of a regime that even prohibits poems dedicated to the moon written in prison, the horror with its techniques, its abuses, its violence , obtuseness, behavioral and cognitive follies.
The journey is in its own way a journey of knowledge, the kind of knowledge that comes from the torn memory of what has been experienced and that emerges through flashes, associations, veritable paranoid repechage of memory that become splinters of knowledge and knowledge, painful acquisitions a posteriori of what has been experienced. Acquisition of what Felix lived, and behind him the writer witness of the horror and for that reason deputed through writing to say it, to tell what otherwise remains unsaid, unspeakable.
He lived and wants to testify in his race for Europe, rebuilding in the dream or in the nightmare what perhaps he really has traveled, or maybe not, precisely because "there is no train that leads him to reality when reality is a dream" . To get to know it, but above all because it is driven by the need for Europe to know and recognize the barbarism from which he himself comes and the violence deeply engraved in his stigmata of a pilgrim, of an exile who “brings a dead man with me and I am running away from the horrid, I will save him ".
With torment, discomfort, anxiety, despair, flight, inadequacy, insecurity, intuition, tolerance, criticism, uncertainty, the sense that everything passes if you do not grasp it with the word. And this is why in his journey he brings with him the dossier, almost a form of redemption to the lost life of Ema, closed in a coffin after the abuses suffered. That dossier that from an object composed of sheets and folders, becomes an inner and spiritual part of Felix: «Sometimes the spirit migrated from its chest into those black cardboard covers, it became a corpse and the file panted from the anguishes, it squirmed ... L accusation was all contained in the hidden file. He seemed to hear the rumble, not in his suitcase, but in his chest ... ».
"The winged visionary and the forbidden woman" is not an easy novel, easy to entertain, of those that make the pain spectacular, the horror to good profit. And they do it with easy scandal, the easy indignation, the simplified indignation of those who want to profit from the scandal, from indignation, from indignation at the pain and horror of the world. On the contrary, it is a hard, dramatic, painful, complex, claustrophobic and at the same time visionary novel where literature is an instrument of testimony, knowledge and truth to which I wish, with its author, truly a have a nice trip, in his new journey to Italy.
Di Renato MINORE.
Text prepared for the presentation of the novel by Visar Zhiti at the Fandango bookshop in Rome.
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