Women in Modern Albania: Firsthand Accounts of Culture and Conditions from Over 200 Interviews

Author: Susan E. Pritchett Post

Reviewed by Melissa J. Perry, Harvard University

Women in Modern Albania presents interviews with over 200 women born in Albania during this century. The interviews are divided into three broad age groups of Older, Middle and Younger generations, loosely based on the political climate of the era in which they were born. Women from a broad range of education, life experience and geography in Albania are represented among the interviews which is a major feature of the book. A commendable feature of the collection of interviews is the common theme of Albanian women’s characteristic strength and resilience.

However, several aspects of the book remain troubling. Especially problematic was the author’s inclusion of her personal impressions of Albanian people upon arriving in Albania. Numerous generalizations about the nature, temperament and behavior of Albanians were insulting and evidenced a lack of respect for non-Western culture. The description of how some Albanians interact with foreigners is illustrative:

“The ignorance of some people extends to their dealings with others on a social level as well. Foreigners frequently find questions they are asked as guests to be overly direct and personal, lacking in tact and politeness. However, Albanians themselves do not themselves respond well to direct questioning. They have a million responses to such questions that range from a sudden lack of understanding of whatever language you are speaking to answering with irrelevant information or ignoring you.” (p.40)

Among other generalities that were cast upon Albanians was their argumentativeness:

“Albanians are highly critical and unwilling to accept the good part of something if they find other parts to be faulty. This critical nature results in one of the most immediately noticeable characteristics of the Albanians: their arguementativeness.” (p.43)

Upon reflection, the author decides to transform her judgements into forgiveness for the “offensive” behaviors of the Albanian people as reflected in the concluding paragraph in Chapter 2 of Part I, “The Albanians as I Found Them”:
“My first attempts to understand the most negative of these behaviors led to my hypothesis that if you treat people like animals for long enough they will begin to act like animals. As time has passed, however, I have seen more directly the poverty of the people, experienced living in the conditions in which they live, and heard the stories of the women of the challenges they have faced in their lifetimes. So I have developed an understanding and acceptance of these behaviors and have learned to look past them to the people and their spirit.” (p.43)

Western ethnocentrism and a lack of cultural respect reverberates in these and other reflections by the author, particularly in this chapter. Had the author chosen an anthropologic/ethnographic approach to study the lives of Albanian women, one would not be concerned that such Western biases were subsequently infused into the women’s interviews. The non-verbatim transcriptions, which lack in idiomatic or colloquial expression, suggest that the author’s interpretations and perspectives were present in the retelling of each story. If this is so, then the book is not an accurate representation of Albanian women’s lives, but rather one American woman’s interpretation of Albanian women. In this capacity, the book is severely limited.

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