Free

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What to expect

Brought to you by Penguin.

Shortlisted for the 2021 Baillie Gifford prize and the 2021 Costa Biography Award.

Lea Ypi grew up in one of the most isolated countries on earth, a place where communist ideals had officially replaced religion. Albania, the last Stalinist outpost in Europe, was almost impossible to visit, almost impossible to leave. It was a place of queuing and scarcity, of political executions and secret police. To Lea, it was home. People were equal, neighbours helped each other, and children were expected to build a better world. There was community and hope.

Then, in December 1990, a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, everything changed. The statues of Stalin and Hoxha were toppled. Almost overnight, people could vote freely, wear what they liked and worship as they wished. There was no longer anything to fear from prying ears. But factories shut, jobs disappeared and thousands fled to Italy on crowded ships, only to be sent back. Predatory pyramid schemes eventually bankrupted the country, leading to violent conflict. As one generation’s aspirations became another’s disillusionment, and as her own family’s secrets were revealed, Lea found herself questioning what freedom really meant.

Free is an engrossing memoir of coming of age amid political upheaval. With acute insight and wit, Lea Ypi traces the limits of progress and the burden of the past, illuminating the spaces between ideals and reality, and the hopes and fears of people pulled up by the sweep of history.

‘Funny, moving but also deadly serious, this book will be read for years to come. . . Beautifully brings together the personal and the political to create an unforgettable account of oppression, freedom and what it means to acquire knowledge about the world’ David Runciman

© Lea Ypi 2021 (P) Penguin Audio 2021

Critics Review

  • If you read one memoir this year, let it be this

    Sunday Times, Books of the Year
  • Lea Ypi’s Free is the first book since Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend that I have pressed on family, friends and colleagues, insisting they read it. . . a truly riveting memoir and a profound meditation on what it means to be free

    Spectator, Books of the Year
  • A tart and tender childhood memoir. But also a work of social criticism, and a meditation on how to live with purpose. . . A quick read, but like Marx’s spectre haunting Europe, it stays with you

    The New Yorker, Best Books of 2021
  • Enthralling. . . a classic in the making

    TLS, Books of the Year
  • Ypi’s deliciously smart memoir of her Albanian girlhood at the end of the Cold War is a brilliant disquisition on the meanings of freedom – its lures, false hopes, disappointments and possibilities – in our time

    New Statesman, Books of the Year
  • An absorbing memoir of Ypi’s Albanian childhood and its ideological delusions. The freedom she discovers is far more complex than we might expect

    TLS, Books of the Year

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