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The Loser - Fatos Kongoli If you happen to be writing a dissertation called “Artistic Representations of Life Under Communism,” you definitely want to read this book. If you are just looking for entertainment, you probably don’t.

Thesar Lumi, our narrator, is indeed a loser. At age 40, he’s an alcoholic, still living with his parents, and working dead-end jobs when he works at all. The initial setting is Albania in 1991, but most of the book relates Thesar’s life story: essentially, the story of how growing up under a totalitarian regime turned him into the loser he is.

The story is not an uninteresting one, but it’s told in such a way that guarantees it will be found primarily in university libraries. Mostly it’s narration, including paragraphs that go on for more than a page; characters speak occasionally but there’s not the back-and-forth dialogue common to English-language literature. Consequently, the characters are reasonably distinct, but mostly because Thesar just tells us what they’re like; it would be a difficult for a reader to become emotionally attached to anyone in the story, including Thesar himself. There are some decent visuals and symbolism, although the historical background itself is not explained. Sensible enough, since the book was originally written in Albanian for readers who hardly needed a primer, but for the translation, an introduction would have been appropriate.

As for the translation itself, it is quite readable. There are lots of short sentences and the prose flows well enough. It could have used another read-through by an editor though, as there are a few glaring mistakes (“she consumed me literally body and soul”.... so she’s a cannibal and a Dementor?).

At any rate, this book will be of limited interest: not be a bad choice if you’re looking for a political novel about the psychological effects of living under a repressive regime, particularly if you are already familiar with Albanian history, but not something that is likely to have broad appeal. I don’t regret reading it, particularly since it's quite short, but wouldn’t seek out more of Kongoli’s work.