If you want to understand why there are no monuments dedicated to women warriors in Kosova; or if you want to know why no women have received medals of valor or been nominated as National Heroes; or if you want to understand the men who are still looking for virgin brides (even those with hymens sewn shut) in order to uphold their morality, you must read Klara Buda’s novel. If you want to understand how a totalitarian system thrives by lulling its citizens to sleep, then increases their anesthetic gas dosage so they never awake, read Chloroform. The author narrative approach of using a description of the fine points of an ageless and unplaceable totalitarian system to decode the phallic and female murdering system, which is ready to bring about the world’s end before its own. There is not much quality literature that discusses totalitarianism in terms of its aesthetic (versus revolutionary) denial, but there are many works containing grandiose themes, lengthy and epic narrations, and rural narratives (where life moves at a very slow pace) such as Marquez’s Macondo town in One Hundred Years of Solitude or Of Love and Other Demons. There are not many clear, cool-headed descriptions of this urban world, nor many descriptions of the “finery” that depicts a whole new world that does not narrate, is not archaic or epic and cannot be told in a fairy tale. The narration of Chloroform does not belong to urban legends, but to the hearth, land and family. Klara Buda does not weave a tale of elaborate artistic code, but rather a detailed description of the system that kills thoughts and mentalities (even by self-censor). She gives us a brutal portrait of totalitarianism, which consumes first intimacy, then cultural models, the urban way of living, opposition, and finally consumes human bodies. This gives birth to a male-dominated world that kills women to protect its own immorality. Buda’s descriptions of totalitarianism are reminiscent of Herta Mueller and the patient but sharp style of J. M. Coetzee. Chloroform describes a group of students who are trying to escape the consummation / completion of their individual selves by finding refuge in a clandestine society. One might think this society is dangerous and conspiring against the system, but, in reality, it is just the byproduct of the double life led by the city – the life of communistic peasantry in tandem with the life of liberal urbanites that ignore dictatorship but never openly oppose it. This particular society was content with listening to rock and roll and debating themes that bordered on normality rather than a ghetto mentality. The more clandestine the society, the more indifferent it was to the regime, because it kept listening to rock and roll right under the dictator’s nose, inside a building and with blanketed windows – an act that instilled the dangerous and “secret” feeling of opposition. This had a “softening” effect on the brutal voice of the regime, transmitted every day through loudspeakers outside. “A tape of Bruce Springsteen song started rolling inside the cassette player, making his rendition of My Hometown even scratchier than it already was” (pg. 107). The author enriches her narration by adding comments and reflections from Adrian’s diary, which gives us a chance to see what was really going on in the minds of the young people during those times, and by describing the unexpressed thoughts of her characters. The people are afraid, so they self-censor. They start to speak, then stop when they realize they are going too far. The sentences are cut short, left flapping in the wind, and the author continues the streams of consciousness that follow them in italics. The young people who leave their sentences unfinished create the illusion of a foggy or drunk atmosphere; this explains the title Chloroform, since small doses of chloroform temporarily paralyze the brain, larger doses put it to sleep, and enough of it ensures the sleep lasts forever. Totalitarianism does the same thing, by paralyzing and putting people to sleep. Alma goes through a similar chloroformed room, where she is put to sleep and given an abortion without her consent; while under the influence of anesthesia, or vaporized chloroform, she does not know whether she is experiencing a dream, reality, or a delirium. The author uses this device to cut to the core of the false morality of the times (when lovers were advised /uses to practice sodomy to protect their virginity, a theme that has never been discussed before, not even artistically). The message is very skillfully transmitted. Alma’s nightmare and the comments of doctor unmask the false morals of the times. The scene with the A and B girls is also very skillful in its parody of “the society of perverted values”. The efforts of the system to create the new perfect being have instead created a perverted human, the guardian of the morgue (Marenglen Qani the Dog), who is the enabler and disabler of society; when the society unravels (i.e., loses its hymen), it is Qano’s job to reconstruct it by stitching it back together again. However, the most macabre act against the individual and the North in the novel is the death of Luiza Kodra, the pregnant Northern woman, who goes straight to the morgue, without any surgical intervention for her difficult pregnancy, after being injected with a deadly substance. The “new being,” the murderer, Marenglen Qani the Dog, has taken the responsibility of conducting Alma’s abortion against her wishes, but with her communist family’s sanction. Abortion is forbidden by law in communist Albania, (one of only two Eastern European countries to outlaw this practice), so he poisons Luiza Kodra in order to use her identity in the official papers, because he does not have an abortion certificate in Alma’s name. The story is unbelievably tragic. Qano kills Luiza in order to superimpose her identity upon Alma The first crime was this surveillance that gave a new meaning to the slogan “knee to knee with the people.” Its secret meaning was to never leave the people alone, to follow them from womb to tomb, to make them obedient tools of the party. Smiling can be mistaken in some situations so it was like forbidden in some places; even an involuntary yawn or grin could cause its perpetrator to be arrested and jailed. The language has been pruned too, its Northern branches cut away, turning the Gheg dialect and its users into enemies of the people. Through Fran the Northerner, the author says, “North has been physically and spiritually exorcised!” The country has become smaller and therefore easier to control. A Northern woman has to die so that a daughter of the communist nomenclature can have a clandestine abortion and protect her morality. The official doctrine of socialist realism took the art from the hands of true artists and gave it to the masses, complete with fabricated applause and ovations, thus creating the right environment for its “ruralization” and spiritual death, which ended with the true death of a woman. The system dictated the death of the embryo (i.e., the future) and the restoring of the hymen in order to protect its amoral morality and produce as much artificial virginity as possible. Buda’s protagonist, Alma Fishta (whose last name is not a coincidence but a symbol of opposition to totalitarianism), receives, after her dual (spiritual and physical) victimization, a lesson from secondhand women citizens, despised by the regime for their Roma ethnicity, who can only work as street cleaners. They say: “motherhood is the only reality which escapes totalitarianism.” The system-sanctioned hymen repairing at the beginning of its New Being program is intended to protect the morality of its propaganda and to bring about the transplant of honor itself. “Can you imagine the editorial in the Voice of the People? The first country in Europe to offer honor transplant! Brand new, shining honor!” (p. 94). The official doctrine of socialist realism took the art from the hands of true artists and gave it to the masses, complete with fabricated applause and ovations, thus creating the right environment for its “ruralization” and spiritual death, which ended with the true death of a woman. The system dictated the death of the embryo (i.e., the future) and the restoring of the hymen in order to protect its amoral morality and produce as much artificial virginity as possible. Buda’s protagonist, Alma Fishta (whose last name is not a coincidence but a symbol of opposition to totalitarianism), receives, after her dual (spiritual and physical) victimization, a lesson from secondhand women citizens, despised by the regime for their Roma ethnicity, who can only work as street cleaners. They say: “motherhood is the only reality which escapes totalitarianism.” The system-sanctioned hymen repairing at the beginning of its New Being program is intended to protect the morality of its propaganda and to bring about the transplant of honor itself. “Can you imagine the editorial in the Voice of the People? The first country in Europe to offer honor transplant! Brand new, shining honor!” (p. 94). In the end, the dictatorship consumes the clandestine society, together with every other living thing, not because it has committed a crime but because its way to be is considered as a crime. Its crime is the aspiration to freedom and intimacy and the failure to realize that the system has already transformed into a “Big Brother” that sees and hears everything. The system has changed human intimacy in public broadcasting; Alma Fishta is placed under arrest without any warrant (at the ob-gyn clinic, where the system is also beginning to unravel), and secret police come and interrupt her paradoxical sleep at 3:30AM, saying: “Citizen, no sudden movements! You are hereby taken into custody in the Name of the People” (p. 173). Just imagine an arrest in the Name of the People, when the people are sleeping their paradoxical sleep! I would like to conclude with Alma Fishta’s brilliant, thinly veiled comment on Albanian dictatorship: “This society is governed by a different relativity theory, a train of backwards velocity, smaller than zero. A train of negative velocity, an Albanian relativity theory!” (p. 173). This comment rings true for our current situation here [in Kosovo] just as I am writing these lines. I see a city within a ghetto, a plaza in a pseudo-capital that is sick. Party militants decorate the plaza walls nightly with the names of model citizens, who are proclaimed to be “enemies of the people,” since no dictatorship can survive without enemies). These model citizens then are warned that they might be killed, just like the architect who in real life gave his name to the plaza. Limitless and mutually exclusive ambition, aggression and propaganda prune the Albanian language and forbid smiles, because they might make fun of a backwards and autocratic government. The same backwards mentality has also invaded art and culture, the syndrome of a negative velocity train that travels backwards instead of forwards, just like in Klara Buda’s novel.  – Gjergj Fishta is a forbidden author, whose writing was considered in opposition of the totalitarian regime.
Published in Koha Ditore Prishtinë, Kosovo, më 14 maj, 2010
English translation Blerta Alikaj Original Title – Qyteti Pa Dashuri / sistemi femervrases (qytetarvrases) dhe pershkrimi brilant i tij.