The Artful Albanian — The Memoirs of Enver Hoxha, edited by Jon Halliday (Chatto & Windus, £5.95).
ENVER Hoxha ruled Albania with a fist of steel for over 40 years. He pretty well succeeded in stopping any reliable information from seeping out of that wretchedly poor, craggy, strategically placed Balkan country. Nevertheless, he kept on hitting the headlines: by his unwavering loyalty to Stalin, even beyond the grave; by his rejection of alliances, first with neighbouring .Yugoslavia, then with the Soviet Union when the evils of Stalinism came to be exposed, finally with China, when the criminal lunacy of the Cultural Revolution began to be acknowleged there; and last, but by no means least, by Albania's abolition of all religion in 1967, an act unique in the whole of history.
Hoxha also made a habit of regularly killing off his closest henchmen, some it said with his own hands, as in the case of the Prime Minister, Mehmet Shehu, 'four years or so before his own death._ Out ofthe blue, towards the end of the 1970s, he launched into the publication of his memoirs. There is nothing particularly unusual in such an airing of so-called literary works by Communist leaders. Even the semi-literate Leonid Brezhnev turned out volume after volume of barely readable theoretical drivel, and earned much adulation in the Soviet press for it.
Yet Enver Hoxha's contribution is remarkable, even by these standards, and not merely for its size — some threeand-a-half thousand closely printed pages. One might well be tempted to marvel at such singleminded profusion and pass on.
Jon Halliday, however, has distilled out of this ocean of words a paperback that is not only uniquely valuable to anyone interested in the workings of Communism worldwide, but that provides the self-portrait of a most uncommon and intriging personality.
Despite the heavy armour of Marx-Leninism which encased him, Hoxha was in many ways a creature belonging to an age and culture long since vanished from the West, a tribal chieftain out of the mountain valleys endowed with more than a touch of courtly graces, as it might be a James Bothwell, an O'Neil or Fitzgerald earl from the fringes of a Europe emerging into the modern age.
His feuds were blood feuds, his blind and inordinate pride a primitive nationalism more closely related to a sense of kinship. Yet, as Molotov reported to Stalin, "He is very handsome and leaves a good impression. He is quite cultured, but you sense western influence on his upbringing."
Hoxha was a shrewd dealer among his international associates, uncomfortably an4 amusingly clear-sighted about, their weaknesses and — most, surprisingly — brutally outspoken on any subject that did not reflect on what he saw as his country's honour, and his own.
The latter may seem a strange notion in the context of what was for all the world to see a mass murderer, an unbridled oppressor and a paranoid politician. Yet it is this very paradox that Halliday has so, brilliantly illuminated.
Over and above all else, he has, a very sharp eye for telling detail, such as this: "As Haxha's. corpse was lowered into its grave, Albanian TV revealed a strange spectacle. One old woman was seen to cross herself: right by the graveside . . ."