A Short Border Handbook

Gazmend Kapllani

Published: 3 May 2010
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 144 pages
ISBN: 9781846271502


'It is not a recognized mental illness like agoraphobia or depression ... It's largely a matter of luck whether one suffers from border syndrome: it depends where you were born. I was born in Albania.'

After spending his childhood and school years in Albania, imagining that the miniskirts and quiz shows of Italian state TV were the reality of life in the West, and fantasizing accordingly about living on the other side of the border, the death of Hoxha at last enables Gazmend Kapllani to make his escape. However, on arriving in the Promised Land, he finds neither lots of willing leggy lovelies nor a warm welcome from his long-lost Greek cousins. Instead, he gets banged up in a detention centre in a small border town. As Gazi and his fellow immigrants try to find jobs, they begin to plan their future lives in Greece, imagining riches and successes which always remain just beyond their grasp. The sheer absurdity of both their plans and their new lives is overwhelming. Both detached and involved, ironic and emotional, Kapllani interweaves the story of his experience with meditations upon 'border syndrome' - a mental state, as much as a geographical experience - to create a brilliantly observed, amusing and perceptive debut.

About the author

Image of Gazmend Kapllani

Gazmend Kapllani was born in 1967 in Lushnjë, Albania. In January 1991 he crossed the border into Greece on foot to escape persecution by the communist secret services. In Greece he worked as a builder, a cook and a kiosk attendant, while also studying at Athens University and completing a doctorate on the image of Albanians in the Greek press and of Greeks in the Albanian press. He is now a successful writer, playwright, broadcaster and journalist with a twice-weekly column in Ta Nea, Greece's biggest daily newspaper. This is his first book. More about the author


‘A brilliant, wry and playful memoir about migration. Kapllani tells it as it's never been told before’ Lisa Appignanesi



‘Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife's translation of A Short Border Handbook could not be timelier ... [It] combines the wittily mischievous eye for absurdity of George Mikes's How to be an Alien with the philosophical insight of Milan Kundera ... With the best migrant literature, this book tells a collective story through a personal one’ Maya Jaggi

‘Explores with bracing humour and unsentimental insight the migrant's rocky path to a new role and changed identity’ Boyd Tonkin

‘His is the universal story about those with little opportunity but with plenty of guts - migrants ... his perspective articulates the fraught Albanian migrant experience, as well as the ever-present humour of this master storyteller’ Damian Mac Con Uladh

‘It is a telling reminder of how the borders that many of us are lucky enough to regard as bureaucratic inconvenience often form unimpeachable barriers and of how the way they are policed can be ruthless and absurd’ Laurence Mackin

‘Kapllani treats the absurdities of nationalism in the Balkans - and everywhere - with mischief, wit and insight’ Boyd Tonkin

‘Kapllani's memoirs give an informal honest account of the difficulties faced by immigrants wanting to pass beyond their country's borders ... It's wittily written, but the humour doesn't detract from the seriousness of the message’

‘Kapllani's stories offer a poignant and humane glimpse into the complex life of a migrant’ Anna Chambers

‘Sketched with a light hand and a heavy heart ... Kapllani is at his best on the devastating effects of tyranny and its aftermath, where Albanians tear the statues down "like orphaned children robbing the corpse of a false and terrifying father". But he is at his most universally relevant when talking about the subtleties of the migrant's life ... One of this book's pleasures is the author's honesty, but one of its shocks is that it exposes an everyman's struggle for dignity in a wealthy, multicultural EU. We think of walls and borders as something either in the past or in the Middle East. Kapllani brings borders closer to home and ruffles our notions of 21st-century Europe and the price some pay to live in it’ Kapka Kassabova

‘There will always be parts of the world that fall prey to tyrants, and there will always be people fleeing from them, seeking to escape their hell. I can see this handbook being of inestimable value to them, a guide to coping with bitter disappointment’ Dermod Moore

‘This funny, ironic and intelligent description of immigrant life gives voice to a social group that did not have one, and meditates on the broader tragicomedy of exile’ Sofka Zinovieff

‘Thought-provoking and blackly comic stuff on what it means to be an immigrant’

Mind Unit - websites, content management and email marketing for the arts