(Reviewed by JD Jung)
“…I may have arrived without an invitation but I work just like the rest of you do, I pay the same taxes as the rest of you do, and most importantly my boss, or rather, my bosses, need me. Yes, I do realize that you are feeding me, but let me tell you that I more than repay it. Yes, I am dependent on you for my survival, but you depend on me for your wealth. That’s life. Give and take. I have started to build a new life here. I have got used to this city, and who knows, this city might eventually get used to me. So why am I illegal and worse than a stray dog?”
These could be the words of any undocumented worker from any country, but these are the thoughts of Gazmend Kapllani as he realized the his new country wasn’t quite what he thought it would be. However he knew that he didn’t want to go back to Albania. He, along with others, crossed the border into Greece on January 15, 1991. They knew where they escaped from but had no idea where they were going.
Part auto-biography and part fiction based on true conversations and events, A Short Border Handbook is an emotional but also often darkly comical account of what these immigrants experienced after the fall of the Soviet Bloc and what immigrants all over the world continue to endure.
Not only were armed soldiers guarding the borders, but armed bandits were ready to strike when the opportunities arose. Many who survived making it past the border were gathered up eventually and deported. Albanians were among the first to be arrested if a crime was committed.
This character-rich story includes eccentric personalities that enrich the characters, like that of “Sex Boy” who had heard that the West was full of free sex, and a man who claimed and boasted to be George Bush’s nephew. Kapllani also relates to the reader the oppressive life in Albania prior to leaving.
A Short Border Handbook is a timeless must-read at less than 150 pages. In spite of it being so slim, it still gives readers in-depth insight of the global and human issue of people escaping oppressive regimes to seek a tolerable life for themselves and their families.