When learning about the Holocaust, countries such as Poland, Germany, and Ukraine are mentioned frequently. But Albania, a small country in Eastern Europe, is rarely, if ever, mentioned. In this memoir, though, Anna Kohen lets readers in on a little secret: “Albania was the only occupied nation in Europe where there were more Jews after the war than before it. Virtually every Albanian Jew survived.”
It is through Kohen’s memoir that readers learn how kind Albanian Muslim and Christians have been towards their Jewish neighbors throughout history. But Kohen’s story is not a Holocaust story. Instead, it is the story of Jewish life in Albania post – World War II. From the very beginning of the narrative, Kohen introduces readers to her community of Romaniote Jews. She describes Greek food, Greek Jewish practices, and Greek language, all while disentangling the complexities of living under communist rule.
Readers find themselves on an emotional journey with Kohen, rooting for her success. We meet her as a child, when she has already taken on so much family responsibility. As she finds love, begins a career in medicine, and discovers her connection to various cities and countries, readers can’t help but hope her hard work pays off. Through resilience, innovation, and determination, Kohen, like the rest of her family, goes against all odds to accomplish much in her lifetime.
For anyone who feels lost, or stuck between homes, Kohen’s book proves to be worthy company. She explains that her family members were “stateless people — though we were officially residents of Albania, we were neither citizens of Albania nor Greece. This type of predicament was common to Jews around the world at the time.” Her multifaceted identity reassures readers that they, too, can find ways to survive.
Astonishing, funny, heartwarming, and full of surprises, Flower of Vlora is an inspiration for anyone looking to create something out of nothing and accomplish far-fetched goals. Reading Kohen’s story will reignite an enthusiasm for making the world a better place.
Madison Jackson is a graduate student at the Chatham University MFA program in Creative Nonfiction Writing. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA and is the founder and Executive Director of the Global Jewish Pen Pal Program.