Flower of Vlo­ra: Grow­ing up Jew­ish in Com­mu­nist Albania

  • Review
By – December 12, 2022

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 lives in Pitts­burgh, PA and is the Direc­tor of Jew­ish Stu­dent Life at Carnegie Mel­lon Uni­ver­si­ty. She received her Mas­ter of Fine Arts degree in Cre­ative Non­fic­tion Writ­ing from Chatham Uni­ver­si­ty, and her Bach­e­lor of Arts degree in Juda­ic Stud­ies and Eng­lish from Bing­ham­ton University. 

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