Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 6, 2020

The Albanian (2007), by Donna Mazza (Winner of the 2004 Hungerford Award)

The Albanian, Donna Mazza’s debut novel, is a book that will divide readers.  Some will find its self-destructve central character exasperating, others like me will read on in appalled fascination.  The experience of reading it is not unlike Kirsten Krauth’s just_a_girl where the safety of a teenage girl taking frightening risks keeps a reader on tenterhooks throughout the narrative.

In The Albanian, a young woman takes frightening risks with her safety when she falls in love with the idea of adventure and fails to see the dangerous nature of her relationship with the young man who exemplifies romance to her.

This is the blurb:

Rosa is a young woman from a small, country town in Australia who longs for mystery, adventure, and the exotic. She is fatally attracted to a romantic image of Eastern Europe, arriving alone in Dubrovnik in the months before the implosion of the old Yugoslavia. Rosa has no idea of the politics, yet she ends up dangerously drawn into a relationship with a young Albanian on his path to becoming a political refugee. Unable to tease apart destiny, reality, and fantasy, she becomes a captive of her heart and the excitement and danger of the unknown.

Bored brainless by her inane life in Bunbury WA, Rosa sets off as many young people do, to see the world.  She doesn’t take one of those One-Wonder-Per-Day under-26 tours, she wanders about, alone, breathtakingly naïve, and makes her way to Yugoslavia, then on the brink of war.  Her biggest danger, however, is not that she becomes caught up in the looming war.  Rather, it seems to be that her style of dress and independent demeanour attracts the attention of men who think she is ‘easy’.  Through good luck rather than anything else, she manages to evade them until she meets the nameless Albanian whose forceful behaviour attracts her, and she ends up in his bed.  From this point on she is torn between this fatal attraction and her denial of what she knows deep down to be true.  He is a violent, angry man; he is abusing her physically, mentally and financially, and she is out of depth in trying to understand his culture and his needs as a refugee.

A book like this will rouse readers to consider the issue of female independence.  I am in sympathy with the movement to Reclaim the Night: I have always thought that women should be able go freely where they wish, whenever they wish, without being molested by men, or worse.  I tested this out many times when I was a young woman and I never came to any harm.  But today, in the wake of the upsurge of violence against women, I am not so sure.  I remember the outrage when in the wake of the murder of a young woman in a public park, a police officer advised women to avoid walking alone in solitary places at night.  Feminists were furious.  Today, I think they are both right. I remember the words of a rhyme my mother taught me when I was learning to drive:

This is the tale of Gustavus Gay
Who died maintaining his right-of-way
He was right, dead right, as he sped along
But he’s just as dead as if he were wrong.

I am torn: if women back off from asserting their rights because of threats of violence, how do we progress?  I hope that the women I know are prudent and risk-averse, but at what cost to freedom and independence?  There was a joy in walking alone through a dark shortcut paddock in the country town I once lived in.  Just me and the stars.  So I don’t know the answer to this conundrum, and this book The Albanian brings freedom v prudence into sharp focus when Rosa’s anxious Australian friends try to warn her about the risks she is taking.  (And they don’t know the half of it, because she doesn’t tell them).

There’s only one review at Goodreads, from a reader who found the characters really annoying.  Yet the novel won the TAG Hungerford award for an unpublished MS in 2005, and the author went on to write Fauna, a novel which I found very interesting indeed.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who’s read it.

PS Update re my eye surgery: I tell you this not to be boring, but because the euphoric chatter around ‘miracle’ cataract surgery needs to be countered.  I wasn’t imagining the horrid headaches I’ve been having.  They are related to higher-than-expected pressure in the eye that was operated on, which is a not uncommon reaction to the eye-drops that are part of the regime that must be followed (for weeks) after surgery. High pressure in the eye is a risk factor for glaucoma, which can cause instant, irreversible blindness.  I’ll pass on what the specialist said: anyone experiencing a severe headache and blurriness in the eye/s needs to get to medical help, urgently.

Author: Donna Mazza
Title: The Albanian
Publisher: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2007
ISBN: 9781921064616, pbk., 368 pages
Source: Goulburn Valley Regional Library, via interlibrary loan, courtesy of Bayside Library

Availability: Fishpond: The Albanian or direct from Fremantle Press.



  1. The thing is I had only heard of good outcomes so had no idea of the possibility of anything going wrong though knowing of course that any surgery can. And when you’re in pain ( very familiar) it’s awful to be fobbed off by what can sound insensitive. I do wish you the best of outcomes Lisa. And will check this book as she is a local author.


    • Yes, me too, and the funny thing is, when I told the specialist that i was a bit peeved that everyone else got the miracle except me, he laughed and said that he had heard via a patient about the miracle of another different patient, and he knew for a fact that hers hadn’t gone smoothly at all. Why do people do this? Maybe LOL they’re just brave, or they know how boring whinging about health is…
      Anyway *chuckle* I am trying not to whinge.
      I will be so interested to see what you think of this book. It’s totally different to Fauna, you wouldn’t know it was the same author.
      Off now to see what nonsense I can find to watch on SBS today. I started Moscow Noir yesterday, and the dead bodies are piling up everywhere!


  2. I have heard enough not-so-euphoric cataract stories (along with the euphoric ones) to not be in a rush. (Fortunately, I have no need to be in a rush so that’s just as well!) However, I had not heard about headaches caused by the drops, so I will remember that, thank you.

    As for being torn, as much as I agree with Reclaim the Night, never would I take the risk myself. In fact, one of the reasons I actively sought a job in Canberra in the mid 1970s (besides the fact that I really wanted to work at the NLA) was because I did not want to cope with being a young woman wanting to socialise in Sydney, and having to worry about being on trains at night etc. In Canberra, I could drive at night and park near where I was going, etc. Has there, statistically, been an upsurge in violence against women? I’m not sure there has – but I think increased awareness has resulted in more reporting. An APH report showed some slight decrease for younger women under 35 between 1996 and 2005. Of course another 15 years have passed, but my sense is that it is more about reporting than an upsurge. Regardless, though, the fact that women still can’t be safe is the point, and I agree with your mother’s rhyme! I’d like to Reclaim the Night, but more, I want to be be safe. And, of course, the older I get the less able I am to run fast, right back, have quick reflexes, etc.


    • You could be right that what I am responding to is increased reporting of violence…
      But I was thinking more about coming home from work late at night, not socialising. I don’t say our generation was wiser, but the culture was different. Young women did not get drunk, not the way they do now, and I think that weaving your way home when drunk is sheer folly for males and females alike.
      Lots of women work odd hours these days, more so than when I was young. In fact, if I did overtime at the State Film Centre, they paid for a taxi to take me home afterwards. That didn’t happen when I was working at the Alfred Hospital Nurses Home till 10pm, but there was a wonderful tram conductor who used to stop and hold the tram until he had seen that I had made my way across the intersection safely and turned on the light in my flat.
      And yes, I could run like the wind in those days!


      • Yes, true about the more varied hours people work these days, and the increased socialising. That is a big change. The culture is quite different now.


      • PS I don’t think I could ever run like the wind but I could run faster than than I can now.


        • One of the schools I went to when I first came to Australia thought I was going to win the state championship sprint because I could beat the girl who’d won it the previous year. But then I changed schools, and the new one did not encourage young ladies to do anything remotely athletic.
          Which suited me just fine.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I’m sure it did – haha – but do you really think that was a good thing? Young ladies do need to be a bit athletic – we all do, although it depends on your definition of athletic, doesn’t it? My favourite activity at school was gymnastics, though I was average at it.


            • Nope, I don’t think there’s any value in being athletic. Healthy, strong, able to walk and run, lift and carry things, fit enough to do all kinds of daily activities without strain, but all that leaping over hurdles and chasing balls, no, I couldn’t bear it. And there’s no evidence that all that being bullied into sport at school has any lasting impact on healthy behaviour. Australia is a nation of couch potatoes with an obesity problem and a diabetes problem. People in my neck of the woods were bleating about the car park at the railway station being closed for the level crossing works… it’s only a ten minute walk away!
              If Australia spent half the time and money it wastes on sport on education, we would be much better off than we are.


              • As I said, it’s all in the definition. for me, athletic means physically fit and active , not narrowed to the sport of athletics. When you said the school did nothing remotely athletic that suggested to me that it offered no physical exercise, but as you clearly agree, physical exercise is critical. I never liked athletics at school either. I couldn’t run (I would actually get stuck in the ”set” position due to a genetic muscle condition I have) and the hurdles terrified me.

                But re bullying, I don’t think bullying people to learn anything – sports, reading, maths etc – has lasting impact. Think of all those people who hate maths and aren’t good at it.

                Interestingly, I think Canberra is the most city in Astralia (or was in 2017). It would be interesting to know how much money is spent per capita here to achieve that? But, weirdly, our obesity rate is apparently the highest of Australian metropolitan areas? Hmm…


                • Alas, Sue, you’ve left out a word and I can’t make sense of it: “Canberra is the most ??? city in Australia”. Sporty? Active?


                • Darn! I wrote it on my iPad and I always make more mistakes when I do that. I think I proofread but I clearly don’t! It’s supposed to be “active”.


                • How can that be? Canberra is the most car-dependent of all our cities, isn’t it?
                  Well, that is to say, that in Melbourne and Sydney there is very good public transport and walkability in the inner and middle suburbs, and car dependence in the outer suburbs where there is little or no public transport and the houses are not built with walkable access to shops and doctors and other infrastructure so people have to drive.


                • Yes it is, but it also has the best bicycle path network of all our cities I’ve read, and lots of open spaces. Also, we have a higher than average level of educated population which perhaps understands the importance of exercise? I wonder too whether it’s because we may have less of a spectator sport culture here though I may be wrong about that. We don’t have anywhere near as many sporting events to go to, though more are coming it seems. I have a lot of cycling friends, and many bushwalking friends. There are many suburban walking groups here too, supported by bush paths throughout the city. We just have to cross our little suburban road to access a section of the Canberra Centennial path and we always run into walkers, runners, dog walkers there. Mountain biking is also big here.

                  And then of course there’s the gym culture. Many of my friends belong to gyms. I have friends in rowing, croquet, bowls.

                  Me? I regularly do yoga and Tai Chi, and some walking (though I must say I do more of that when we travel. I love walking in the bush). No gyms or cycling in this house!


                • Well, I am feeling liverish today because my local council is about to betray us again. We live near what is called The Green Wedge, and it runs across Melbourne: its green trees are the lungs of Melbourne. It contains existing infrastructure like the Moorabbin airport, as well as agricultural land (market gardens) and quarries, but the existing green bits (water catchments, biodiversity conservation areas, and cultural heritage sites) are not supposed to be developed. But some of our bit of it are going to be turned into basketball courts, (parking), a medical centre, (parking), and accommodation for visiting sports teams (parking). Our local councillor was the sole vote against it: the sporting lobby won. And what makes me liverish is that the local action group has lost its key driver, and none of the younger generation has stepped up to take his place and work to put a stop to this irreparable damage. All that fervour about climate change and nobody under the age of 60 can be bothered to protect our own backyard. I despair, I really do…


                • That’s really disappointing, Lisa. I understand how you feel.

                  I don’t though agree with you about people under 60 – I see younger people everywhere fighting for and concerned about the environment. I see young people driving out into the bush this weekend to feed animals affected by the fires; I know young people active in the AYCC (Australian Youth Climate Coalition); I see young people making their points on Twitter. However, I do tend to see, I think, older people being the ones leading local level campaigns. Maybe that’s because they have more time and political nous when it comes to direct and specific lobbying?


                • I don’t know what the reason is. But they are not doing it locally, not here.


                • I can’t like that!


                • No…


  3. Sorry to hear about the eyes, Lisa. Hope things improve soon.

    As for the safety issue, it’s such a complex one. I wholeheartedly agree with Reclaim the Night that we *should* be safe to go wherever we want, whenever we want. But we live in a nasty world, one which seems to get nastier daily, and to my mind getting blind drunk on a night out (whether male or female) leaves you incredibly vulnerable. I would *not* want to be a late night worker nowadays, even in the relatively quiet and safe location I live in. As for the book – well, I reckon I would struggle with it a bit because I would be a bit cross with the protagonist!


    • I was certainly very cross with her… I could not believe how she kept going back to this man even when she knew there was no future with him. Some of it was ‘privilege guilt’ as in feeling guilty because his life had been so awful and hers had been so easy. But some of it was breathtakingly stupid.

      Liked by 1 person

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