Albanian Novelist Explores a Kosovo Boy’s Nightmares of War

Several years later, he would become the youngest witness to testify at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the trial of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, giving evidence about what his forces did that day in Gjakova/Djakovica.

Kapllani was deeply affected by his meeting with the boy in the Tirana hospital.

"I was reporting on developments in the Kosovo war and in contact with people inside Kosovo, including the KLA, while Albania's stadiums, school dormitories, camps and streets were filled with [refugee] Kosovars. Half the war was there. This case grabbed me completely," Kapllani told BIRN.

The boy's story was published on the front page of Shekulli, an Albanian daily newspaper, drawing attention from many people who offered to adopt him.

For Kapllani, then 33, it was one of his last journalistic pieces before he left Albania and emigrated to Canada, but the story stayed with him. "Meeting this child affected me more I would have thought as journalist," he recalled in an interview by telephone from his home in Toronto.

"Although totally in different time and context, I felt my personal drama when I was only 10 when my father was killed in my hometown Elbasan under the Communist regime, and I never learned how, and never saw justice," he said.

Years later, the boy's story would become the subject of his book, 'The Thin Line', published by Mawenzi House Publishing, a nightmarish historical allegory with a very distinct kind of narrative - a story of trauma, loss and vendetta.  

Echoes of the past

In 'The Thin Line', a ten-year-old boy named Ermal Bllaca (not the real-life boy's name) remembers a morning at the end of March 1999 when, on a main street in the town of Gjakova/Djakovica,...

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