Elvira Dones was born in Durrës, Albania, in 1960. She studied Albanian literature and English at the University of Tirana and initially worked for state television. Because she did not return to her home country after a business trip to Switzerland, she was charged with treason and sentenced to prison in Albania. From 1988 to 2004, Dones remained in Switzerland, and from 2004 to 2015, she lived in the United States. Her books, written in either Albanian or Italian, have been translated into several languages. In an interview with the »Neue Zürcher Zeitung«, the author expressed that »In my heart there is room for different homes – but ultimately I feel at home with my family and in literature.« Her notable novels (three of which have been published in German) are dedicated to Albanian society and history, especially from the perspective of women. For example, »Vergine giurat« (2007; Eng. »Sworn Virgin«, 2014) is about a young woman who follows a northern Albanian custom: To escape a forced marriage, she swears eternal virginity and thus receives the right to live like a man. She becomes Mark, leads an existence of seclusion and falls into alcoholism. Years later, she travels to relatives in the USA – but can Mark become Hana again? The novel, characterized by rich dialogue, an intense atmosphere, and excellent research, was turned into a film by Laura Bispuri. »Sworn Virgin« was entered into competition at the Berlinale in 2015. »Piccola guerra perfetta« (2011; tr: Small Perfect War) explores the Kosovo war from the perspective of three women. Without electricity, water or telephone, they persevere in an apartment in Pristina. As bombs rain down on the city and the rest of the world watches the war on television, Nita, Hana, and Rea brace themselves for the worst. The novel is based on accounts from those affected and explicitly tells of not only the horrors of war, but also of cohesion and solidarity. The third novel to have been translated into German was originally published in 2001 as »Yjet nuk vishën kështu« (tr: Stars Don’t Dress Up Like That) focuses on human trafficking by the Albanian mafia. Girls and women are kidnapped or lured with false promises away from »Down There«, as Albania is called in the novel, and taken to »Up There«, i.e. Italy, and forced into prostitution. In a sober and hard-hitting manner told from different perspectives, not only the victims but also their parents, the perpetrators, and their relatives have their say. Although the novel is interspersed with moments of tenderness and empathy, Dones does not spare the reader in her portrait of a society dominated by patriarchal structures.
Elvira Dones has been living in Ticino again since 2015.