The novels of Ismail Kadare.
by James Wood
ABSTRACT: BOOK review of the novels of Ismail Kadare. The novelist Ismail Kadare was born in Gjirokastër, in southern Albania, in 1936. During the Second World War, the town was taken by the Italians, taken back by the Greeks, and, finally, seized by the Germans. Kadare’s great novel “Chronicle in Stone,” which was published in Albanian in 1971 and in English in 1987, drew on his boyhood experiences of the war. It is a joyful, often comic piece of work. A young boy narrates the events. War arrives, and townspeople talk of spells, witches, ghosts, and legends. The young narrator discovers “Macbeth,” and sees parallels between medieval Scotland and modern Gjirokastër. The shadow of Enver Hoxha, the Communist leader who kept a ruthless grip on Albania for forty years, until his death, in 1985, darkens the last eighty pages of the book. “Chronicle in Stone” represents an act of political resistance of the subtle kind that allowed Kadare to survive Hoxha’s regime, even as some of his books were banned. The novella “Agamemnon’s Daughter” is perhaps Kadare’s greatest book, and, along with its sequel, “The Successor,” it is surely one of the most devastating accounts ever written of the mental and spiritual contamination wreaked on the individual by the totalitarian state. At the center of “Agamemnon’s Daughter” is an icy reinterpretation of the Iphigenia story. Kadare is inevitably likened to Orwell and Kundera, but he is a far deeper ironist than the first, and a better storyteller than the second. Alas, Kadare’s most recent novel, “The Accident,” translated from the Albanian by John Hodgson (Grove; $24), is spare and often powerful, but it is a bit too spare, so that the ribs of allegory show through, in painful obviousness. One morning in Vienna, sometime not long after the end of the war in Kosovo, a young Albanian couple, the diplomat Besfort Y. and his girlfriend Rovena St., are killed in a car accident. It is a difficult novel. One gathers that Kadare is presenting a kind of allegory about the lures and imprisonments of the new post-Communist tyranny, liberty. It is poignant that the most powerful section in the novel returns to old ground and old obsessions, and it is poignant, too, that this allegory of the tyranny of liberty is less effective, as a novel, than Kadare’s earlier allegories of the tyranny of tyranny.
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