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review 2018-07-28 22:03
Albania, 1943
The Fall of the Stone City - Ismail Kadaré

I found this an interesting, yet strange read. I'm not sure if this was down to the translation, or the style of the original text. It is set in 1943, at the time when Mussolini and the Nazis parted ways and Albania found itself abandoned by the Italians, leaving the country wide open for Nazi invasion.


The Stone City of the title is Gjirokastër, an ancient Albanian stronghold and the first city the Nazis reach when they enter Albania. The city is beautifully described in the narrative, which prompted me to Google images of the city.


This is very much a fact driven book and the only characters we get to discover much about are Big and Little Drs. Gurameto, both surgeons in the local hospital. The competition that exists between them seems to be generated by gossip in the local community rather than being actual rivalry.

Then, to the dismay of the townspeople, Big Gurameto appears to welcome the Nazi commander and hosts a lavish banquet in his honour. While this turns out to be beneficial to the town in the short term, it causes huge problems for Big Gurameto when the communists arrive.


The latter parts of the book confused me, with the women being called 'comrade' on the streets and consequently fainting and even dying. I found on-line reference to women who were hanged for partisan activities, but nothing to explain the events narrated. There is also reference to a Jewish conspiracy called 'the Joint', but I also failed to discover any reference to this, leaving me feeling that the second half of the book was more fable than fact.


I guess I learned something of Albania's history but I seem to be left with as many questions as answers.

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review 2018-03-25 22:30
A Girl in Exile: Requiem for Linda B -- Surreal life under dictatorship
A Girl in Exile: Requiem for Linda B. - Ismail Kadaré,John Hodgson

A wild ride - originally published in Albanian in 2009. Set right before the demonstrations that would signal the fall of communism in Albania, but still firmly within the grasp of dictatorship and its bureaucracy, playwright Rudian Stefa meets a lovely young woman at a book signing after a performance of his play in the capital city of Tirana.


The young woman, Migena, asks for a signature "for her friend, Linda B." Rudian thinks she's asking for herself, but also finds her quite attractive and they begin an affair. The book opens as things start to tumble. Rudian's upcoming play is held up by the Artistic Board who is concerned about whether socialist realism can include ghosts, he's had a fight with Migena, and he gets called to the Party headquarters for questioning. There he learns that Linda B has committed suicide. His book and signature are in her possession, and she's written consistently about him in her diaries.


So begins a twisty tale of Rudian's fear, creative impulses, anger and all sorts of other things. Can he trust Migena (whose name is an anagram for enigma?) What does she have to do with Linda B? If Linda was obsessed by him, is it his fault that she committed suicide? What about the state, who has exiled Linda's entire family, relegating young Linda to a life much different from the one Migena has embarked upon. And is Migena trustworthy? Can you trust anyone when the state is watching every move you make? Can you blame anyone when the State is actually the one in control? What is worse - death, or a life you do not actually control? Is that even a life? Most of all, can you actually create when every line or stroke of a pen will be scrutinized for its political purity?

He could not tell from where he had to seek permission, if permission were necessary for every discovery or innovation in art.

I wasn't sure I liked this book, if I understood what was happening, or even IF anything was happening until about 100 pages into the total of under 200. But when it came together, it did so with force, and everything fell into place like a jigsaw puzzle where you finally see the whole picture.


This is a philosophical meditation, a big story set among just a few people that gives us a glimpse of the absurdity, fear and confusion living under this regime could cause. Everyone from Hamlet to Orpheus to Zelda Fitzgerald shows up and helps tell the tale of regular-yet-extraordinary people trying to get through life with strings pulling them from just out of sight.


I'm not as talented as Ismail Kadare, so I'll just say this is certainly an impactful and worthwhile read.


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review 2018-02-23 20:40
Broken April by Ismail Kadare
Broken April - Ismail Kadaré

Broken April is an almost meditative look at a blood feud that is strictly adhered to by those in the Albanian mountains. While it’s about a seemingly inhuman way to settle disputes (bloodshed), it is told in an entirely human way.


Successive generations had been accustomed to the feuds from their cradles, and so, not being able to conceive of life without them, it never entered their minds to try to free themselves from their destined end.


There are two stories that intersect. One is about Gjorg, a young man who has just had to commit a killing, as set out by the terms of the Kanun (a guide to adhering to the code). After a 30 day period from the time of the killing, he himself will be murdered.


Whatever words of wisdom might be uttered by the famous interpreters, the last word concerning death-so says the Kanun-belongs to the avenger of blood.


His story runs alongside that of Bastian and Diana, a couple who have recently married and have decided (strangely) to honeymoon in the Albanian mountain region in order to learn more about this tradition, which dates back centuries. Bastian is a writer and very interested in Albanian culture, so he's the one who coordinated the trip. As they're travelling through the mountain region Diana and Gjorg cross paths. Although they don’t speak to one another, an inextricable bond is formed. They both think about each other often and in this way form a connection, if not in the literal sense.


A large focus was the principles that guide life, as set out by the Kanun and the rules surrounding the blood debts passed down through generations. This was all interesting, if not a little strange. It was the complexities of the characters instead, that was my main area of enjoyment. While I didn’t feel particularly invested in any of them, I did feel compassion and understanding for Gjorg’s plight. He was bound by the rules of the blood feud and had to commit a murder, even though his conscience dictated otherwise.


Broken April was very short and would have benefited from more exposition. It’s a very hard book to categorise because while I enjoyed some elements, others I didn’t. I liked the sparse style and glimpse into a very strange way of life. The ending, though, could have been more developed and the characters delved into further. I’m very interested to see what the other at my book group thought.

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text 2018-02-21 21:33
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
Broken April - Ismail Kadaré

Well, that was strange, but in a good way. I must say, though, I'm glad to be through with books I've had to read. Now I can start something that's all me and I can't wait.

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text 2018-02-17 16:31
Reading progress update: I've read 60%.
Broken April - Ismail Kadaré

Finally getting back to this after being away and I can't wait to see how the two stories intersect. This has been a great read about a blood code observed by a region of people in Albania. I love my new book club, they pick great books, such as this one.

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