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.