Chronicles and Fragments

Chronicles and Fragments

The novels of Ismail Kadare. By James Wood  Like Trieste or Lvov, the medieval city of Gjirokastër, in southern Albania, has passed its history beneath a sign perpetually rewritten, in different hands, but always with the same words: “Under New Management.”

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Ylljet Alicka translates renowned book in German

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The Internationals: When ‘elite’ arrogance meets ignorance

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                    [post_content] => The novels of Ismail Kadare.

By James Wood 

Like Trieste or Lvov, the medieval city of Gjirokastër, in southern Albania, has passed its history beneath a sign perpetually rewritten, in different hands, but always with the same words: “Under New Management.” It enters the historical record in 1336, as a Byzantine possession, but in 1418 was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. The Greeks occupied it in 1912, yet a year later it became part of the newly independent Albania. During the Second World War, it was taken by the Italians, taken back by the Greeks, and, finally, seized by the Germans: “At dusk the city, which through the centuries had appeared on maps as a possession of the Romans, the Normans, the Byzantines, the Turks, the Greeks and the Italians, now watched darkness fall as a part of the German empire. Utterly exhausted, dazed by the battle, it showed no sign of life.”

The novelist Ismail Kadare was born in Gjirokastër in 1936, and those words are from the great novel that he drew out of his boyhood experiences of the war, “Chronicle in Stone,” which was published in Albanian in 1971 and in English in 1987. (This kind of lag between Kadare’s Albanian and English-language publications is not uncommon, partly because most of his work has been translated first into French and then turned into English, often by the distinguished scholar David Bellos, who is well known as a translator of Georges Perec.)  Despite the many horrors it describes, “Chronicle in Stone” is a joyful, often comic piece of work, in which the concentrated irony for which Kadare became famous—most notably in his later political parables and allegories of Communism, like “The Concert” and “The Successor”—is already visible. In this early novel, the irony has a more generous warmth. A young boy narrates the events, at once wide-eyed and sophisticated. War arrives, in the form of Italian bombing, British bombing, and, finally, the dark rondo whereby Greek and Italian occupiers arrive and depart from the stage like vicars in an English farce: “At ten in the morning on Thursday the Italians came back, marching in under freezing rain. They stayed only thirty hours. Six hours later the Greeks were back. The same thing happened all over again in the second week of November.” But Kadare is more interested in the kinds of stories that the town might have thrown up at any time in the past thousand years. Townspeople talk of spells, witches, ghosts, and legends. The young narrator discovers “Macbeth,” and reads it obsessively, seeing parallels between medieval Scotland and modern Gjirokastër. A group of old women discuss a neighbor’s son, who has started wearing spectacles, an occurrence that is treated superstitiously, as an omen of disaster. One of the women, Xhexho, says, “How I kept from bursting into tears, I’m sure I don’t know. He walked over to the cabinet, flipped through a few books, then went over to the window, stopped, and took off his glasses. . . . I reached out, picked up the glasses, and put them on. What can I tell you, my friends? My head was spinning. These glasses must be cursed. The world whirled like the circles of hell. Everything shook, rolled, and swayed as if possessed by the devil.” Her interlocutors all agree that a terrible fate has befallen the family of the bespectacled boy.

Throughout the novel, these and other neighbors and relatives comment on ordinary events, and this forms a stubborn resistance to the novelty of the occupation. As a mark of how beautifully Kadare blends this atmosphere of the city’s traditional antiquity with the rapidity of wartime development, consider something this same woman, Xhexho, says, when she hears an air-raid siren for the first time: “Now we have a mourner who will wail for us all.” And yet, in an emphasis characteristic of Kadare’s wit, the memory of the past is regularly burlesqued, too:
I had heard that the First Crusade had passed this way a thousand years before. Old Xixo Gavo, they said, had related this in his chronicle. The crusaders had marched down the road in an endless stream, brandishing their arms and crosses and ceaselessly asking, “Where is the Holy Sepulchre?” They had pressed on south in search of that tomb without stopping in the city, fading away in the same direction the military convoys were now taking.
  There is something Monty Python-ish about the Crusaders, miles off course, demanding to see the Holy Sepulchre; and the link to the hopelessness of the modern soldiers is deftly made. The city stands stonily against the new invaders, as it always has: that is Kadare’s own “chronicle in stone.”   As the novel’s co-translator, David Bellos, points out in his introduction, this early book contains many of the elements and motifs that Kadare would work and rework in later fiction. Kadare uses the conventions of realistic storytelling, while feeling free to depart from conventionality whenever necessary; he likes to make use of the premodern liberties of Balkan legend, and deals straightforwardly and practically with such incursions into the texts as ghosts, fables, the living presence of the dead, magical occurrences, and the like. (In this, he sometimes resembles the late José Saramago, another postmodern traditionalist.) The books are formally playful, and often try out different styles of narration so as to find multiple paths to the same material. For instance, “Chronicle in Stone” is frequently interrupted by brief, abbreviated sections, entitled “Fragment of a Chronicle,” which read like newspaper reports, or diaries. In one of these, the author’s family name is fleetingly encountered: “Those killed in the latest bombing include: L.Tashi, L. Kadare. . . .”   Another name found in the novel has even greater resonance than Kadare’s. One day, a notice is posted on a ruined house: “Wanted: the dangerous Communist Enver Hoxha. Aged about 30.” Enver Hoxha, the Communist leader who kept a ruthless and paranoid grip on Albania for forty years, until his death, in 1985, was also born in Gjirokastër, in 1908. The novel does not mention Hoxha again, but his shadow, and the shadow of the regime that he built after the war, darkens the last eighty pages of the book. In one scene, some of the townspeople are deported by the Italians. As a crowd watches, a passerby asks what they have done. Someone else replies, “They spoke against.” “What does that mean? Against what?” the passerby asks. “I’m telling you, they spoke against.” The suppressed referent—“Against what?”—is garish in its silence, and Kadare became a master analyst of this sinister logic of lunacy, in its Communist totalitarian form. Later, Communist partisans start rounding people up. One of them shoots a girl by mistake, and is sentenced to death by fellow-partisans for “the misuse of revolutionary violence.” Just before he is executed, he raises his arm and cries, “Long live Communism!” Though “Chronicle in Stone” ends with the German occupation of the city, it gapes, forebodingly, at the postwar Albanian world.   At the end of the war, though, the nine-year-old Ismail Kadare and the thirty-six-year-old Hoxha were approaching each other like two dark dots on a snowy landscape, still miles apart but steadily converging on the same frozen lake. “Chronicle in Stone” represents an act of political resistance, of the cunning, subtle kind that allowed Kadare to survive Hoxha’s regime, even as some of his books were banned. “The Palace of Dreams,” published in 1981, and more obviously antagonistic, is one of those censored novels. (Although, in an absurdist twist, the book was banned two weeks after its publication, by which time it had sold out.) Like many of Kadare’s books, it is set in an imprecise past shaded by myth, but lit by the glare of totalitarian thought control. The Palace of Dreams is the most important government ministry in the Ottoman Empire, where bureaucrats sift and decode the dreams of the empire’s citizens, all of them working to find the Master Dreams that will help the Sultan in his rule. The novel’s hero, who comes from a prominent political family, rises through the ranks of the ministry; yet he cannot save his own family from political persecution—indeed, he unwittingly precipitates it. Enver Hoxha’s censors must have known at once that this surreal dystopia vividly conjured up, in carefully deflected form, the secret-police apparatus of modern Albania.   The suppression of “The Palace of Dreams” seems to have pushed Kadare beyond the boundaries of suggestion, allegory, implication, and indirection. Certainly, the novella “Agamemnon’s Daughter,” which Kadare wrote in the mid-nineteen-eighties, around the time of Hoxha’s death, is laceratingly direct. It is perhaps his greatest book, and, along with its sequel, “The Successor” (2003), surely one of the most devastating accounts ever written of the mental and spiritual contamination wreaked on the individual by the totalitarian state. Kadare’s French publisher, Claude Durand, has told of how Kadare smuggled some of his writings out of Albania, in 1986, and handed them to Durand, camouflaging them by changing Albanian names and places to German and Austrian ones, and attributing the writing to the West German novelist Siegfried Lenz. Durand collected the rest of this work, on two trips to Tirana, and the manuscripts were deposited in a safe at a Paris bank. As unaware as anyone else that Albanian Communism had only five years left to run, Kadare envisaged this deposit as a sort of insurance policy. In the event of his death, by natural or unnatural causes, the publication of these works would make it “harder,” in Durand’s words, “for the Communist propaganda machine to bend Kadare’s work and posthumous image to its own ends.”
That is a considerable understatement. I’m not sure that any regime could bend “Agamemnon’s Daughter” to its own ends. This is a terrifying work, relentless in its critique. It is set in Tirana in the early nineteen-eighties, during the May Day Parade. The narrator is a young man who works in television, and has unexpectedly been invited to attend the festivities from inside the Party grandstand. The formal invitation is unexpected because the narrator is a passionate liberal, strongly (though privately) opposed to the regime, and because he has recently survived a purge at his television station, resulting in the relegation of two colleagues. On the day of the parade, he cannot stop thinking about his lover, Suzana, who has broken off their relationship because her father is about to be chosen as the supreme leader’s designated successor and has asked his daughter not to jeopardize his career by consorting with an unsuitable man. Chillingly, she tells her lover that when her father explained the situation to her she “saw his point of view.” The novella confines itself to the day of the parade, and is essentially a portfolio of sketches of human ruination—a brief Inferno, in which victims of the regime are serially encountered by our narrator as he walks to the stands and takes his seat. There is the neighbor who watches him from his balcony, “looking as sickly as ever. . . . He was reputed to have laughed out loud on the day Stalin died, which brought his career as a brilliant young scientist to a shuddering halt.” There is Leka B., a theatre director who displeased the authorities and was transferred to the provinces, to run amateur productions. He tells the narrator that he had put on a play that turned out to have “no less than thirty-two ideological errors!” The narrator’s comment is withering: “It was as if he were delighted with the whole business and held it in secret admiration.” There is G.Z., a former colleague, who has survived a purge, though no one knows quite how: “His whole personality and history corresponded in sum to what in relatively polite language is called a pile of shit.” He is likened to the Bald Man in an Albanian folktale, who is rescued from Hell by an eagle—“but on one condition. Throughout the flight, the raptor would need to consume raw meat.” Eventually, since the journey takes several days, the Bald Man has to offer his own flesh to feed the bird, and by the time he makes it to the upper world he is little more than a bag of bones. At the center of “Agamemnon’s Daughter” is an icy reinterpretation of the Iphigenia story. The narrator reflects on Euripides’ play, and on Iphigenia’s apparently willing self-sacrifice, in order to help her father’s military ambitions. He turns the Greek tale around in his mind, and blends it with the remembered pain of Suzana’s departure. Hadn’t Stalin, he thinks, sacrificed his son Yakov, so that he could claim that he was sharing in the common lot of the Russian soldier? But what if the story of Agamemnon is really the story of Comrade Agamemnon—the first great account of absolute political tyranny? What if Agamemnon, in “a tyrant’s cynical ploy,” had merely used his daughter to legitimate warfare? Surely Yakov, “may he rest in peace, had not been sacrificed so as to suffer the same fate as any other Russian soldier, as the dictator had claimed, but to give Stalin the right to demand the life of anyone else.” The narrator realizes, as he watches Suzana’s father standing next to the Supreme Guide on the grandstand, that the Supreme Guide must have asked his deputy to initiate his daughter’s sacrifice. “Agamemnon’s Daughter” ends with this dark, spare, aphoristically alert declamation: “Nothing now stands in the way of the final shrivelling of our lives.” 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. He is a compellingly ironic storyteller because he so brilliantly summons details that explode with symbolic reality. No one who has read “The Successor” (2003) can forget the moment when the Hoxha figure, called simply the Guide, visits the newly renovated home of his designated successor. The Successor’s wife offers to show the Guide around, despite the anxiety felt by others that the lavishness of the renovation may have been a huge political blunder. The Guide stops to examine a new living-room light switch, a dimmer that is the first of its kind in the country:
Silence had fallen all around, but when he managed to turn on the light and make it brighter, he laughed out loud. He turned the switch further, until the light was at maximum strength, then laughed again, ha-ha-ha, as if he’d just found a toy that pleased him. Everyone laughed with him, and the game went on until he began to turn the dimmer down. As the brightness dwindled, little by little everything began to freeze, to go lifeless, until all the many lamps in the room went dark.
In its concentrated ferocity, this has the feel of something very ancient: we might be reading Tacitus on Tiberius.
Alas, there is nothing of quite that high order in Kadare’s most recent novel, “The Accident,” translated from the Albanian by John Hodgson (Grove; $24). The new book is spare and often powerful, but it is a bit too spare, so that the ribs of allegory show through, in painful obviousness. Many of Kadare’s familiar procedures and themes are in evidence, beginning with the positing of an enigma that needs decoding. One morning in Vienna, sometime not long after the end of the war in Kosovo, a young Albanian couple are killed in a car accident. The taxi that had been taking them from their hotel to the airport suddenly veers off the Autobahn and crashes. The taxi-driver survives, but he can give no reasonable account of why he left the road, except to say that he had been looking in his rearview mirror at the couple, who had been “trying to kiss,” when a bright light distracted him. The accident is suspicious enough to attract various investigators, not least the intelligence services of Serbia, Montenegro, and Albania. The dead man, known as Besfort Y., appears to have been an Albanian diplomat, working at the Council of Europe, and may have been involved in nato’s decision to bomb Serbia. Perhaps the woman who died in the car, who was Besfort’s girlfriend, and is known in the reports as Rovena St., knew too much, and Besfort tried to kill her, in a botched plan. But why did Besfort refer to Rovena as “a call girl”? A few months before the accident, he had taken her to an Albanian motel and she had been “frightened for her life.” So a friend of hers tells investigators. Rovena, says the friend, “knew the most appalling things. . . . She knew the precise hour when Yugoslavia would be bombed, days in advance.” The security services give up, in the face of the usual Balkan incomprehensibility, and a mysterious, nameless “researcher” takes over. This authorial stand-in, who works “without funds or resources or powers of constraint,” decides to reconstruct the last forty weeks of the couple’s lives, using diaries, letters, phone calls, and the testimonies of friends:
Everywhere in the world events flow noisily on the surface, while their deep currents pull silently, but nowhere is this contrast so striking as in the Balkans. Gales sweep the mountains, lashing the tall firs and mighty oaks, and the whole peninsula appears demented.
Kadare feeds off this Balkan incomprehensibility: he likes to tease it and tease at it, while simultaneously making fun of people who talk about “Balkan incomprehensibility.” He is deeply interested in misreading, yet his prose has a classical clarity, so that much of his power as a storyteller has to do with his ability to provide an extraordinarily lucid analysis of incomprehensibility. This analysis moves between the comic and the tragic, and never finally settles in one mode. (His amiable and funny novel “The File on H.” reads like an Albanian Evelyn Waugh.) In both the new novel and “The Successor,” we begin with an apparent accident—in the earlier novel, the country’s designated successor has been found in his bedroom, shot dead—that allows Kadare to work through rival explanations. (“The Successor” is based on the “mysterious” death, reported as suicide, of the Albanian Prime Minister, Mehmet Shehu, in 1981. He had been Hoxha’s closest political ally for decades, but after his death he was denounced as a traitor and an enemy of the people, and his family arrested and imprisoned.) The question that haunts both novels is: When did it begin? When, in other words, did “the accident” become inevitable? When did the tide first turn against the Successor? Was it when the Guide failed to come to the Successor’s birthday party, for instance? The blackly surreal answer is, of course, that it has always begun; the tide was turning against the Successor even as he rose through the Party ranks. Likewise, in “The Accident,” one can see that Besfort and Rovena were always doomed, and that the reason, as in “The Successor,” is murkily ideological. The nameless “researcher” discovers that Besfort and Rovena have been together for twelve years. Rovena was a student when she met Besfort, who was older than she, and had come to the university at Tirana to teach international law. From the start, the relationship appears to have been electrically erotic, with Besfort as the seducer and the dominant partner. The novel hints at very rough sex. They agree to part, but soon reunite. The couple meet in various European cities and expensive hotels, exercising a freedom that was unthinkable before the collapse of Communism, their itinerary largely determined by Besfort’s diplomatic travel (where “diplomat” probably also means “spy”). But in Graz, for the first time, Rovena feels that Besfort is suffocating her, a feeling that will mount as the relationship progresses. “You’re preventing me from living,” she tells him, and elsewhere she complains that “he has me in chains . . . he is the prince and I am only a slave,” that “he wanted her entirely for himself, like every tyrant.” To these charges, he replies, “You took this yoke up yourself, and now you blame me?” He had been her liberator, Kadare writes, “but this is not the first time in history that a liberator had been taken for a tyrant, just as many a tyrant had been taken for a liberator.” Partly as a game, and partly as an admission of the terminality of their relationship, the couple begin speaking of themselves as client and call girl. Besfort considers killing her. “The Accident” is a difficult novel. It has a very interrupted form, continually looping back on itself, so that dates and place names seem almost scrambled and the reader must work a kind of hermeneutic espionage on the text. Unlike “Agamemnon’s Daughter” and “The Successor,” the analysis of incomprehensibility here seems quite opaque. Yet, at the same time, the symbolic pressure is a little too transparent. One gathers that Kadare is presenting a kind of allegory about the lures and imprisonments of the new post-Communist tyranny, liberty, and he has Besfort bang home this decoding: “Until yesterday,” he tells Rovena, “you were complaining that it was my fault that you aren’t free. And now you say you have too much freedom. But somehow it’s always my fault.” Besfort is the new liberty that Rovena cannot do without, and to which she is willing to be enslaved, and this freedom is dangerous and frequently squalid. “The Accident” thus offers an interesting reply to the question with which Kadare closes “Agamemnon’s Daughter.” At the end of that novella, the young narrator thinks of the Communist slogan “Let us revolutionize everything,” and asks, rhetorically, “How the hell can you revolutionize a woman’s sex? That’s where you’d have to start if you were going to tackle the basics—you had to start with the source of life. You would have to correct its appearance, the black triangle above it, and the glistening line of the labia.” He means that totalitarianism will always be thwarted by some non-ideological privacy, or surplus, beyond its reach. Kundera has repeatedly explored the same question, with regard to a libidinous erotics of resistance. Yet “The Accident” grimly suggests that it is indeed possible to “revolutionize” a woman’s sex, and that capitalism may be able to do this more easily than Communism. After all, the point about Besfort and Rovena is that their relationship is thoroughly contaminated by ideology and politics; their very postures of submission and domination are overdetermined. In a long speech that is surely at the emotional and ideological heart of the book, Besfort tells Rovena, who was only thirteen at the end of the dictatorship, about the kind of madness that prevailed under Hoxha. He describes a world of crazy inversion, reminiscent of Dostoyevsky’s universe, in which citizens willingly pretended to be conspirators, in order to confess their love for the leader while being simultaneously punished for crimes they had not committed. Each plotter, says Besfort, turned out to be more abject than the last:
The conspirators’ letters from prison became more and more ingratiating. Some requested Albanian dictionaries, because they were stuck for words to express their adoration of the leader. Others complained of not being tortured properly. The protocols sent back from firing squads on the barren sandbank by the river told the same story: their victims shouted, “Long live our leader!,” and as they conveyed their last wishes some felt such a burden of guilt that they asked to be killed not by the usual weapons but by anti-tank guns or flamethrowers. Others asked to be bombarded from the air, so that no trace of them would remain. . . . Nobody could distinguish truth from fiction in these reports, just as it was impossible to discern what the purpose of the conspirators, or even the leader himself, might be. Sometimes the leader’s mind was easier to read. He had enslaved the entire nation, and now the adoration of the conspirators would crown his triumph. Some people guessed that he was sated with the love of his loyal followers, and that he now wanted something new and apparently impossible—the love of traitors.
We are back in the world of Leka B., who was oddly proud of his thirty-two ideological errors, and of the partisan in “A Chronicle of Stone” who dies shouting, “Long live Communism!” Kadare also subtly suggests that this dense, overwrought speech might itself be evidence that Besfort is a victim of the totalitarianism that he so despises—that he cannot escape its deformations, its legacies, the memory of its hysteria. But a melancholy thought also casts its shadow. Might this be true of Kadare, too? 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. Back when he worked within and against totalitarianism, he had the advantage of being sustained by the great subject of the Hoxha regime, like a man sitting on a huge statue. Perhaps it is in the nature of freedom—still, after all, a transitional event in the history of postwar Albania—that a novelist even of Kadare’s great powers will seem, when trying to allegorize it, to stab at clouds. Kadare would not be the only novelist who has found, with the collapse of Communism, that his world has disappeared, however much he longed for the destruction of that world. These are early days yet. ♦ This article appeared on the print edition of the New Yorker. 
[post_title] => Chronicles and Fragments [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => chronicles-and-fragments [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-08-13 16:33:18 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-08-13 14:33:18 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=142889 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 141612 [post_author] => 338 [post_date] => 2019-05-03 13:27:03 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-05-03 11:27:03 [post_content] => TIRANA, May 2- Writer, professor and former Ambassador to France Ylljet Alicka has written a good many titles which have also been translated abroad, and some even adapted for theatre. One of his most renowned books is Stone Slogans has been recently translated in German by Edmond Ludwig, and published by Monda Asembleo Socia (MAS). This book has been previously translated in French, Czech, English, and Polish. The title has been turned into film with screenplay by Alicka and directed by Gjergj Xhuvani, and has received a few awards. Respectively, the Young critics award at the Festival de Cannes in France in 2001, the Grand Prix - Golden Prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival on the same year, and in 2006 it won Best screenplay at the Albanian Film Festival by the Ministry of Culture. The book is a collection of short stories which “besides the simple stories of his country, Albania, under Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha, in his stories, the author describes the equally absurd events of the post-communist transition,” as the publisher writes to the German translation’s book introduction. The book could also be defined somehow by the French translator Patrick Chrismant who said that Aliçka writes at a time when the dreams of a just and unclassified society has collapsed, the dream of perpetuating dizziness towards a hateful economic system for a half-century, and the dream of an accelerated integration into the Euro-Atlantic political and military community. Thirteen stories from where you realize that ideology is just an empty shell. Along the Party's nightmare, and under the liberal anarchy that replaced it, remains the same moral disintegration that devalishes the characters of Alicka. This is absurd with all its forms that leads stealthily to disgrace. The stories are the bearers of an Orwellian spirit which shows the authenticity of the Balkan region, and they are also viewed as a memory of the past and a warning to those societies where the government’s control over language is growing. Alicka’s message recalls that if we are to be upheld by propaganda, we have lost our own tune. kop gjermanisht The writer is largely appraised for the subtle workmanship and for his astonishingly surprising and humorous mood, Aliçka gives all the countries of the world a clear insight into the gloom of life during the communist dictatorship in his homeland. Mylada Jedrysik from “Gazeta Wyborcza” in Warsaw has written that “soon, Alicka is turning into one of the most prominent narratives of post-communism. For human weaknesses and attitude towards power, Alicka tells about Albania more than all that has been published in Poland. Everything can happen under his pen.” Ylljet Alicka received the “Doctor of Didactic Sciences” degree in 1989 and was awarded the title of “Doctor Professor” in 1993. He has completed his professional duties as a teacher in the villages of the district of Mat from 1973-1983. He has also been editor and director at the School Book Publishing House from 1983-1992; Director of Foreign Relations at the Ministry of Culture from 1992-1997. He has been responsible for information and communication at the Delegation of the European Commission in Tirana from 1997-2007; the Ambassador of Albania to France, Portugal, Monaco, UNESCO, and the personal representative of the President of the Republic of France at the International Francophone Organization during 2007-2013. He has been a Professor at the European University of Tirana and at the University of Arts since 2013. Alicka has also won a number of awards in literature, the First prize at the International competition of short stories in Teramo, Italy in 1999; the Bronze Medal by the International Academy of Lutece in Paris in 2000; the Second prize at the International competition “Arts et lettres de France” in Bordeaux in 2000; the silver medal in prose by the Albanian Ministry of Culture in 2001; the Prix de la francophonie by the Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2002; the Best novel of the year by KULT prizes in Tirana in 2007; the Special prize by VII Premio Letterario Nazionale “Libri Editi” in Rome in 2009; and the Silver medal in prose for Valsi i lumturisë by the Albanian Ministry of Culture in 2013. [post_title] => Ylljet Alicka translates renowned book in German [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => ylljet-alicka-translates-renowned-book-in-german [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-05-03 13:27:03 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-05-03 11:27:03 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=141612 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 141425 [post_author] => 338 [post_date] => 2019-04-19 14:25:44 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-04-19 12:25:44 [post_content] => By Sonja Methoxha   A little girl spends her growing days listening to her grandfather’s tales in Gjirokaster about history and life. She is surrounded by images of strong women who influenced her to become a strong woman herself. She defines her views as feminist, as she has admitted that to many of her friends, but Irda Haruni is simply the representation of a strong female who took her life under her own control, sustaining herself for about 11 years since she was a university Law student, and due time by believing in herself, she has started building her journey into fulfilling a lifelong dream: becoming a writer. Irda recently published her first book, a collection of poems titled Pasqyra (Mirror in English). The poems are written over a span of 10 years and are dedicated to girls and women who are constantly trying to find and be themselves in a patriarchal society. She is inspired by the stories of the women of her family, but also of the women she met during her pathway. During the promotion of her book in Tirana she said that the book “is absolutely dedicated to girls, and here are many strong girls here, and I’d like to thank you for growing me.” However, the poems aren't simply directed to women, but to society as a whole, as we all are in constant interaction with one-another. And as women are already put into motion in demanding their equal rights and deserved appraise for their efforts, perhaps the change would happen when men would start respecting and treating women worthily. IMG_1715   A lady with short, red hair and bright, black aways meanders among the crowd, greeting and thanking everyone who managed to join to her book’s promotion amidst the rainy day of April 11, at Mondial Hotel in Tirana. There were no chairs in the event. People were standing, drinking wine, talking to each other. Irda had decided to associate the book with 10 photos she took while in Italy where she studies. Each picture is based on a poem from the book, and show the hardships that women face against prejudices of society. And she wouldn't even have made a promotion if it wasn’t for the idea of the photo exhibition, but it also served the purpose of evading long speeches and to let the visitors to immerse themselves into her art. “Of course I am a feminist, I have made that obvious in all tables, even with boys. I really believe in this cause, and I wanted the messages to be strong and clear for everyone, especially to you who have children today. So I wanted you to have this clear as an instruction from me,” said Irda during her book promotion in Tirana. The promotion took place in her hometown of Gjirokaster at Argjiro Hotel on April 8, because family members are there. Old relatives, schoolmates and childhood friends, old school teachers and family friends attended the event in support to Irda. Tirana though, has her friends. Pasqyra has 111 poems about women and life. The book was published in Gjirokaster on April 8, and in Tirana on April 9. She printed 300 books, out of which only 50 were left to be dispersed in libraries, as the rest were already sold during her promotion. “I started writing when I was a little girl, but I decided to publish the book now because the time came, as it was becoming more serious when I noticed that I couldn’t break loose from writing,” told Irda Top Channel during her promotion in Gjirokaster. The poems run smooth. There is a honesty about the reality the way this woman sees it. She doesn’t feel like lying, because she does not have time to play games. But the truth she provides tastes bittersweet, that is why it can be swallowed easily as the allegories and metaphors she uses spread around in a dissociated dance, in a search of its identity, following an inaudible rhythm until it return to its starting point again. Poems on self, love, nature, friendship, ideals, all derive from a soul on its path to discovery, which after seeing its roots to its being, it is now boldly making them visible to the world, and sharing its wisdom. The book is only offered in the Albanian language, which is Irda’s mother tongue. After she finishing her second degree in Italy for which she is currently studying, she will will start slowly translating the book in English and make it available for Kindle through Amazon, and also start planning on a second project. She promised her next book to be a novel, as her second poem collection is already halfway. The following poem is titled It Should be a Reality was suggested by Irda as a representation of the book’s message, and comes translated as a courtesy of the author.  

It Should be a Reality

 

A girl is born

And no balloons

A young blood fairy eternally

But what can this world confess

Without your soul’s mystery?

And young blood wouldn’t raise

For it’s not just a tale

Nor their veins blue as ice

Can’t make your name fade

FEMALE

[caption id="attachment_141427" align="aligncenter" width="749"]IMG-0432 *How insane! In a bottle, how could your perfume be imprisoned, that you are a half God?[/caption] [caption id="attachment_141428" align="aligncenter" width="876"]IMG-0433 *1000 years today it is still the same...[/caption] [caption id="attachment_141429" align="aligncenter" width="736"]IMG-0434 *Beautiful, just like the earth you say, but my bosom you infringed[/caption] [post_title] => A “Mirror” for women to find themselves [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => 141425 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-04-19 15:20:23 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-04-19 13:20:23 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=141425 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 140143 [post_author] => 338 [post_date] => 2019-01-19 12:27:23 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-01-19 11:27:23 [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 15 - On 2006, professor and former Albanian ambassador in France Ylljet Alicka, published a satirical novel titled Nje Rrefenje me Nderkombetare (A story with internationals). The book has been published in French, and ten years later, it was translated and published in English under the title The Internationals, and was also produced into a film funded by the National Center of Filmography, with a script by Alicka and directed by Pluton Vasi. The book, which got a negative appraise from the international community in Albania and beyond, has been recently published in Italy by the Rubbettino publishing house under the name Gli Internazionali, translated in Italian by Italian Albanologist Elio Miracco and Albanian author Amik Kasoruho. gli internazionali   The publisher refers to the book with the description “Career diplomats- a bitter comedy and a stinging irony.’’ Director Pluton Vasi who directed the film adaptation of the book referred to the story of The Internationals as a black comedy. The novel’s characters include international officials, who, often anonymous at their home countries, upon arriving to Albania, after “struggling to help this country or tell locals the way to progress,” their life takes a new meaning thanks to the “indigenous” taking care and welcoming them. “This is the reason why many of the internationals cannot leave or grow so desperate when they finally leave Albania,” said Aliçka in an interview conducted with Tirana Times’ Europa Magazine. The following description is an excerpt by the Rubbettino publishing house in Italy: The residency of an international diplomatic body in Albania, right after the fall of communism; a desperate ambassador, because of his young girlfriend’s treachery; a few attaches with different nationalities, who make ‘elbow wars’ who will make it on top. And a young Albanian official, who observes the paternalisms, the envies, the carrierisms and the hypocrisies of this diversified circus. A simultaneously sweet and bitter comedy,  which unveils the behind-the-scenes intrigues to one of the ‘humanitarian’ missions, from which the following question naturally arises: how can the West come to the developing countries’ aid, when it has a megalomaniac and domineering approach, and how can a transitional country accept the help of those who mock its identity? Alicka’s sharp and poignant irony- who as a former diplomat knows well the world he confesses- smites both the zealous international saviors, and the subdued and wretched locals. A sarcastic novel, fresh and funny, which deserves an honor spot in the best Balkans tradition of this genre.   [post_title] => Book “Internationals’’ is published in Italy [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => book-internationals-is-published-in-italy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-17 19:34:33 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-17 18:34:33 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=140143 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 130456 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2016-12-20 13:03:16 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-20 12:03:16 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_130457" align="alignright" width="300"]Ylljet-Alicka Ylljet Aliçka[/caption] Ten years after the successful publication of his satirical novel on the international community in Albania, writer and former diplomat Ylljet Aliçka has had his "Internationals" book published in English. The novel originally published as "Nje rrefenje me nderkombetare" (A story with internationals) will come as “Internationals" in an English-language publication by the R&Z Tirana Times publishing house. Initially not-well received by some members of the international community, the novel has also been previously published in French. In an interview with Europa magazine, a publication of the Albanian Institute for International Studies, the former Albanian ambassador to France says the novel's characters include international officials, who, often anonymous at their home countries, upon arriving to Albania, after “struggling to help this country or tell locals the way to progress," their life takes a new meaning thanks to the "indigenous" taking care and welcoming them. “This is the reason why many of the internationals cannot leave or grow so desperate when they finally leave Albania,” says Aliçka, 65, a university professor who served as Albania’s ambassador to France from 2007 to 2013.  What is "The Internationals" about? How did you come up with this idea? Is it related with the fact that you worked for a long time with a foreign representation in Tirana? INTERNATIONALScover-page-001- I came up with the idea from a personal ill feeling: an ill-feeling and preoccupation I didn't know how to get rid of. Engulfed in frame of a novel, it is natural that directly or indirectly, the individual issues take a broader dimension from today's reality, a reality which in my opinion proves to be far more complicated and more detached even compared to the principles of international bodies and that often group principles or universal rules remain unadjusted in specific cases or situations. In a nutshell, the thing is about a novel focused on the traumatization of many Albanians by racism and discrimination. Faced with an 'elite' arrogance (often mixed with ignorance) many Albanians (office-holding or not, in Albania or abroad) adjusted by subduing. The novel's characters include international officials, who, often anonymous at their home countries, upon arriving to Albania, after “struggling to help this country or tell locals the way to progress," their life takes a new meaning thanks to the 'indigenous" taking care and welcoming them. On the other hand, I have often been urged by the dilemma if there is any measure to assess the cultural differences among transition countries such as Albania and as a result shift to inequality and discrimination, at a time when it is accepted that every culture bearing values implies their hierarchy. You have been an "international" yourself in France representing Albania as ambassador. What is the difference of being an international in France as ambassador of Albania and being an international in Albania as ambassador? They are diametrically the opposite. In addition to my invaluable work, living experience, contacts in one of the global metropolis of culture, diplomacy and not only, being an international in France helped me understand better, although rather late, that we are neither better nor worse compared to other people, that the unconditional glorification of everything that comes from abroad and the servile submission toward it, promotes disgust and makes the submission position worse. Has any of the internationals you have worked with read your book? What were their impressions? There were impressions of all kinds, but mostly negative ones, and for a certain period of time causing personal trouble or serious concerns: somebody threatened to sue me (he was later held back by his superiors), while somebody else filed an official complaint with the highest Albanian institutions to "ban the book and punish the author." I learned that the senior Albanian hierarchy turned down this proposal, defending the author. Of course I remain grateful to them. Lastly, I would like to recall that at that time, I received the most meaningful protection by the senior international authorities, by the headquarters of the international representation office I worked with, apparently respecting the holy principle of the European culture they belonged to, i.e. protecting freedom of expression. What's your own opinion of the role played by representatives of the international community in Albania? There is no doubt that after the collapse of the [communist] regime, Albania’s survival would be at huge threat without the international community's assistance, mainly coming from two of its strategic allies, the U.S. and the European Union. But, on the other hand, the negative image on Albania and Albanians that has been dominating (despite improvements) internationally is really alarming. The perception, in addition to individual disappointments and disillusions, has turned into a serious barrier both politically and institutionally. Without leaving aside the negative phenomena generated by part of the Albanian society at home and abroad, i.e. the values and the counter-values that the Albanian society currently inherits and carries through, and at the same time without neglecting the value and priceless international support to Albania, I think that a considerable part of the responsibility or blame on the clichés on the negative image of Albania and Albanians is also held by the "outsiders." Among the prevailing thoughts, quite important ones favoring this image and often circulating individually (among foreigners), is related to the fact that the more you artificially darken the reality of a country (in our case that of Albania) where members of a foreign institution or representation live and work, the more this "coincidence coincides” with privileges and financial advantages economically and beyond. Spiritually, this trend favors the internationals' narcissistic thoughts and testifies (self-testifies) of "the courage and heroism" to work and "risk one's own life in this wilderness." I have the impression that many foreigners, anonymous in their countries, upon arriving to Albania, after “struggling to help this country or tell locals the way to progress," their life takes a new meaning thanks to the 'indigenous" taking care and welcoming them. This is the reason why many of the internationals cannot leave or grow so desperate when they finally leave Albania.       [post_title] => The Internationals: When ‘elite’ arrogance meets ignorance [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-internationals-when-elite-arrogance-meets-ignorance [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-23 11:31:22 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-23 10:31:22 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130456 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 799 [post_author] => 68 [post_date] => 2016-12-09 12:05:11 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-09 11:05:11 [post_content] => You can also click to read: Book Review: Albania and China – An Unequal Alliancebiberaj [post_title] => Books: Albania and China - An Unequal Alliance [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => books-albania-and-china-an-unequal-alliance [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-09 14:08:41 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-09 13:08:41 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tiranatimes.com/?p=799 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 130062 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2016-11-18 12:07:41 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-11-18 11:07:41 [post_content] => nasto 2Recently, the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS) hosted a promotion event at the Tirana Times bookstore featuring Dr. Ernest Nasto and his newly released book ''One nation under God – faith and politics in the United States''. Ernest Nasto started his career as a lecturer of International Economics and Finance at the Faculty of Economics, University of Tirana, and later pursued doctoral studies at the University of Aix-Marseille France. For several years he also taught courses in Economic Policy at the Institute of Political Studies in Aix-en-Provence. After moving to Michigan, United States, in 1997 he joined the private sector, but always maintained a keen interest and passion for the study of American history, economics and politics. He has specialized in the role of religious faith throughout American history, as well as in shaping the policies of the world superpower. Dr Nasto has introduced this aspect of American society in the recent years through a number of open lectures in universities of Albania and Kosova, as the field is almost unknown to the Albanian public. Opening the event, Mr. Jorgji Qirjako, deputy director of AIIS, presented the author to the numerous participants and emphasized the fact that this book is the first one in Albanian to describe this very important aspect of American politics. Dr. Klejd Këlliçi and Dr. Nikolin Pano also gave special remarks on the subject of the book, and praised the author for offering this ''special key'' to a better understanding of the inner workings of the American society in general. Then Dr. Nasto described more in detail the content of the book, explaining first the impact of Christian faith in American history and its role in bringing forth some foundational ideas of the American national conscience, which are analyzed in the first part. For example, the ideas of the ''chosen nation'', of the ''nature's nation'' and later of the ''Christian nation'' were very prominent during colonial America, throughout the American Revolution, and well into the 19th - 20th centuries. The author explained how the self-understanding on the part of the newly created nation is reflected on the Great Seal of the United States on the back of the one-dollar bill (the eye, the unfinished pyramid on a barren desert terrain, etc). Moving to the object of the second part of the book, Mr. Nasto pointed out the influence of religious faith in modern American policies as exemplified by the political-religious group known as the Religious Right. According to the author, the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004, in the midst of great confusion caused by the Iraqi crisis, was clearly attributable to this group, which succeeded in presenting the issue of gay marriage as the greatest danger for the American civilization. He also described their role in the 2016 campaign and how the support of most of its leaders for Donald Trump was exactly the opposite of all their preaching on ''character matters'' during Bill Clinton's scandals 20 years ago. Dr. Nasto also insisted that this group in no way speaks for all Christian believers in America, much less for the Christian faith in general. They are first and foremost a political group, despite their pretensions of the religious faith being their main concern. A lively session of questions and answers ensued, with the author interacting with several participants and addressing their questions on the issues at hand. Mr. Nasto also stated that as the Albanian public becomes more familiar with these important factors in American policy-making, it can only contribute to a better understanding of the United States, of their society and culture in general. As such the book should be helpful not only for students and scholars of international relations, but also for diplomats and foreign policy experts in Albania, Kosova and Macedonia. At the end Dr. Nasto also signed books for the participants before the event was wrapped up over wine and appetizers. [post_title] => Ernest Nasto’s new book ‘One nation under God’ promoted [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => ernest-nastos-new-book-one-nation-under-god-promoted [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-11-18 12:07:41 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-11-18 11:07:41 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130062 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 129840 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2016-11-07 09:51:30 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-11-07 08:51:30 [post_content] => esat-pasha-ballina Journalist-turned-writer Ilir Ikonomi presents a new biography of Essad Pasha, arguably the most controversial power broker in the initial decade of Albania’s existence as a state. After his critically acclaimed books on other Albanian standout figures, Ikonomi is stepping into a terrain where success is scarce, given the elusive and complex nature of the character he deals with. Essad pasha Toptani, a deputy of the Turkish parliament during the Balkan Wars (1912-13), defended Shkodra from the Montenegrin and Serbian armies then was forced to turn it over when hunger and bombardment made any further resistance impossible. Essad was praised as a heroic defender but his detractors insist he was a sellout. In the wake of Albania’s independence, Essad faced off with its founder Ismail Kemal and a power struggle of sorts followed. Essad set up a parallel government and was blamed with undermining Kemal’s effort of uniting the new nation. He fought back, belittling Kemal’s achievement and praising the efficiency of his own government. Essad claimed Albania should be dominated by a strong and independent local leader like himself. He first rejected the Great Powers idea of imposing an International Control Commission and a German prince on Albania then welcomed the prince, promising cooperation. In the Spring of 1914, barely two months after Prince Wied’s arrival, a rebellion gripped Albania and the monarch ordered the house of Essad shelled on suspicion of treason. A drama followed: Essad was arrested and deported to Italy. As the First World War began and the country descended further into chaos the Powers lost interest in Albania and the Prince was forced to leave the troubled new nation in September of the same year. A restless Essad returned to Durrës aided by Serbia but his government soon found itself besieged by an islamist uprising. Essad, who ruled with a strong hand, unsuccessfully fought back with the help of Italy which propped him up with money and other support. In June 1915 Serbia intervened and crushed the Albanian rebellion on Essad’s behalf. When the Bulgarian and Austrian armies invaded Serbia in late 1915, Essad returned the favor saving the Serbian army from complete debacle and humiliation during its forced march through the northern Albanian mountains. What was left of the Serbian army was allowed free passage to Corfu. Essad spent the war period fighting in Salonika for the Entente allies while most of his political foes supported the losing Austrian block. In 1919, when the war ended and a peace conference opened in Paris, Essad’s war contribution was not duly recognized by the Powers because Italy wanted to turn Albania into its own backyard and impose leaders of its choice, which excluded Essad. In early 1920, while Essad remained in Paris, a new government with ties to Italy was formed in Albania. Essad’s armed groups on the ground fought against the government paving the way for an Essad takeover. The attempt failed because Essad was assassinated by an Albanian while exiting his Paris hotel on June 13, 1920. The author gives a realistic and impartial account of the events mincing no words when it comes to the moral equivocations and other less-than-admirable qualities of Essad. He acknowledges however that Essad was a courageous personality and a fighter, who used shrewd diplomacy to dominate Albania free of any foreign influence. What made Essad controversial was his close friendship with Serbia. This fueled anger among many Albanians who reminded Essad the atrocities by the Serbs against the Albanians during the Balkan Wars. Essad believed that Albania had no choice but to accept the borders established by the Great Powers in 1913, a notion which was contradicted by many of his contemporaries who aspired to liberate at least some of the Kosovo towns with a purely ethnic Albanian population. Ilir Ikonomi takes no sides in evaluating Essad, a nearly impossible task for any Albanian history writer. Perhaps this is his strongest point in the face of his main character’s many critics. The book has 571 pages and contains a sizeable collection of good quality photographs, a bibliography and a name index.   (Title in Albanian: Esat pashë Toptani: Njeriu, Lufta, Pushteti) A biography by Ilir Ikonomi UETPress, 571 pages, Tirana 2016 [post_title] => Essad pasha Toptani: The Man, the War, the Power [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => essad-pasha-toptani-the-man-the-war-the-power [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-11-08 10:18:44 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-11-08 09:18:44 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=129840 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 129642 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2016-10-21 11:56:06 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-10-21 09:56:06 [post_content] => The Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS) has just published Grant’s account of the Italian invasion in its entirety. By Ilir Ikonomi ikonomiIn the summer of 2010, while doing research at the U.S. National Archives in College Park, Maryland, I came across a large file with a wealth of information about the occupation of Albania by Italy on April 7, 1939. It contained a long report by Hugh G. Grant, Chief of the American Mission in Tirana and a firsthand witness to that fateful event. Wandering through the treasure trove I quickly realized that the account qualified as an important addition to the numerous books and articles written about the subject over many years. Adding to my surprise, I soon discovered a long follow up report, in which Minister Grant documented the meltdown of the Albanian independence in the weeks and months following the occupation. The Albanian Institute of International Studies is now publishing Grant’s account of the Italian invasion in their entirety. We opted to divide them in smaller sections for the benefit of the general reader. In the trying days of 1939, when the rise of Hitler and Mussolini as two brigands seeking to conquer Europe and the world was sounding alarms everywhere, Mr. Grant believed his reports “had little value” to the officers of the State Department who were shaping policies on a grander scale to cope with the international tension. He nevertheless realized the great importance of archives and was convinced that his reports could in the future help shed more light on the history of this part of Europe. Perhaps, he modestly wrote, his account will one day “provide a few sidelights for some old foggy historian digging into the story of the rise and fall of a Kingdom.” Minister Grant had arrived in Albania in 1935, when the small Balkan nation was enjoying a period of relative peace under a ruler who was seeking modernization chiefly with Italy’s assistance. Grant represented the U.S. government in a nation that had won its independence a little more than two decades ago during which period was faced with problems that were very different from its neighbors. One was the lack of internal cohesion, marked by three competing religions and strong regionalism. The other was the looming danger of partition amongst its neighbors, who tried to take advantage of the chronic weaknesses displayed by the Albanians in organizing themselves as a nation. On the eve of the 1939 occupation, Albania was head over heels in debt to Italy and Mussolini employed that circumstance to impose on King Zog humiliating conditions that were impossible for him to accept. As a frequent visitor of the King, Grant had firsthand knowledge of the workings inside Zog’s monarchy and profoundly understood the root causes that led to the tightening of Italy’s stranglehold on the country. Invivid detail, Grant depicts a long audience he had with the King the day preceding the invasion, in which Albania’s ruler asked him to convey the following message to U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt: “the great democracies should either decide to strengthen themselves to the point where they may successfully meet the aggressors of the totalitarian powers or else be prepared to see the smaller nations swallowed up one by one.” The occupation drama that unfolded was initiated by Count Ciano, the Italian Foreign Minister and Mussolini’s son in law, who had visited Albania the year before as a witness to the King’s wedding. It was subsequently revealed in the infamous Ciano’s Diaries that his visit was merely an occasion to draft Italy’s sinister plans of overrunning Albania and turning it into a bridgehead for other Italian forays in the Balkans. King Zog was acutely aware of the great risks for his policy of indebtedness to Italy. According to Grant, “he always predicted a world war… hoping that the day of liquidation would never arrive as the result of general war in which Italy would be defeated.” The King’s dream never materialized. The Italians were quicker to throw him out and put the country under their fascist rule, which didn’t last very long anyway. Minister Grant speaks from the unique perspective of a U.S. diplomat who, unlike most of his European colleagues accredited in Tirana at that time, was not engaged in a particularly active role in the tiny country. As such, he can be considered a fairly objective and impartial observer of the happenings that brought about the occupation and the subsequent events. Therefore it is fair to say that his compelling account is a must read for history scholars and politicians. [post_title] => Hugh G. Grant’s ‘I saw it all,’ now available in its entirety [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => hugh-g-grants-i-saw-it-all-now-available-in-its-entirety [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-10-31 17:03:21 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-10-31 16:03:21 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=129642 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 117464 [post_author] => 68 [post_date] => 2014-12-19 09:00:00 [post_date_gmt] => 2014-12-19 09:00:00 [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 10 - Researcher Blendi Kajsiu held a lecture this week at the Tirana Times bookstore focusing on his latest book "A Discourse Analysis of Corruption." Looking at corruption through a post-structuralist discourse analysis perspective, this book argues that the dominant corruption discourse in Albania served primarily to institute the neoliberal order rather than eliminate corruption. "Anti-corruption discourses have long been at the centre of both academic debates and policy proposals in the Western Balkans. Focusing on the case of Albania, Kajsiu's excellent book offers a lucidly argued and sophisticated critique of the way in which such discourses have served to legitimise a neo-liberal order detrimental to an authentic renewal of the democratic public spirit," says Lea Ypi from London School of Economics and Political Science in the book review. Blendi Kajsiu holds a Ph.D. in Ideology and Discourse Analysis from the University of Essex, United Kingdom. [post_title] => Kajsiu's book promoted at Tirana Times Bookstore [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => kajsius-book-promoted-at-tirana-times-bookstore-_117464 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-10-31 17:03:20 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-10-31 16:03:20 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://46.183.120.20/tiranatimes/?p=117464 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 142889 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2019-08-13 16:33:18 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-08-13 14:33:18 [post_content] => The novels of Ismail Kadare. By James Wood  Like Trieste or Lvov, the medieval city of Gjirokastër, in southern Albania, has passed its history beneath a sign perpetually rewritten, in different hands, but always with the same words: “Under New Management.” It enters the historical record in 1336, as a Byzantine possession, but in 1418 was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. The Greeks occupied it in 1912, yet a year later it became part of the newly independent Albania. During the Second World War, it was taken by the Italians, taken back by the Greeks, and, finally, seized by the Germans: “At dusk the city, which through the centuries had appeared on maps as a possession of the Romans, the Normans, the Byzantines, the Turks, the Greeks and the Italians, now watched darkness fall as a part of the German empire. Utterly exhausted, dazed by the battle, it showed no sign of life.” The novelist Ismail Kadare was born in Gjirokastër in 1936, and those words are from the great novel that he drew out of his boyhood experiences of the war, “Chronicle in Stone,” which was published in Albanian in 1971 and in English in 1987. (This kind of lag between Kadare’s Albanian and English-language publications is not uncommon, partly because most of his work has been translated first into French and then turned into English, often by the distinguished scholar David Bellos, who is well known as a translator of Georges Perec.)  Despite the many horrors it describes, “Chronicle in Stone” is a joyful, often comic piece of work, in which the concentrated irony for which Kadare became famous—most notably in his later political parables and allegories of Communism, like “The Concert” and “The Successor”—is already visible. In this early novel, the irony has a more generous warmth. A young boy narrates the events, at once wide-eyed and sophisticated. War arrives, in the form of Italian bombing, British bombing, and, finally, the dark rondo whereby Greek and Italian occupiers arrive and depart from the stage like vicars in an English farce: “At ten in the morning on Thursday the Italians came back, marching in under freezing rain. They stayed only thirty hours. Six hours later the Greeks were back. The same thing happened all over again in the second week of November.” But Kadare is more interested in the kinds of stories that the town might have thrown up at any time in the past thousand years. Townspeople talk of spells, witches, ghosts, and legends. The young narrator discovers “Macbeth,” and reads it obsessively, seeing parallels between medieval Scotland and modern Gjirokastër. A group of old women discuss a neighbor’s son, who has started wearing spectacles, an occurrence that is treated superstitiously, as an omen of disaster. One of the women, Xhexho, says, “How I kept from bursting into tears, I’m sure I don’t know. He walked over to the cabinet, flipped through a few books, then went over to the window, stopped, and took off his glasses. . . . I reached out, picked up the glasses, and put them on. What can I tell you, my friends? My head was spinning. These glasses must be cursed. The world whirled like the circles of hell. Everything shook, rolled, and swayed as if possessed by the devil.” Her interlocutors all agree that a terrible fate has befallen the family of the bespectacled boy. Throughout the novel, these and other neighbors and relatives comment on ordinary events, and this forms a stubborn resistance to the novelty of the occupation. As a mark of how beautifully Kadare blends this atmosphere of the city’s traditional antiquity with the rapidity of wartime development, consider something this same woman, Xhexho, says, when she hears an air-raid siren for the first time: “Now we have a mourner who will wail for us all.” And yet, in an emphasis characteristic of Kadare’s wit, the memory of the past is regularly burlesqued, too:
I had heard that the First Crusade had passed this way a thousand years before. Old Xixo Gavo, they said, had related this in his chronicle. The crusaders had marched down the road in an endless stream, brandishing their arms and crosses and ceaselessly asking, “Where is the Holy Sepulchre?” They had pressed on south in search of that tomb without stopping in the city, fading away in the same direction the military convoys were now taking.
  There is something Monty Python-ish about the Crusaders, miles off course, demanding to see the Holy Sepulchre; and the link to the hopelessness of the modern soldiers is deftly made. The city stands stonily against the new invaders, as it always has: that is Kadare’s own “chronicle in stone.”   As the novel’s co-translator, David Bellos, points out in his introduction, this early book contains many of the elements and motifs that Kadare would work and rework in later fiction. Kadare uses the conventions of realistic storytelling, while feeling free to depart from conventionality whenever necessary; he likes to make use of the premodern liberties of Balkan legend, and deals straightforwardly and practically with such incursions into the texts as ghosts, fables, the living presence of the dead, magical occurrences, and the like. (In this, he sometimes resembles the late José Saramago, another postmodern traditionalist.) The books are formally playful, and often try out different styles of narration so as to find multiple paths to the same material. For instance, “Chronicle in Stone” is frequently interrupted by brief, abbreviated sections, entitled “Fragment of a Chronicle,” which read like newspaper reports, or diaries. In one of these, the author’s family name is fleetingly encountered: “Those killed in the latest bombing include: L.Tashi, L. Kadare. . . .”   Another name found in the novel has even greater resonance than Kadare’s. One day, a notice is posted on a ruined house: “Wanted: the dangerous Communist Enver Hoxha. Aged about 30.” Enver Hoxha, the Communist leader who kept a ruthless and paranoid grip on Albania for forty years, until his death, in 1985, was also born in Gjirokastër, in 1908. The novel does not mention Hoxha again, but his shadow, and the shadow of the regime that he built after the war, darkens the last eighty pages of the book. In one scene, some of the townspeople are deported by the Italians. As a crowd watches, a passerby asks what they have done. Someone else replies, “They spoke against.” “What does that mean? Against what?” the passerby asks. “I’m telling you, they spoke against.” The suppressed referent—“Against what?”—is garish in its silence, and Kadare became a master analyst of this sinister logic of lunacy, in its Communist totalitarian form. Later, Communist partisans start rounding people up. One of them shoots a girl by mistake, and is sentenced to death by fellow-partisans for “the misuse of revolutionary violence.” Just before he is executed, he raises his arm and cries, “Long live Communism!” Though “Chronicle in Stone” ends with the German occupation of the city, it gapes, forebodingly, at the postwar Albanian world.   At the end of the war, though, the nine-year-old Ismail Kadare and the thirty-six-year-old Hoxha were approaching each other like two dark dots on a snowy landscape, still miles apart but steadily converging on the same frozen lake. “Chronicle in Stone” represents an act of political resistance, of the cunning, subtle kind that allowed Kadare to survive Hoxha’s regime, even as some of his books were banned. “The Palace of Dreams,” published in 1981, and more obviously antagonistic, is one of those censored novels. (Although, in an absurdist twist, the book was banned two weeks after its publication, by which time it had sold out.) Like many of Kadare’s books, it is set in an imprecise past shaded by myth, but lit by the glare of totalitarian thought control. The Palace of Dreams is the most important government ministry in the Ottoman Empire, where bureaucrats sift and decode the dreams of the empire’s citizens, all of them working to find the Master Dreams that will help the Sultan in his rule. The novel’s hero, who comes from a prominent political family, rises through the ranks of the ministry; yet he cannot save his own family from political persecution—indeed, he unwittingly precipitates it. Enver Hoxha’s censors must have known at once that this surreal dystopia vividly conjured up, in carefully deflected form, the secret-police apparatus of modern Albania.   The suppression of “The Palace of Dreams” seems to have pushed Kadare beyond the boundaries of suggestion, allegory, implication, and indirection. Certainly, the novella “Agamemnon’s Daughter,” which Kadare wrote in the mid-nineteen-eighties, around the time of Hoxha’s death, is laceratingly direct. It is perhaps his greatest book, and, along with its sequel, “The Successor” (2003), surely one of the most devastating accounts ever written of the mental and spiritual contamination wreaked on the individual by the totalitarian state. Kadare’s French publisher, Claude Durand, has told of how Kadare smuggled some of his writings out of Albania, in 1986, and handed them to Durand, camouflaging them by changing Albanian names and places to German and Austrian ones, and attributing the writing to the West German novelist Siegfried Lenz. Durand collected the rest of this work, on two trips to Tirana, and the manuscripts were deposited in a safe at a Paris bank. As unaware as anyone else that Albanian Communism had only five years left to run, Kadare envisaged this deposit as a sort of insurance policy. In the event of his death, by natural or unnatural causes, the publication of these works would make it “harder,” in Durand’s words, “for the Communist propaganda machine to bend Kadare’s work and posthumous image to its own ends.”
That is a considerable understatement. I’m not sure that any regime could bend “Agamemnon’s Daughter” to its own ends. This is a terrifying work, relentless in its critique. It is set in Tirana in the early nineteen-eighties, during the May Day Parade. The narrator is a young man who works in television, and has unexpectedly been invited to attend the festivities from inside the Party grandstand. The formal invitation is unexpected because the narrator is a passionate liberal, strongly (though privately) opposed to the regime, and because he has recently survived a purge at his television station, resulting in the relegation of two colleagues. On the day of the parade, he cannot stop thinking about his lover, Suzana, who has broken off their relationship because her father is about to be chosen as the supreme leader’s designated successor and has asked his daughter not to jeopardize his career by consorting with an unsuitable man. Chillingly, she tells her lover that when her father explained the situation to her she “saw his point of view.” The novella confines itself to the day of the parade, and is essentially a portfolio of sketches of human ruination—a brief Inferno, in which victims of the regime are serially encountered by our narrator as he walks to the stands and takes his seat. There is the neighbor who watches him from his balcony, “looking as sickly as ever. . . . He was reputed to have laughed out loud on the day Stalin died, which brought his career as a brilliant young scientist to a shuddering halt.” There is Leka B., a theatre director who displeased the authorities and was transferred to the provinces, to run amateur productions. He tells the narrator that he had put on a play that turned out to have “no less than thirty-two ideological errors!” The narrator’s comment is withering: “It was as if he were delighted with the whole business and held it in secret admiration.” There is G.Z., a former colleague, who has survived a purge, though no one knows quite how: “His whole personality and history corresponded in sum to what in relatively polite language is called a pile of shit.” He is likened to the Bald Man in an Albanian folktale, who is rescued from Hell by an eagle—“but on one condition. Throughout the flight, the raptor would need to consume raw meat.” Eventually, since the journey takes several days, the Bald Man has to offer his own flesh to feed the bird, and by the time he makes it to the upper world he is little more than a bag of bones. At the center of “Agamemnon’s Daughter” is an icy reinterpretation of the Iphigenia story. The narrator reflects on Euripides’ play, and on Iphigenia’s apparently willing self-sacrifice, in order to help her father’s military ambitions. He turns the Greek tale around in his mind, and blends it with the remembered pain of Suzana’s departure. Hadn’t Stalin, he thinks, sacrificed his son Yakov, so that he could claim that he was sharing in the common lot of the Russian soldier? But what if the story of Agamemnon is really the story of Comrade Agamemnon—the first great account of absolute political tyranny? What if Agamemnon, in “a tyrant’s cynical ploy,” had merely used his daughter to legitimate warfare? Surely Yakov, “may he rest in peace, had not been sacrificed so as to suffer the same fate as any other Russian soldier, as the dictator had claimed, but to give Stalin the right to demand the life of anyone else.” The narrator realizes, as he watches Suzana’s father standing next to the Supreme Guide on the grandstand, that the Supreme Guide must have asked his deputy to initiate his daughter’s sacrifice. “Agamemnon’s Daughter” ends with this dark, spare, aphoristically alert declamation: “Nothing now stands in the way of the final shrivelling of our lives.” 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. He is a compellingly ironic storyteller because he so brilliantly summons details that explode with symbolic reality. No one who has read “The Successor” (2003) can forget the moment when the Hoxha figure, called simply the Guide, visits the newly renovated home of his designated successor. The Successor’s wife offers to show the Guide around, despite the anxiety felt by others that the lavishness of the renovation may have been a huge political blunder. The Guide stops to examine a new living-room light switch, a dimmer that is the first of its kind in the country:
Silence had fallen all around, but when he managed to turn on the light and make it brighter, he laughed out loud. He turned the switch further, until the light was at maximum strength, then laughed again, ha-ha-ha, as if he’d just found a toy that pleased him. Everyone laughed with him, and the game went on until he began to turn the dimmer down. As the brightness dwindled, little by little everything began to freeze, to go lifeless, until all the many lamps in the room went dark.
In its concentrated ferocity, this has the feel of something very ancient: we might be reading Tacitus on Tiberius.
Alas, there is nothing of quite that high order in Kadare’s most recent novel, “The Accident,” translated from the Albanian by John Hodgson (Grove; $24). The new book is spare and often powerful, but it is a bit too spare, so that the ribs of allegory show through, in painful obviousness. Many of Kadare’s familiar procedures and themes are in evidence, beginning with the positing of an enigma that needs decoding. One morning in Vienna, sometime not long after the end of the war in Kosovo, a young Albanian couple are killed in a car accident. The taxi that had been taking them from their hotel to the airport suddenly veers off the Autobahn and crashes. The taxi-driver survives, but he can give no reasonable account of why he left the road, except to say that he had been looking in his rearview mirror at the couple, who had been “trying to kiss,” when a bright light distracted him. The accident is suspicious enough to attract various investigators, not least the intelligence services of Serbia, Montenegro, and Albania. The dead man, known as Besfort Y., appears to have been an Albanian diplomat, working at the Council of Europe, and may have been involved in nato’s decision to bomb Serbia. Perhaps the woman who died in the car, who was Besfort’s girlfriend, and is known in the reports as Rovena St., knew too much, and Besfort tried to kill her, in a botched plan. But why did Besfort refer to Rovena as “a call girl”? A few months before the accident, he had taken her to an Albanian motel and she had been “frightened for her life.” So a friend of hers tells investigators. Rovena, says the friend, “knew the most appalling things. . . . She knew the precise hour when Yugoslavia would be bombed, days in advance.” The security services give up, in the face of the usual Balkan incomprehensibility, and a mysterious, nameless “researcher” takes over. This authorial stand-in, who works “without funds or resources or powers of constraint,” decides to reconstruct the last forty weeks of the couple’s lives, using diaries, letters, phone calls, and the testimonies of friends:
Everywhere in the world events flow noisily on the surface, while their deep currents pull silently, but nowhere is this contrast so striking as in the Balkans. Gales sweep the mountains, lashing the tall firs and mighty oaks, and the whole peninsula appears demented.
Kadare feeds off this Balkan incomprehensibility: he likes to tease it and tease at it, while simultaneously making fun of people who talk about “Balkan incomprehensibility.” He is deeply interested in misreading, yet his prose has a classical clarity, so that much of his power as a storyteller has to do with his ability to provide an extraordinarily lucid analysis of incomprehensibility. This analysis moves between the comic and the tragic, and never finally settles in one mode. (His amiable and funny novel “The File on H.” reads like an Albanian Evelyn Waugh.) In both the new novel and “The Successor,” we begin with an apparent accident—in the earlier novel, the country’s designated successor has been found in his bedroom, shot dead—that allows Kadare to work through rival explanations. (“The Successor” is based on the “mysterious” death, reported as suicide, of the Albanian Prime Minister, Mehmet Shehu, in 1981. He had been Hoxha’s closest political ally for decades, but after his death he was denounced as a traitor and an enemy of the people, and his family arrested and imprisoned.) The question that haunts both novels is: When did it begin? When, in other words, did “the accident” become inevitable? When did the tide first turn against the Successor? Was it when the Guide failed to come to the Successor’s birthday party, for instance? The blackly surreal answer is, of course, that it has always begun; the tide was turning against the Successor even as he rose through the Party ranks. Likewise, in “The Accident,” one can see that Besfort and Rovena were always doomed, and that the reason, as in “The Successor,” is murkily ideological. The nameless “researcher” discovers that Besfort and Rovena have been together for twelve years. Rovena was a student when she met Besfort, who was older than she, and had come to the university at Tirana to teach international law. From the start, the relationship appears to have been electrically erotic, with Besfort as the seducer and the dominant partner. The novel hints at very rough sex. They agree to part, but soon reunite. The couple meet in various European cities and expensive hotels, exercising a freedom that was unthinkable before the collapse of Communism, their itinerary largely determined by Besfort’s diplomatic travel (where “diplomat” probably also means “spy”). But in Graz, for the first time, Rovena feels that Besfort is suffocating her, a feeling that will mount as the relationship progresses. “You’re preventing me from living,” she tells him, and elsewhere she complains that “he has me in chains . . . he is the prince and I am only a slave,” that “he wanted her entirely for himself, like every tyrant.” To these charges, he replies, “You took this yoke up yourself, and now you blame me?” He had been her liberator, Kadare writes, “but this is not the first time in history that a liberator had been taken for a tyrant, just as many a tyrant had been taken for a liberator.” Partly as a game, and partly as an admission of the terminality of their relationship, the couple begin speaking of themselves as client and call girl. Besfort considers killing her. “The Accident” is a difficult novel. It has a very interrupted form, continually looping back on itself, so that dates and place names seem almost scrambled and the reader must work a kind of hermeneutic espionage on the text. Unlike “Agamemnon’s Daughter” and “The Successor,” the analysis of incomprehensibility here seems quite opaque. Yet, at the same time, the symbolic pressure is a little too transparent. One gathers that Kadare is presenting a kind of allegory about the lures and imprisonments of the new post-Communist tyranny, liberty, and he has Besfort bang home this decoding: “Until yesterday,” he tells Rovena, “you were complaining that it was my fault that you aren’t free. And now you say you have too much freedom. But somehow it’s always my fault.” Besfort is the new liberty that Rovena cannot do without, and to which she is willing to be enslaved, and this freedom is dangerous and frequently squalid. “The Accident” thus offers an interesting reply to the question with which Kadare closes “Agamemnon’s Daughter.” At the end of that novella, the young narrator thinks of the Communist slogan “Let us revolutionize everything,” and asks, rhetorically, “How the hell can you revolutionize a woman’s sex? That’s where you’d have to start if you were going to tackle the basics—you had to start with the source of life. You would have to correct its appearance, the black triangle above it, and the glistening line of the labia.” He means that totalitarianism will always be thwarted by some non-ideological privacy, or surplus, beyond its reach. Kundera has repeatedly explored the same question, with regard to a libidinous erotics of resistance. Yet “The Accident” grimly suggests that it is indeed possible to “revolutionize” a woman’s sex, and that capitalism may be able to do this more easily than Communism. After all, the point about Besfort and Rovena is that their relationship is thoroughly contaminated by ideology and politics; their very postures of submission and domination are overdetermined. In a long speech that is surely at the emotional and ideological heart of the book, Besfort tells Rovena, who was only thirteen at the end of the dictatorship, about the kind of madness that prevailed under Hoxha. He describes a world of crazy inversion, reminiscent of Dostoyevsky’s universe, in which citizens willingly pretended to be conspirators, in order to confess their love for the leader while being simultaneously punished for crimes they had not committed. Each plotter, says Besfort, turned out to be more abject than the last:
The conspirators’ letters from prison became more and more ingratiating. Some requested Albanian dictionaries, because they were stuck for words to express their adoration of the leader. Others complained of not being tortured properly. The protocols sent back from firing squads on the barren sandbank by the river told the same story: their victims shouted, “Long live our leader!,” and as they conveyed their last wishes some felt such a burden of guilt that they asked to be killed not by the usual weapons but by anti-tank guns or flamethrowers. Others asked to be bombarded from the air, so that no trace of them would remain. . . . Nobody could distinguish truth from fiction in these reports, just as it was impossible to discern what the purpose of the conspirators, or even the leader himself, might be. Sometimes the leader’s mind was easier to read. He had enslaved the entire nation, and now the adoration of the conspirators would crown his triumph. Some people guessed that he was sated with the love of his loyal followers, and that he now wanted something new and apparently impossible—the love of traitors.
We are back in the world of Leka B., who was oddly proud of his thirty-two ideological errors, and of the partisan in “A Chronicle of Stone” who dies shouting, “Long live Communism!” Kadare also subtly suggests that this dense, overwrought speech might itself be evidence that Besfort is a victim of the totalitarianism that he so despises—that he cannot escape its deformations, its legacies, the memory of its hysteria. But a melancholy thought also casts its shadow. Might this be true of Kadare, too? 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. Back when he worked within and against totalitarianism, he had the advantage of being sustained by the great subject of the Hoxha regime, like a man sitting on a huge statue. Perhaps it is in the nature of freedom—still, after all, a transitional event in the history of postwar Albania—that a novelist even of Kadare’s great powers will seem, when trying to allegorize it, to stab at clouds. Kadare would not be the only novelist who has found, with the collapse of Communism, that his world has disappeared, however much he longed for the destruction of that world. These are early days yet. ♦ This article appeared on the print edition of the New Yorker. 
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