I feel privileged to have seen a small glimpse of this beautiful and humble country a few years back. I want to see more. I especially want to see more after reading Ismail Kadare’s The Fall of the Stone City. I have to be honest, without this project of mine, Kadare might not have made it on my overwhelmingly long to read list. I am happy he made it.
The book is set in Kadare’s home town of Gjirokastër, and tells the story of the unrelated doctors Gurameto, of whom one is big and the other is small. One was educated in Italy, the other in Germany. That alone adds extra spice to the setting during and after the Second World War. Albania’s part in WW2 is interesting on its own, since it’s quite an unknown subject to me.
The book itself is well worth a read. I wish I could travel back in time to visit Gjirokastër in its prime. Kadare gives an insight to Albanians as well as the general fear of occupation. The main storyline revolves around one specific event, “the dinner of shame”, or as it’s also known, “the resurrection dinner”. Of course it’s also about betrayal, being on the winning side one day and on the losing side the next day. It’s also about something typical throughout war history: Who fired?
The typical subject of good and bad, and who is right and who is wrong, quite often make no sense during war. There are some typical kafkaesque elements in the book. These kind of books make me wonder how often and where these kind of surreal events occur. Unfortunately I’m sure these things happen today as well. Innocence is sometimes frown upon, and it’s more important to catch any ‘culprit’, someone to be blamed.
Kadare’s writing (and John Hodgson’s translation) is good storytelling, and it paints an interesting picture of the city of Gjirokastër, its arrogance and pride. It is also interesting to realize once more that when it’s said that Germany was divided into a good and a bad part, I automatically think West is good, but obviously in this book East is good. Propaganda exists on both sides.
One day I will get my hands on another of Kadare’s books, and I’m sure I will enjoy it as well. No wonder he won the first Man Booker International Prize in 2005. I would be interested in reading other books set in Albania as well.