The traitors Niche by Ismail Kadare

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The traitors Niche by Ismail Kadare

Albanian Fiction

Original title – Kamarja e turpit

Translator – John Hodgson

Source – Library copy

I near the end of the man boomer journey with last but one longlist book . I was surprised like Ellen Battersbye this  was on the list as the original book came pout in 1978, I do wonder why it took so long to translate , what isn’t such a bad novel. I have reviewed Ismail Kadare four times before on the blog , he has used history in the past to shine a light on his homelands present. I always view him like Pamuk or Llhosa as a future Nobel winner in that he writes good not great books but always good books to read.

It was not hard to imagine why this square had been chosen for the niche where the severed heads of rebels viziers or ill-starred senior officials were placed. Perhaps nowhere else could the eyes of passer-by so easily grasp the interdependency between the imposing solidity of the ancient square and the human heads that dared to show it disrespect. It was clear at once that the head’s lifeless eyes surveilled every corner of the square . In this way , even the feeblest and least imaginative passer-by could visualise, at least for a moment , his own head displayed at this unnatural Height.

The traitors niche is there to show the citizens who is who and keep them in line .

The Traitors niche is a tale about the backlash of the Ottoman Sultan to the area of his land that was Albania , he has sent his courier to this province to make sure that he gets the heads pf those the Sultan has ordered killed for standing up to the ottoman empire , he has also orders the end of the languages and customs of this place , as he is scared that history will repeat as they rebelled 400 years before that so as we follow Abdulla the courier sen to ge the heads as he gets slightly mad carrying the heads back home . The heads are destined to be put up on the Traitors niche which is guarded by Tundj and his two fellow guards. They have to follow a list of orders to make sure the heads are kept as long as possible by caring for them .

Albania had rebelled many times since the death of Scanderberg , may he never rest in peace, but never like this.This was an extended rebellion that came in waves like the shocks of an earthquake, sometimes overtly, sometimes in secret. It had been started long ago by the old Bushatli family in the north and continued by Ali Pasha Tepelena in the South, and was shaking the foundations of the historic empire .

There was always rebellion in Albania , but sometimes it needed stamping on like in the book .

This is classic Kadare his books are so set in the heart of his homeland this like most of historic novel are as much about the time they were set as the present . I was reminded in the way Tundj cared for the heads remind me of the way the soviets took care of the dead leader and I wondered if he imagined that Hoxha would want his body kept. Themn there is the way the Sultan wiped out an opposition to his ruler , much the way Hoxha did using his secret police to wipe pout any opposition . At this time Kadare was still writing and living in Albania and used the historic themes in his novels of the time like this and Three arched bridge and twilight of the eastern gods  both of which I have reviewed and both of which had been written around the same time as this book. KAdare used the past to highlight the violent repressive regime of his homeland .

 

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The 3 arched bridge by Ismail Kadare

 

 

The 3 arched bridge by Ismail Kadare

Albanian fiction

Original title Ura Me Tri Harqe 

Translator – John Hodgson

Source – Library book

On the way to your brother’s house in the valley deep
By the river bridge, a cradle floating beside me
In the whitest water on the bank against the stone
You will lift his body from the shore and bring him home

Oliver James washed in the rain
No longer
Oliver James washed in the rain
No longer

Oliver James by fleet foxes is a nice match to this traditonal fable story .

Well yesterday saw me review  a book by Roberto Bolano today I’m reviewing Ismail  Kadare another writer whom has featured a number of times on this blog , I have reviewed three of his book before now .Kadare is one of the names often mentioned as a potenial Nobel prize winner .

As expected , the news of the bridge to be built over the Ujana e Kepe spread rapidly ,Bridges had been built now and then in all sorts of places , but nobody remembered any of them causing such commotion .They had been built with virtually not a word of comment , to the muffled sounds of hammers on wood

The bridge is built but keeps falling down why !

This rather like an earlier novel I reviewed by Kadare the pyramid  which is also  set in a past , although  this book is not as far back as the pyramid .The book  is set in  the 14th century .The book is based on a legend /myth of the region about a castle being built , for this book  thou Kadare has changed the castle to a bridge that connects the then split up into tiny regions Albania to the rest of Europe via this bridge .Which keeps being destroyed  , also the men working on the bridge keep falling ill , is it by the ferry men or is it something else happening , the people start sing songs about the bridge and the ferry men also a tale of a castle like the original tale that Kadare based this book on  and it is decided that a sacrifice  is needed to save the bridge but whom ? Who will be willing to let them selves be killed to have a bridge built , the victim face is remembered in plaster on the bridge .All this is narrated to us by a monk Gjon .

A few days before the final work on the bridge , one of the foreman’s two assistants  , the fat one , fell ill with a rare and frightening disease : all the hairs on his body fell out . They shut him in a hut and tried in every possible way to keep his sickness secret , but there was no way it could be concealed .

Another worker falls sick , as they try to get the bridge built .

Rather like the book the pyramid which I have also reviewed  , I felt this maybe more than it seems on the surface  which is an Albanian folktale retold with a few changes in the story  a bridge instead of a castle .No to me this is more a book of its time  which is the mid seventies  , than a story of something that happened over five hundred years before that .I feel the book , which was written in 1976 , maybe shows the events in Albania at the time using the myth and legend to maybe show the isolation of the Hoxha regime of the time , maybe the bridge falling is the way he kept Albania separate from Europe .I feel the sacrifice maybe eludes to what he felt at that time , what people had to do to get the bridge built (or the links and more open regime in Albania ) .I do prefer these books that have been translated directly from Albanian and like in places that John Hodgson has manage to keep a traditional feel to the piece of old songs and words used by Gjon

have you read any books by Ismail kadare ?

The false Apocalypse by Fatos Lubonja

The False Apocalypse by Fatos Lubonja

Albanian Non-fiction

Original title – Nëntëdhjeteshtata – Apokalipsi i rremë

Translator – John Hodgson

Source – review copy

When one voice rules the nation
Just because they’re top of the pile
Doesn’t mean their vision is the clearest
The voices of the people
Are falling on deaf ears
Our politicians all become careerists

They must declare their interests
But not their company cars
Is there more to a seat in parliament
Than sitting on your arse
And the best of all this bad bunch
Is shouting to be heard
Above the sound of ideologies clashing

I ve gone for Billy Bragg song ideologies as this is a story of ideas falling apart

I love the fact that Susan at Istros books is publishing books like this one for I feel no one else would publish a book about Albania internal politics .Fatos Lubonja is the son of Todi Lubonja who was one of the closet aids to Hoxha , until the early 1970’s when he was arrested and Fatos , where Fatos then spent the next 17 years in Jail  , he is considered an outspoken critic on the post communist world of Albanian politics and also the writer Ismail Kadare .In the introduction he is called the closest thing tp an intellectual conscience in Albania .

The arrival of a boatload of sugar , whose sale would pay off all his debts , was the last deception used by the mastermind of the pyramid scheme to palm off the daily demands of his creditors .Qorri has made this boat the focal point of the novel , a symbol of people’s hope and trust in the victory of capitalism over reality of socialism ,The arrival of the sugar boat would solve everything .

The premise of the Novel Fatos Qorri called Sugar boat about one pyramid scheme .

The False Apocalypse is a story of the years after the fall of communism within Albania .The book has two narratives one that follows the greater picture of Albania at the time  the government of Sali Bershia that was the leader of the country at the time .The problem with the regime was the fact they let to many fraudsters take over the country , in particular a number of Pyramid schemes (the schemes used new investors to pay old investors whilst appearing to make money , the only ones that made money where the leaders of the scheme ) , these schemes had grown since the fall of Hoxha and the fall of communism in 1991 , the schemes had grown and grown so in 1997 the collapse of them was going to take the whole country down with it .As the public start to protest and riots begin as scheme after scheme collapses .The second narrative thread in the book is the personnel story of Fatos Qorri ( akter ego of fatos lubonja ) describes the events of 1997 through his own eyes through diary entries . He is in the process of writing a novel in fact about the pyramid schemes and as he is doing so the events take over him .

The victory of the guns in Vlora created a nightmare for thee Tirana government .Could Berisha weather these events ? The Government was on the brink of resignation , with dozens of deaths laid at it’s door State institutions had collapsed , Vlora was in rebellion with fighting in the streets , and the nation faced bankruptcy .moreover , after what had happened , Albania was split in two and Berisha’s people didn’t dare set foot in the south .

The first real crack appeared at Vlora the first of many .

Now I remember the aftermath of this when the west rode in to save the government of Berisha .What I enjoyed about lubonja book is the way he used his own personnel experience at the time and mixed it in with the wider picture of what was going on in Albania at the time .what we see is a country trying to run before they have learnt to walk .A government that has really lost control over the schemes and the country as a whole , this is what happened when the prisons were opened , the gangs are allowed to take control . The former secret service has also  become a force to be watched after it was not taken apart from the fall of communism .What we get is the chaos explained , what happens on the wider scale when a country starts to fall apart but also on the personnel scale to the man on the street .This book appeals to anyone that has an interest in the fall of communism and maybe wants to learn more about Albania .

Have you a favourite non fiction book in translation ?

Twilight of Eastern gods by Ismail Kadare

twilight of eastern gods

Twilight of the Eastern gods by Ismail Kadare 

Albanian fiction 

Original title –  French title- Le Crépuscule des dieux de la steppe

Translator David Bellos from the french translation of  Jusuf Vrioni

Source  – review copy

“Light is meaningful only in relation to darkness, and truth presupposes error. It is these mingled opposites which people our life, which make it pungent, intoxicating. We only exist in terms of this conflict, in the zone where black and white clash.”

A louis Aragon quote seem fitting for Kadare as a writer in general ,source

Now the other day when I did my Nobel round-up for this year I did miss one name of knowing I had this on my pile of books to be reviewed that of Ismail Kadare .Kadare is the best known Albanian writer with nearly twenty of his books translated into english already .i have reviewed Fall of stone city and The pyramid  .Kadare has won all the major book prize around the world barring the Nobel ,he studied at Maxim Gorky Literature institute ,originally at that time he was a poet ,then wrote short stories eventually publishing his first novel in 1963 ,he left Albania as an exile in 1990 ,where he said” the writer is the natural enemy of dictatorship ” .Twilight of the eastern gods is about his time at the Maxim Gorky .

In Moscow Literary circle I had indeed heard a lot of talk about suicide .I shared with her the most interesting pieces of gossip that were going around .She listen without responding .Suddenly it occurred to me to tell her about Fadeyev’s treatment in the Kremlin hospital .

Some of his fellow writers fell before they had really started !Fadyev was one that Kadare studied with that did .

Well twilight of the gods is rather like the fall of stone city was and takes part of Kadare’s own life and fictionalized it .The time is 1958 and the young Kadare is in Moscow studying at the Maxim Gorky (this is a writers workshop like the well-known ones elsewhere ,but obviously with a twist they were wanting a soviet twist on the writers work ) ,when the news filters through that Boris Pasternak has won the Nobel prize ,earlier the young writer had been hand pages of this Banned  book ,why had he won this bog prize  .Why was this book of his banned ? Added to this is the writers at the Gorky ,the wanting of them to follow a style of Realistic writing ,one of the writers ,a French writer who was in love with the soviet system , Louis Aragon ,I have mention before as he championed Chingiz Aitmatov whose book Jamila I reviewed  another writer from the Maxim Gorky not at the same time but he wrote in the style they wanted a social realistic style .Then there is a growing tension between the writers own country Albania and the Soviet regime ,Hoxha the Albanian leader saw the soviets become to liberal .Then there is the last part of the book the city Kadare capture fifties Moscow so well where in some ways there is still a glimmer of light but behind closed door things are very different .

Even if she were to revert to her former friendliness ,to the particular variety of benevolence that most Russian babuskas exhibited towards foreign students ,I would never forgive her coldness she had shown me earlier .

I just has use this bit for the word Babuskas ,such a great word .

Now what can I say ,I  feel  Kadare is  a writer ,I can’t get enough of every time I read a book by him (Hence I tend to buy his one at a time every few years to ration them ) ,you feel he is one that had taken part of what he learned at Maxim Gorky ,but took it further this is realism ,but real realism ,the book originally came out in French in 1978 ,so he was critical while still in Albania and about one of the few regimes to still help Albania the Soviets ,brave moves indeed .Another way to view the book is a coming of age novel ,a writers coming of age surrounded by the cream of the writers in Soviet and soviet satellite regimes The young writer starts to see himself as a writer ,but also gather thoughts that he would later use in his books yes the is hints at thoughts ,ideas that he had since wrote about  in his novels .Although in his canon ,this is a minor book ,for any other writer this would be seen as a major book ,a writers coming of age written so well .Have you read Kadare ?

 

Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones

sworn virgin cover Elvira Dones

Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones

Albanian fiction

Original title – Vergine giurata

Translator – Clarissa Botsford

Source – Review copy

After that my guess is that you will never hear from him again. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist. And like that… he is gone.

Verbal in the film the Usual suspects

Elvira Dones is an us based Albanian writer ,she has written seven novels in Albanian before living in Italy and starting to write in Italian ,where she has written two books ,this is one of them .She also made a documentary about twelve Sworn Virgins like Hana /Mark in this novel ,that have left Albania and gone to live in the US .This book is also due to be made into a film .

You can’t write good poems with a dry cunt ,she thinks to herself again ,annoyed .Why the hell did she tell him she wrote ?

Hana /Mark on plane to US maybe thinks more like a man still

Well I really pleased when I got sent this as I have only read Kadare and a small piece by Ornela Vorpsi that was in one of the Dalkey European collection .So the chance to read about a country that has interested me since working in a factory in Germany along side a couple from  Kosovo ,whom had like Hana in this book escaped Albania (Kosovo is actually Serbia but the country itself is 90% Albanian ) ,So the chance to discover another tale of this country grabbed me .Anyway to the book Sworn Virgin is the story of Hana/Mark ,at the start of the story we see the young Hana in the capital of Albania Tirana studying away at Literature ,start to just spread her wings .She was originally from a small village brought up by her uncle  ,but a call from an Uncle brings her back to her village ,this is because her family want her to marry as the Uncle is dying and there is no male Heir , but that glimpse of another world in Tirana leads to Mark ,as Hana decides under the old ways of her country to live as a man as a Sworn virgin ,so live goes on Until a relative that left Albania ask Mark /Hana to come and live in the US so after all these years of being a man can Hana find her womanhood again ?

“Ok ” she decide .”Me first , since I’m the one who dragged you into this situation .I’m a woman , I’ve always been one .I’m not a transvestite , or a transsexual ,and I’m not gay .I’ve never been any of these things .It’s just that I swore to become a man ,in a social ,sense ,sixteen years ago .I had to do it because circumstances forced me to .

Hana in Us meets a man and tells him this .

This is one of those stories when you hear about it you go to yourself on no it doesn’t happen but this is part of the past ,but when in the post world war two period Hoxha ran the  country as an isolate place for forty years so a lot of these old practices kept going .Here in a piece from Slate by Jill Peters you get the full effect of what happened to Hana/Mark , as you see ,it’s not just dressing as a man no it is to coin the phrase “the whole nine yards ” .The book isn’t a straight narrative no we jump from now to then as we see Hana/Marks life unfold .Elvira captures so well it seems Hana becoming Mark and even better Mark years later becoming Hana once more and how to the outsider do you explain being a Sworn virgin ?As ever And other stories have turned up a quirky novel about a part of the world I always want to know more about .

Have you a favourite part of the world to read books from ?

 

The fall of the stone city by Ismail Kadare

the fall of the stone city

The Fall of the Stone city by Ismail Kadare

Albanian fiction

Original title – Darka e gabuar

Translator – John Hodgson

Source Library

Well when this was named on the longlist for this years Independent foreign fiction prize longlist I was please ,not being a big fan of reading completely the works of writers ,I was pleased to have a chance to revisit Ismail Kadare ,this is the fourth book by Him I will have read ,I have also under review the pyramid .The big difference between that book and this one is the fact this one has been translated directly from Albanian not French like a number of the earlier novels were as secondary translations .Ismail Kadare is probably the best known Albanian writer (there are others dalkey archive have published one I know off ),his books have opened the lid on Albanian life for more than fifty years .He was born in Gjirokastër which happens to be the setting for this novel .

And what happened was this :on the afternoon that preceded the dinner ,after the tanks and armoured vehicles had rumbled and rattled their way into town ,there stepped out from one of the military cars onto the city square Colonel Fritz Von Schwabe ,commander of the German division and bearer of the Iron cross his legs still stiff ,he stood surveying the scene and announced “Gjirokastër I have a friend here .”

The colonel arrives and remembers his friend the doctor

This book starts in the second world war and just as the Germany army is heading in Albanians direction as they look to grab land and recourse .They arrive in Gjirokastër. A troop of soldiers is sent to the town they are led by a Colonel Von Schwabe .This Nazis officer is happy to be coming to Gjirokastër as he has a very old friend that lives in the town ,the town doctor ,with whom he studied when younger .So he is invited to the Doctor Gurmante for dinner .The next day we see the troops move out of the town the doctor is called a hero by the people in the town ,are these two events connected ? what will happen after the war to the doctor when the communist take over the country .The facts are clear the Germans were bad ,but then the authoritarian regime that followed the war was also very brutal .This book shows war and the aftermath in one place ,on one man and what repercussions happen due to friendship he had with a german officer .We see one man go from Hero to villain over the course of this book .

As evening fell ,another man was listening carefully to the tumult from the upper floor .The unhinged Remzi Kadare ,the former owner of the house ,huddled in army blankets added his own expletives to the bedlam above .”you tart ! You whore !” he shouted ,addressing the house that had been his own house before he lost it at poker .

Is this a member of Ismail Kadare’s family ?is kadare a popular name in Albania .

Well this one shocked me I have found in the past Kadare uses a lot of imagery like in the pyramid where the building of a pyramid in egypt echoes events in communist Albania .But, no this felt a much more personnel book from Kadare than pother by him I have read ,I think because it is set in his home town of Gjirokastër ,there is a character with the same surname as him in the book makes me think this is Kadare want to talk about his childhood ,he seven when the Germans invade his home town .In some ways the way the story is worked is like a child remembering what happen ,there is truth and there is lies ,the germans came but didn’t leave as in the book .Was there a doctor ? well to me it doesn’t matter at the heart of this book is a discourse on extreme regimes and their effect on the public whether right-wing or lef wing it is the way they treat the people who is remembered .I felt Kadare’s writing follows better in this book sure that is due the nature of it being a direct translation .But part of me thing that fact this is published after the Albanian regime has fallen Kadare is free to speak about past events than before .

Have you read Kadare ?

The Pyramid by Ismail Kadare

The Pyramid by ismail Kadare

Albanian fiction

translation from french by David Belios

The pyramid is a historic novel on the surface ,Cheops a pharaoh who has decided that he does want a pyramid built to celebrate his life but then is told this is wrong as the building of these great building is a way of keep the masses under control so in the end it is decided and it is going to be a huge pyramid ,but in the building of this the work force is push beyond the edge as people die and are driven to the edge of life and madness .As with his other books Kadare is using the historic setting only as a back drop to an all out attack on the communist regime of Enver Hoxha the late leader of Albania as the system in Egypt falls apart it mirrors the falling apart in the eastern european regimes as they descended into a sort of chaos  ,he also had a pyramid built to be his tomb in the centre of Tirana ,he was in there for a short time following his death later it became a disco .

When one morning in late autumn ,only a few months after he had ascended the throne of Egypt ,Cheops, the new pharaoh, let slip that he might perhaps not wish to have a pyramid erect for him ,all who heard – the place astrologer ,some of the senior ministers ,Cheop”s old counsellor Userkaf ,and the high priest Hemiunum ,who also held the post of Architect in chief – furrowed theirs brows as if they had just heard news of a catastrophe .

The opening of the book .

My main problem with Kadare is the translation process in the early novels a secondary translation by Belios from french ,this is due to there being no Albanian translators about to do it ,it seems here is article from complete review  written by the translator ,Belios does a great job but I always feel it like looking at the book through two sets of net curtains we see the main things but maybe some subtle bits are missed from  the story .Ismail Kadare last few books in english have been direct translations from Albanian by John Hodgson I m not sure if they will go back and re-do all his books at some point .So if you want a book that maybe shows the downfall of communism and how dictators are made using ancient Egypt as a template then this is the book for you a Kadare cleverly winds the modern tale into a tale from the past .I ve know about Kadare for a good while since spend a summer in Germany on a factory floor next t0 a Kosovoian Albanian couple as they worked I discover Ikblar the wife was at one time a professor of Albanian lit so even thou my german was bad and her english too we manage to converse a bit and Ismail Kadare was one of the many names she mention but one I remember most as he was readily available . Ismail Kadare also won man international booker in2005 and also has been mention as a potential Nobel prize winner .

Have you a favourite Albanian writer or book ?

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