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General of the Dead Army Paperback – International Edition, January 6, 2009

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Editorial Reviews Review

The General of the Dead Army, Ismail Kadare's meditation on the consequences of war, is a hugely moving account of duty and loss. It is 20 years since the end of World War II and an Italian army general is sent to Albania to search again for the bodies of those who lost their lives in the campaign. He is armed with maps, lists, measurements, and dental and other records. He tours the countryside organizing digs and disinterments and, as he tries to find the dead sons of forgotten families, he wonders at the sense, and scale, of his task. He talks and argues with the curt Italian priest who is accompanying him. He finds his footsteps followed, sometimes anticipated, by a fellow general who is also looking for bodies--the bodies of his German countrymen. He struggles with the Albanian countryside, weather, laborers who work for him, and peasants who watch their work. And he fights the despair that grows as the size, scope, and, ultimately, the hopelessness of his task becomes ever more apparent.

Kadare's plaintive novel is a consistently heartfelt lament to all those who have died and been affected by war, but it is also a beautiful work displaying the skills that make him one of the great modern European writers. --Mark Thwaite, --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"He has been compared to Gogol, Kafka and Orwell. But Kadare's is an original voice, universal yet deeply rooted in his own soil" Independent on Sunday "A novelist of dazzling mastery" -- Paul Binding Independent "Astonishing...his finest work" -- Azar Nafisi, Man Booker judge and author of 'Reading Lolita in Tehran' Guardian "With its metonymic realism and fidelity to its characters, The General of the Dead Army reminds us why his work is so valued" New Statesman "Literary gold dust - haunting, bleakly comedic and ultimately horrific" The Times

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics (January 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099518260
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099518266
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,258,908 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Bob Newman VINE VOICE on December 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover
An Italian general is sent to Albania in the early 1960s to locate and disinter the bones of the thousands of his countrymen who died there during World War II. He and his partner, a sinister priest who is also an Italian Army colonel, run into a rather atypically unorganized German team doing the same. This miserable task takes a couple years. Over the course of the tale, we realize that the general is totally unpenitent and still rather hostile to those who [fighting off invasion and occupation] put his countrymen six feet under. Gradually his insensitivity is revealed as moral corruption. Neither priest nor general have clean hands. In this way, Kadare linked fascism in the 1930s and '40s to bourgeois democracy in the 1960s. While there is some truth to this, I fear that it was necessary to underline such continuity for Kadare's personal safety.
As far as I know, this is Kadare's first major novel. It may not be as good as some of those which came later, but it is still a masterpiece of atmosphere and ideas. What is most amazing is how he twisted and blended fact and fiction to do a literary "slalom"---winding his way down the slippery slopes of political correctness in Hoxha's Albania in the 1960s. While being politically incorrect in modern Western societies can lead to criticism or declines in readership, it had rather more fatal consequences in the Albania of that era. So, if a little social criticism is visible now and then, it is definitely balanced by doses of the official line. (The thousands of concrete pillboxes that dot the countryside are "cold", "enigmatic" or "like Egyptian sculptures", but not wasteful or reminiscent of totalitarian paranoia.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Leigh Stolle on July 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
WHEN ISMAIL KADARE'S The General of the Dead Army was published in France in 1970, seven years after its initial printing in Albania, it was celebrated for its literary freshness -- for its break from the sunny imagery of social realism and the propaganda-tinted themes typical of most Socialist-era novels. Inside Albania, however, those same attributes drew criticism from Communist Party officials, threatening the 26-year-old author's literary future. But with its nationalistic nuggets and, undoubtedly, with the blessing of leader Enver Hoxha, the book survived and today is easily the best known and most critically acclaimed work of Kadare's in and outside the Balkans.

Though The General gives subtle nods to socialism and modernism, the novel's overall form resembles something rather Homeric in its portrayal of a protagonist engaged in a noble battle abroad, subject to the wrath of nature, seeking victory and, ultimately, home.

UNLIKE ACHILLES or Odysseus, Kadare's proud but nameless Italian general arrives by airplane, in Albania in the mid-1960s with the mission of retrieving the buried bones of Italian soldiers killed during World War II. The general, accompanied by a military priest and the weighty expectations of the dead soldiers' families, embarks on the grisly quest with a listing of the missing soldiers, official maps, and anecdotal evidence from surviving infantrymen to help locate his "dead army."

The general and the priest -- with an Albanian work crew in their command -- make their way around the countryside, exhuming Italian remains.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By john on August 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
What a great work, a masterpiece, a writing that has no limits when it comes to imagination. I read the book and i thought i read Shakespeare, Homer, Goethe, Kafka, Tolstoi, and all the greatest writers of all the time. Mr. Ismail Kadare is one of the best among them. Albania and Albanians should very proud of this master of writing. How come such an immortal writer has still not won the Nobel Prize in Literature? If there is a Nobel Prize this year, that should be given to Mr. Kadare. Truly, read this book and you'll see the magic right at the first page, even the title will tell you that.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Steve Koss VINE VOICE on October 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Some twenty years after World War II, an Italian general embarks on a mission in Albania to retrieve the dead and buried bodies of Italian soldiers and return them to their home country and families. Accompanied by a fellow countryman priest, a local "expert," and a small staff of shovel-wielding laborers, this small party treks ceaselessly across the Albanian countryside and into the mountains. Thorughout this macabre, two-year exercise, remains are excavated, identified where possible, and stowed away in nylon plastic body bags. All the while, Albanian locals observe the goings on with a mixture of disbelief and distrust, the latter feelings arising from the perception that enemy soldiers are enemies, whether alive or dead. Thus, in their eyes, the unaware but well-intentioned general is building a new army, an army of the dead. Yet even as the Italian cohort shuttles from place to place retrieving its buried dead, a counterpart Albanian group headed by a lieutenant-general and a town mayor is undertaking the same task in a rather more scattershot way.

Great effort has clearly gone into planning the project: careful negotiation between the Italian and Albanian governments, drawing up of detailed maps based on interviews with fellow soldiers and the dead men's families, and descriptions of the deceased including heights and dental records. Both the general and the priest express particular interest in finding the remains of one Colonel Z., commander of a Blue Battalion unit much reviled by the Albanians for its brutality. For the general, it is a matter of honor to retrieve a fellow officer's remains at his widow's behest, but for the priest, there are intimations of more dubious favors granted or promised.

In the project's early stages, all goes smoothly.
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