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Chronicle in Stone: A Novel Paperback – July 1, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Albania, that remote, unknown land, has found its voice in the novels of Kadare. In this one, the first of a forthcoming series, he takes as his subject the shattering impact of World War II as that cataclysm is lived by a small, immensely sensitive boy. After centuries of bondage to the Turks of the Ottoman Empire, Albania falls to the invading Italian fascists, then the Greeks, the Italians again, then the Nazi hordes. Amid floods, British bombing, the action of partisans, the boy undergoes another kind of turbulence, that of growing up, the inner and outer experience ringing strange harmonies. He responds to the beauty of unattainable women, to witchcraft, literature, and later, when he is evacuated from his "stone city" to peasant and village life. Now his existence will be "marvelous, terrifying and extraordinary." Instead, it is primitive, barbaric, a world where the severed arm of a British airman becomes a talisman and "deflowered" girls disappear, possibly murdered by their fathers. Kadare commands a tumultuous, whirling scene as he brings his homeland into the literary mainstream.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
A great novel ... a joyful, often comic piece of work -- James Wood * New Yorker * Sophisticated and accomplished in its poetic prose and narrative deftness -- John Updike * New Yorker * A master storyteller -- John Carey Ismail Kadare has sometimes been compared with Kafka, and you can see why * Mail on Sunday * There are very few writers alive today with the depth, power and resonance of this remarkable novelist * Herald * Chronicle in Stone is stunning, the quintessential tale of war seen through a child's eyes -- Susan Salter Reynolds * Los Angeles Times * Writing like this is hard to stop quoting...It is musical not only in rhythms that survive in this deft...translation but in its most elemental perceptions * -Evan Eisenberg, The Nation * [Albania's] most remarkable export: the novels of Ismail Kadare * Ken Kalfus, The Village Voice Literary Supplement * Chronicle in Stone is epic in its simplicity; the history of a young Albanian and a primitive Albania awakening into the modern world * Michael Dregni, Minneapolis Star Tribune * --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I did not realise until I read the book how many times the city had been occupied during WW2, repeatedly by the Italians and the Greeks, and finally by the Germans.
The author must have been about 7 or 8 years old when Gjirokaster became a 'theatre' of war and was occupied by the Italian forces for the first time. As David Bellos points out in his 'Afterword', the narrator of the tale, a young boy, must have been a little older than Kadaré. The author describes the city's misfortunes through the eyes of an innocent young boy. The result is a magical yet also realistic and credible description of the effects of war and occupation on the inhabitants and fabric of his city. The narrator finds things interesting that the adults disdain. For example, his excitement and delight about the airfield constructed by the Italians and the comings and goings of their 'planes, which were clearly up to no good as far as Albania was concerned, upsets his family, who only see the bad side of its existence. At first, the boy is full of wonder about everything, but gradually the seriousness of the situation that he and his family are experiencing dawns upon him.
This novel is, at the very least, a beautiful and unusual portrayal of modern war through the eyes of a child. It contains deeper meanings and messages, most of which would not have been lost on his Albanian readers who were living under the heel of a repressive dictatorship.
Later on in the book, we are told of the arrival of the Communist partisans, who were under the leadership of Enver Hoxha, and we read things that may well have been risky to express whilst living, as the author was, under a repressive Stalinist regime, where any criticism of it was not allowed. However, Kadaré was criticised by the regime but never, unlike many of his fellow authors, imprisoned. The reasons for this are to some extent revealed in an interview published in the edition of the novel that I read and also in the author's brief book "Albanian Spring: The Anatomy of Tyranny" . In "Albanian Spring: The Anatomy of Tyranny" , Kadaré hints that the exiled Albanian writer Arshi Pipa may have tried to incite trouble over Chronicle in Stone for him from his place of exile in North America. Pipa, according to Kadaré, may have tried to persuade Enver Hoxha that this book about Gjirokaster contained coded messages detrimental to the Albanian Communist government and also to Hoxha himself.
And, Pipa must have known the novel well because he was the first to translate it into English. Indeed, the edition that I have just read (Canongate, 2011) is a translation based on Pipa's. It has been edited by David Bellos who has added material that Kadaré added some time after first publishing it. Bellos has also written an interesting 'Afterword' that follows the novel. Following this, there is his translation of an interview between Kadaré and Stéphanie Courtois in which the reader can learn much about the struggles of artists, and writers in particular, living under a repressive regime.
There is much to recommend this unusually constructed fictional history of an ancient city during times of war. It is an interesting, enjoyable, at times humorous, novel or fictionalised memoir, maybe. I have enjoyed reading it, and encourage everyone to experience it. Get the Canongate edition, if you can; the additional material that it contains is well worth reading.
Review by Adam Yamey, author of "ALBANIA ON MY MIND"
In the early years of World War II, Gjirokaster suffers the travails of an essentially defenseless city, overrun first by the Italian Army, then the Greeks with the assistance of the British Royal Air Force, and eventually the Nazis before finally succumbing to the oppressive thumb of Stalinist Russia. The uneducated townfolk, still heavily prone to superstition and fantastical beliefs, exchange rumors of a red-bearded man, Yusuf Stalin, who will drive out the unwelcome invaders. "Is he a Muslim?" one character asks another. After a moment's hesitation, the other replies confidently, "Yes. A Muslim." "That's a good start," the first answers. Later, it is the infamously sun-glassed Hoxha who is believed to have started a new kind of war, the one that brings the Germans to Gjirokaster.
Kadare hilariously personifies the absurd effect of this constant changing of hands. Albanians leks become Greek drachmas, then Italian lire, then back to leks again. At one point, a plane drops leaflets on the town that begin, "Dear citizens of Hamburg." When the Italians first arrive, a lesser resident named Gjergj Pulo changes his name to Giorgio Pulo, then to Yiorgos Poulos when the Greeks take over. He dies under the German occupation just after having applied for another name change, this time to Jurgen Pulen. The townswoman whose business it is to prepare the make-up for brides on their wedding day is given to repeating the phrase, "It's the end of the world," at every news event and new revelation.
CHRONICLE IN STONE is narrated through the eyes of an impressionable young boy, perhaps eleven or twelve years old. In the first third of the book, events are seen almost entirely through the boy's impressionable and naïve eyes. After he discovers a book by Jung and reads "Macbeth," however, those eyes seem to take a gradually maturing and more jaundiced look at his surroundings. In fact, Kadare uses multiple references to sight and blindness throughout much of the book. Early on, his boy narrator even likens blindness to a stopped up toilet, where the many sights a person has taken in have somehow formed a blockage that prevents new ones from passing through.
Kadare revels in the boy's sense of wonder, his susceptibility to superstition and magical occurrences, and his lack of appreciation (and fear) over the true horrors of war. Gjirokaster takes an a dreamlike impossibility, like one of Escher's impossible prints, where "...if you slipped and fell on the street, you might well land on the roof of a house..." Water collected into a cistern from a heavy storm becomes in the boy's imagination individual, personified droplets, the new ones joining uncomfortably with the older ones already there. Mice skittering about the attic at night become Genghis Khan's Mongol hordes. After watching ants scurry about the ground, the boy asks if his grandfather can "read" ants, since their random movements look to the boy like Turkish characters forming and reforming.
Not that the town's adults are much more modern. Gjirokaster is still a land of crones and witches, prophecies and superstitions. Airplanes are fantastic flying machines, taking off and landing from a newly built airfield whose paving seemed little more than an unreasonable deprivation of the cows from their usual grazing. A local townsman plans to build a flying machine powered by a perpetual motion engine to defend the town from invaders and bring honor as well for its wondrous invention. An English airman's severed arm takes on such an iconic, almost mystical significance that it ends up in a museum and is attributed as the source of miracles.
CHRONICLE IN STONE stands magnificently with so many of Kadare's works as a darkly humorous but fully humanistic tale of life under the most strained of circumstances. Cross Franz Kafka with Garcia Marquez, and Kadare is what you get. He is a writer far too little known as yet to Americans - he deserves better.