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The Fall of the Stone City Hardcover – January 29, 2013
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At every stage all sorts of rumours about the situation and about the fate of the city circulate in it; and indeed under each regime life is so unpredictable that anything could happen. In Parts One and Two there are arbitrary arrests and then equally arbitrary releases. Events are related in a symbolical but bizarre and surrealistic manner, humorous on the surface but of course reflecting an atmosphere that is far from amusing.
Two of the citizens are doctors, unrelated but with the same name: Big Dr Guarameto, who had been trained in Germany, and Little Dr Guarameto, whose training had been in Italy. Big Dr Guarameto’s standing varied with the standing of Germany. When the Germans are in occupation, his position is relatively strong, especially as the German commandant was an old university friend of his, and Dr Guarameto gave a great dinner to him and his staff. When the Germans leave, his position is weakened; but then, when Germany was divided into a capitalist and a communist country, it becomes rather arbitrary with which Germany he is identified.
In Part Three, at the time of the “Doctors’ Plot” in the Soviet Union, both doctors are put under arrest while investigators, trained in Moscow, collect “evidence” that they had killed many of their patients. And that dinner Big Dr Guarameto had given to the German officer in 1943 was used in evidence against him. The interrogation of the doctor is a prolonged part of this section of the book - no longer bizarre now, but grimly representative of the knowledge that the investigators in such cases had accumulated before the questioning. As in the case of the Russian doctors, there was an attempt to link this case with a Zionist conspiracy, and Dr Guarmeto is tortured to make him sign statements which he knew were not true.
In the Soviet Union the death of Stalin led to the release and rehabilitation of the seven surviving Jewish doctors who had been arrested in connection with the “Plot”. Kadare’s novel does not end in a similar way.
I did not find this one of Kadare’s better novels. These often have surrealistic elements, but in this book I found the admixture less successful than in some others, inconsistent and somewhat off-putting.
Enver Hoxha, the ultimate victor in the WW II years in Albania, wrote the history of those times and you had to swallow it on pain of your life. But what really went on in that time of destruction and chaos ? Nobody inside really knows what goes on in totalitarian societies or in the time of a war involving Italians, Germans, Communists, royalists, nationalists, and even the Western allies. Everything is either confused or secret, so truth (or even a semblance of truth) disappears. Magical realist explanations of the times are as good as any---maybe they are explanations for things that have no explanation. Garcia-Marquez wrote a magnificent portrayal of dictatorship and tyranny in "The Autumn of the Patriarch"; Kadare has written a different, but equally strong book here. The Germans are about to occupy Gjirokaster (the stone city) and Albania. Two doctors in town have different takes on the event. One is closer to Germany, the other to Italy. The former gives a dinner---or does he? His old school friend from Germany turns out to be the invading commander---or does he ? Maybe he's even dead. Later, in 1953, when the Communists are in power, and Stalin is in his last days, a high powered investigation of events ten years before takes place due to the infamous "Doctors' Plot" in the USSR.. Why did the doctors act as they did ? Can we get to the bottom of this ? Can you get to the bottom of anything in history ? Does it all have to do with ghosts of the past that in Albania, as in Faulkner's Mississippi, never disappear ? Murky, full of lies, contradictions and irony, fables and propaganda, even the psychology of torturers and the tortured, this is another tour de force by one of the world's greatest living writers. Read it.