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General of the Dead Army Paperback – International Edition, January 6, 2009
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"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 *
About the Author
ISMAIL KADARE, born in 1936 in the mountain town of Gjirokaster, near the Greek border, is Albania's best-known poet and novelist. Since the appearance of The General of the Dead Army in 1965, Kadare has published scores of stories and novels that make up a panorama of Albanian history linked by a constant meditation on the nature and human consequences of dictatorship. "Dictatorship and authentic literature are incompatible," he wrote. "The writer is the natural enemy of dictatorship." His works brought him into frequent conflict with the authorities from 1945 to 1985. In 1990 he sought political asylum in France, and now divides his time between Paris and Tirana. He is the winner of the first ever Man Booker International Prize.
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Compare this to the opening paragraph in Amazons " Look Inside" preview of the Vintage Edition.
Somewhere,somehow a lot of lyricism was lost between the Albanian >French>English version.
In the Albanian the paragraph reads: "Mbi tokën e huaj binte shi dhe dëborë përzier bashkë. Sqota kishte qullur betonin e pistës së aeroportit, ndërtesat, rojat. Ajo lagte fushën dhe brigjet dhe shkëlqente mbi asfaltin e zi të xhadesë. Sikur të mos ishte fillimi i vjeshtës, çdo njeriu tjetër, përveç gjeneralit të porsaardhur, do t'i dukej ky shi monoton një koicidencë e trishtuar. Ai po vinte në Shqipëri nga një shtet i huaj për tërheqjen e eshtrave të ushtarëve të vrarë këtu në luftën e fundit botërore. Bisedimet midis dy qeverive kishin filluar që në pranverë, por kontratat përfundimtare u nënshkruan vetëm në fund të gushtit, taman në kohën kur filluan vranësirat e para. Pra ishte vjeshtë dhe shiu kishte kohën e tij. Gjenerali e dinte këtë. Para se të nisej, kishte mësuar midis të tjerave edhe diçka për klimën e Shqipërisë. Gjenerali e dinte që në Shqipëri vjeshta është e lagët dhe me shi. Por, edhe sikur në librin që kishte lexuar të shkruhej se në Shqipëri vjeshta është me diell dhe e thatë, atij nuk do t'i dukej ky shi i papritur. Përkundrazi. Dhe shkaku ishte se atij i ishte dukur gjithmonë se misioni i tij mund të kryhej vetëm në shi. "
Even as a neophyte student of Albanian I could pick up awkward phrases in this translation.
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. Gradually, however, the grim nature of the task begins to wear on the general as heavily as the mountainous terrain and the unforgiving weather. He begins seeing himself as the Albanians must view him, as a commander of a steadily growing force that could be formed into sections and companies and battalions, eventually to become full regiments and divisions. He imagines himself leading those men during the war in such a way as to bring victory without their deaths and, later, he leads them to victories in battles fought by Caesar, Charlemagne, and Napoleon, all the way up to Korea and Vietnam. "Who would dare stand up to my Nylon Army?" he tells himself.
The general's grip on reality diminishes in evident proportion to his project's percentage of completion so that, as the mission nears conclusion, he loses his sense of diplomatic perspective altogether. Ignoring the priest's warnings, the general decides one evening to attend a locals' wedding in a small town. He is received cordially as custom dictates, but coldly nonetheless, and his behavior precipitates the book's climactic crisis before tensions and emotions recede to their former banality at story's end. In some ways, the general's gradual, alcohol-fueled descent into a sort of temporary madness is strongly reminiscent of Geoffrey Firmin's far more tragic, one day, alcoholic descent in Lowry's UNDER THE VOLCANO.
An interesting stylistic element of THE GENERAL OF THE DEAD ARMY is Kadare's decision to render nearly all his characters nameless. The general, the priest, the expert, the Albanian lieutenant-general and mayor, Colonel Z. - none have names, just occupational titles. Even the dead soldier whose diary the general reads is known to the locals as "Soldier." Only a few Albanians are gifted the warmth of names: Christine in Soldier's diary and the gravediggers, Reiz and Lilo. Everyone else labors in anonymity, as befits the honor of the unknown dead to whose recovered remains they are attempting to reattach names.
As Kadare often does, he sprinkles his work with references to events and places in other of his novels. For example, he includes several references to the city of Gjirokaster and its citadel, to the arrival of a small band of prostitutes, and to the recovery in a downed plane of a dead English pilot's hand, all of which can be found again in CHRONICLE IN STONE. Albania is Kadare's equivalent of Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, a sort of ubercharacter present in all his works. It is a place whose presence and force equals that of his human characters and seems, in fact, to shape their behaviors. For example, in describing his countrymen's warlike propensities, he writes: "...the Albanians are given to war by their very nature....They hurl themselves into it with all their hearts and with eyes wide open....once they've been given a shot of it they become intoxicated...deprived of war and weapons this people would wither away, its roots would dry up and it would eventually just disappear." Yet since these words are spoken by the Italian priest by way of explanation to the Italian general, who knows if they are Kadare's views or his perspective of outsiders' views on his country?