‘A Girl in Exile’ by Ismail Kadare – Requiem for Linda B.

 

‘A Girl in Exile’ by Ismail Kadare   (2009) – 185 pages    Translated from the Albanian by John Hodgson

I was surprised to find that this is the fourth novel by Ismail Kadare that I have reviewed here at Tony’s Book World.  That fact alone does indicate the high esteem in which I hold Ismail Kadare as a writer of modern fiction.

Kadare spent much of his childhood and many years thereafter living in his home country of Albania then ruled by the Communist totalitarian regime of Enver Hoxha.  This life in a brutal repressive regime has been the main subject of Kadare’s fiction especially since 1991 when the Communist government in Albania collapsed.  ‘A Girl in Exile’ is another Kadare novel which deals with this terrible time in Albanian history.

The narrator in ‘A Girl in Exile’ is a writer – a playwright – much like Kadare himself.  Like Kadare, this playwright achieved great success at an early age and is held in watchful respect by the Communist Party.  However the Party does monitor his plays before allowing them to be performed, and that is one of the possible reasons the playwright thinks that he may have been called in to be interviewed by two members of the Party.  The other possible reason he thinks he may have been called in to be questioned is for a fight in which he has hit his latest girlfriend.

However the real reason he has been called in is neither his new play nor his fight with his new girlfriend.  Instead the officials are curious about another girl, Linda B., who has never met the playwright but who has one of his books which he had personally signed.  During the Communist years, certain families were forced into internal exile within Albania itself for the “crime” of being middle class.  These people who were victims of internal exile were forced to live in some remote town and were not allowed to travel within the country, especially not to the biggest Albanian city of Tirana where the playwright lives.

The playwright’s new girlfriend is a college age student who is a friend of Linda B.  He has taken up with this new young girl while his longtime paramour is away. This young girlfriend takes the book he signed to Linda B.   As I mentioned before, the playwright is worried that the authorities may have found out about his fight with this new girlfriend in which he hit her.  This playwright is no saint.  The Communist authorities allow this playwright to get away with much more than other Albanian people because of his world-renowned stature as a writer.  Linda B. worships him from afar because of his writing.  Linda B. has fallen in love with the playwright although she has never met him. Linda B. will do anything to get to Tirana to meet the playwright, even fake cancer.

So there are two themes in ‘A Girl in Exile’, the brutality of the Communist officials in imposing these internal exiles on their own Albanian people and the adulation by even the Communist authorities and everyone else of a major literary star.

I found the worship of this playwright by this college age girl Linda B. who never met him rather unbelievable and also hard to take.  Somehow I felt like all of this adulation for this playwright has gone straight to his head.

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Grade :   B   

 

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8 responses to this post.

  1. I’ve made a note of your review and will come back here when I’ve read my copy. I hold Kadare in high esteem too, and still can’t quite believe that I’d never heard of him till he won what was then the new Man Booker International…

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    • Hi Lisa,
      I see that they have switched the Man Booker International Award from being a lifetime achievement award to an award for a particular novel for that year. Kadare is up for a novel called ‘The Traitor’s Niche’ which I suppose hasn’t been translated yet.

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      • Yes, an interesting switch… I’m only guessing but I suspect that the change opens it up to a broader range of authors, where before – perhaps – the greater the body of work, the more likely it was to win and the harder it was to compare merits. (Not that it’s easy to compare the merits of individual books either). But almost by definition since the publishing industry in Latin America and Africa is still developing, judging by a body of work automatically created a bias towards Europe.
        The Traitor’s Niche is indeed available, and I’ve reviewed it:)
        (See https://anzlitlovers.com/2017/06/07/the-traitors-niche-by-ismail-kadare-translated-by-john-hodgson-bookreview/)

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        • Another reason Man-Booker may have given up on the Lifetime Achievement Award was that it too closely resembled the Nobel Prize for Literature with the same authors vying.
          I read your excellent review of ‘The Traitor’s Niche’ and at the very end you mention ‘The Three-Arched Bridge’. I knew I had not read that one, but I had read a novel which I consider a masterpiece called ‘The Bridge Over the Drina’ by Ivo Andric about the interactions between the Muslims and the Christians and the Jews in that same part of the world. That novel will stay in my mind forever.

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          • Yes, you’re probably right about the Nobel being a factor as well, and maybe also the current gender wars about women not winning enough prizes too.
            I have to read Bridge on the Drina, I can’t remember who recommended it to me (but probably Stu) but I have had it for ages and it’s only a short book.

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  2. I know him but I’ve never read him. Out of the ones you’ve read, which one would you recommend?

    Liked by 1 person

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    • Hi Emma,
      My two Kadare favorites are ‘The Palace of Dreams’ and ‘The Successor’, although ‘Twilight of the Eastern Gods’ is also very fine.

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