Posts Tagged ‘Ismail Kadare’

‘The Doll’ by Ismail Kadare – A Portrait of His Mother


‘The Doll’ by Ismail Kadare    (2015) – 175 pages                  Translated from the Albanian by John Hodgson


The doll in ‘The Doll’ is the mother of Ismail Kadare. The first-person narrator is named Ismail Kadare who becomes an aspiring fiction writer. Yes, this is an auto-fiction. Young people today who wish to write auto-fiction could learn a lot from this old master, Ismail Kadare. The tone here is cheerful throughout.

Here is the situation of Kadare’s parents which he describes in ‘The Doll’. His father is from one of the old, staid, and elite families of the city of Tirana in Albania and they live in a large intimidating ancient mansion. His mother, only 17 when she married his father, comes from a home of gypsies, birds, and violins, After her marriage, the young bride must move into this cold grim old house of her husband’s family and she must contend with the chilliness of a disapproving mother-in-law who “had a reputation both for tight-lipped severity and for wisdom”.

Houses like ours seemed constructed with the specific purpose of preserving coldness and misunderstanding for as long as possible.”

However, despite appearances, it was Kadare’s mother’s family who had more money than his father’s family.

‘The Doll’ is a novel of families and their in-laws played out in a rapidly changing Albania, for the years covered are those when Communism and earlier the rigid regime of Enver Hoxha fell.

Kadare probably could have written an entire novel about this early fierce family situation but instead he moves on to his own marriage much later which was again beset by in-law problems.

As Ismail grows up and becomes famous in his literary career, his mother interacts with the playwrights, movie directors, etc who come to their house.

The events of this novel are somewhat too scattered to be entirely successful as fiction. It becomes a book of somewhat random reminiscences.

And I never quite figured out the significance of the doll analogy for his mother.

Ultimately for me, this was not one of Kadare’s more successful novels. The focus seemed somewhat too scattered.


Grade:    B



‘The Traitors Niche’ by Ismail Kadare – A Comedy of Beheadings


‘The Traitors Niche’ by Ismail Kadare (1978)  – 200 pages      Translated from the Albanian by John Hodgson

Ismail Kadare of Albania is one of those writers I keep coming back to because I get a lot out of his novels. ‘The Traitor’s Niche’ is no exception.

‘The Traitor’s Niche’ is a historical novel and a laugh riot that takes place in the early nineteenth century when Albania was still part of the brutal Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman rule was harsh to say the least, and in the main square of Constantinople they kept what was called a Traitor’s Niche where just the head of a leader who had rebelled against the empire was displayed to the public. Whenever a new rebellion was quashed the head of its leader would replace the head that was currently displayed. ‘The Traitor’s Niche’ is the story of the beheading of one such rebel leader Black Ali, the transfer of his head to the square in Constantinople, and the care and grooming of the head to keep it in shape for public display.

The blade of destiny had harvested its crop, and it was there on the table, this white cabbage from the gardens of Hell.”

Not only were the Ottoman rulers constantly quashing uprisings; they also made harsh attempts to strip or erase their conquered people of their national identities. Kadare calls this stripping of identity Caw-caw, and the Ottomans used several methods to achieve this goal. Weddings are one occasion where communities celebrate their roots, so the Ottoman rulers would come up with diabolical ways to debase, distort, or entirely eliminate the wedding rites of these subjugated people.

Another Ottoman goal was to reduce their various conquered peoples’ languages down to what Kadare calls Nonspeak:

Words had been expunged from dictionaries, rules of grammar and syntax had gradually been erased until they vanished from use, and finally the letters of the alphabet were rubbed out.”

So among all the fun and mischief of the beheadings and the care and grooming and display of these severed heads, Kadare makes some serious points about the destruction of a people’s culture and language by a conquering empire.

That is what I like most about Ismail Kadare, his mixture of the profane and the sacred. Not many writers have the ambition or the wherewithal to deal with an entire nation’s identity and still be humorous.


Grade:   A


‘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.


Grade :   B   


‘Twilight of the Eastern Gods’ by Ismail Kadare – Days and Nights at the Gorky Institute of World Literature

‘Twilight of the Eastern Gods’ by Ismail Kadare  (1978)   –  185 pages

Translated from the French of Jusuf Vrioni by David Bellos   Grade: B+


The great Albanian writer Ismail Kadare acquired a national reputation for literary work at a very young age, and he was selected for the Gorky Institute of World Literature in Moscow at the age of twenty.  ‘Twilight of the Eastern Gods’ is the lightly fictionalized account of Kadare’s time at the Gorky Institute.

This was a great honor for a college age guy from the small country of Albania, and Kadare had a wonderful time in Moscow playing ping pong, chasing a number of Soviet girls, and walking along the river searching for places with a band and music.

However as for producing literature, Kadare quickly found the Gorky Institute a non-starter.  The Soviet Union was still recovering from the Joseph Stalin tyranny, and it was dangerous to be an independent creative writer there.  Of course Russia has a proud tradition of producing great writers, and the Soviet Union wanted to continue that tradition even under the severe constraints of the post-Stalin era.

In the Soviet Union the style of literature called ‘Socialist Realism’ was in heavy fashion, and Kadare has a great time making fun of it.  The main purpose of Socialist Realism was to advance the goals of socialism and Communism and usually involved proud peasants working in the fields in order to achieve these goals.

“Not only did it contain no mention of the institutions of the state, it did not admit of a single construction in brick or stone. Nothing but gurgling streams, fidelity and flowers, and a few hymns sung of an evening to the glory of the Communist Party of the USSR.”

 What annoyed Kadare most was that none of the writing being produced there contained any real description of how things actually were in Moscow.

The defining event of the time that Kadare spent at the Gorky Institute was when Russian writer Boris Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958.   Pasternak’s novel ‘Dr. Zhivago’ was rejected for publication in the Soviet Union and then was smuggled out of the country in order to be published.  Pasternak’s winning the Nobel Prize humiliated and enraged the Soviet Union authorities, and they denigrated Pasternak and forced him to refuse to accept the prize.  What should have been a proud moment in Soviet literary history became a huge embarrassment.

Gorky Institute of World Literature

Gorky Institute of World Literature

The entire account of the Pasternak campaign is told without any fictional embellishment in ‘Twilight of the Eastern Gods’.  Typescripts of  ‘Dr. Zhivago’ were passed from writer to writer at the Gorky Institute.

Despite Kadare’s scorn of ‘Socialist Realism’ and the Soviet literary world of the 1950s, ‘Twilight of the Eastern Gods’ is also a light-hearted novel of a young man enjoying his time in Moscow. More than one romantic escapade is fondly remembered.


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