by Ismail Kadare 29 Jan 2013
Publisher: Grove Press
It is 1943, and the Second World War is ravaging Europe. Mussolini decides to pull out of his alliance with the Nazis, and withdraws the Italian troops occupying Albania. Soon after, Nazi forces invade Albania from occupied Greece. The first settlement in their path is the ancient stone city of Gjirokastër, an Albanian stronghold since the fourteenth century. The townsfolk have no choice but to surrender to the Nazis, but are confused when they see that one of the town's residents, a certain Dr. Gurameto, seems to be showing the invading Nazi Colonel great hospitality. That evening, strains of Schubert from the doctor's gramophone waft out into the cobbled streets of the city, and the sounds of a dinner party are heard. The sudden disappearance of the Nazis the next morning leaves the town wondering if they might have dreamt the events of the previous night. But as Albania moves into a period of occupation by the Nazis, and then is taken over by the communists, Dr. Gurameto is forced to answer for what happened on the evening of the Nazi's invasion, and finally explain the events of that long, strange night.
Dealing with themes of resistance in a dictatorship, and steeped in Albanian folklore and legend, The Fall of the Stone City shows Kadare at the height of his powers.
"A thoughtful exploration of the colluding forces of fascism and communism and a country caught between them that is at once obscure and enigmatic, lucid and insistent." - Publishers Weekly
"Starred Review. Mesmerizing ... A well-crafted translation of a European masterpiece." - Booklist
"A harsh but artful study of power, truth and personal integrity." - Kirkus Reviews
"A dreamworld where history and fiction come together ... Ismail Kadare's subject, as always, is the presence of the past. ... more astonishing and truthful than any mere documentary chronicle." - The Guardian (UK)
"The Fall of the Stone City is a masterly recuperation; an outstanding feat of imagination delivered in inimitable style, alternating between the darkly elusive and the menacingly playful." - The Independent on Sunday (UK)
"In this disorienting, absorbing, Kafkaesque novel his skill is clearly evident as he conjures the city's nervy mood. Plot advances obliquely through a whirl of rumors to the doctor's horrifying final act. A masterful performance." - Daily Mail (UK)
Albanian writer Ismail Kadare was born in Gjirokaster, Albania in 1936; his
father worked in the civil service. He studied at the Faculty of
History and Philology at the University of Tirana, graduating with a teaching
diploma in 1956, before moving to Moscow to study at the Maxim Gorky Literature
Institute, where he stayed until 1960 when relations between Albania and the
Soviet Union soured.
His first collection of poetry was published when he was 18. His first novel, The General of the Dead Army, was published when he was 27.
Although some people viewed him as a dissident during the communist era, he disagrees. In an interview on Albanian TV in 2006 he was asked whether he had ever tried to present himself as a dissident, to which he replied "Absolutely not. Others have said this, and I could not do anything when foreign journalists wrote "The dissident author Ismail Kadare...".
He was a family friend of Enver Hoxha (1908-1985), Albania's dictator for 40 years, and was at one time a delegate in the one-party parliament (1970). He was the only writer in Communist Albania whose writings were not prohibited (although he was forbidden from writing for three years during a crack-down in the '70s) and some of his writings appear to support the regime. One such work is The Great Winter which he describes as "the price I had to pay for freedom". Other works are clearly not in favor, for example What Are These Mountains Thinking About, is said to be one of the clearest expressions of Albanian self-image under the communist dictatorship.
In short, in a society in which all arts were completely and ruthlessly controlled by the state, Kadare trod a fine line. In his own words "dissidence was a position no one could occupy, even for a few days, without facing the firing squad. On the other hand, my books themselves constitute a very obvious form of resistance."
In October 1990, shortly before the fall of communism in Albania, he sought and was granted asylum in France. He now divides his time between Paris and Tirana, the capital of Albania. His work has been published in over 40 countries and in 2005 he was awarded the inaugural Booker International Prize and the Prix Mondial Cino Del Duca (a French literary prize that recognizes an author whose work conveys a message of modern humanism).
Several of his novels have been published in the US, including The Pyramid, The Three-Arched Bridge, The Concert, The Palace of Dreams, The File on H, Elegy For Kosovo and Spring Flowers, Spring Frost.