Summary and book reviews of Agamemnon's Daughter by Ismail Kadare

Agamemnon's Daughter

A Novella and Stories

By Ismail Kadare

Agamemnon's Daughter
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  • Hardcover: Nov 2006,
    240 pages.

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Book Summary

From the winner of the first Man Booker International Prize comes a crushing story of love taken away without warning and shattered by the icy wheels of the state.

Albania: the waning years of Communism. The narrator, working for the state-controlled media agency, has taken as his lover Suzana, the daughter of a high-ranking government official, rumored to be soon appointed the dictator’s successor. Suzana’s father has forced her to end the affair, which could damage, if not ruin, his career. Still, the young man has received an invitation to attend the May First Parade on the Party platform: an enviable privilege. While the usual ceremony of the regime’s self-glorification unfolds, our narrator suddenly sees—between the flags, the propaganda streamers, and portraits of the country’s leaders—the ghostly image of Agamemnon, the terrifying general of the ancient Greeks. A hallucination or just his imagination? Instinctively he senses that his “sin” of loving will result in his own downfall, as Agamemnon’s was caused by sacrificing his daughter, Iphigenia.

In this spellbinding novel, written in Albania and smuggled into France a few pages at a time in the 1980s, Kadare denounces with rare force the machinery of the dictatorial regime, drawing us back to the ancient roots of Western civilization and tyranny.

Also included are "The Blinding Order," a parable of the Ottoman Empire about the uses of terror in authoritarian regimes, and "The Great Wall," a chilling duet between a Chinese official and a soldier in the invading army of the horrifying Tamerlane.

In early winter, the sightless suddenly began congregating on sidewalks and in cafés. Their fumbling steps caused passersby to stop and stare in disbelief. Although citizens had lived for months in fear of the qorrfirman, the sight of its results rooted them to the ground, petrified them.

For some time people had allowed themselves to think that the victims of that notorious order had been swallowed up in the dark night of oblivion, that the only people you would come across in the street or the square were the formerly blind, with their unchanging appearance, the peaceful tap-tap-tap of their sticks— the kind of blind people everyone’s eyes and ears were long accustomed to. But now the first winter freeze had brought with it innumerable blind folk of a new and far more lugubrious kind.

There was something specific about them that distinguished them from the traditionally unsighted. They had a disturbing swagger, and their sticks made a menacing knock-knock-knock ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Most of us are used to reading books that combine the bitter with the sweet, but there is little if anything sweet to grasp on to in these three stories - there is no spoonful of honey to help the medicine go down, but just like The Swallows of Kabul, these stories are written with a humanity that will touch your soul, if you give them a chance.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
The Washington Times - Carol Herman

Cold gruel here. Of portraying the utter absence of humanity in a nation's cruelest hours, Mr. Kadare has few peers. Kafka, maybe.

Kirkus Reviews

Unfortunately, Kadare's considerable gifts are absent from the title novella. [However, the two shorter stories are very good, in particular "The Blinding Order" which is] superbly plotted, charged with bitter black humor, it's a masterly parable ... Kadare is a great writer, and "The Blinding Order" in particular is not to be missed.

Publishers Weekly

Through a wry and compelling set of ruminations on the grandstand, the journalist finds that a government that would deny young love denies humanity, and seeks the isolation of every citizen - which in turn pits neighbor against neighbor in a fever of paranoid denunciation. That simple but powerful insight also lies behind the two shorter, more allegorical works in the collection...

Booklist - Ray Olson

The three tales collected here realize the theme of fear as an instrument of power with consummate art.

Library Journal

His portrait of totalitarian arrogance and ruthlessness here is absolutely chilling. Enthusiastically recommended.

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Beyond the Book

A Short History of Albania

Today, Albania is a country slightly smaller than the USA State of Maryland with a population of about 3.5 million.  It is bordered by Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and the Adriatic Sea. Albanian is spoken by about 6 million people living in Albania, Kosovo and the Republic of Macedonia.

It is believed by most that Albanians are direct descendants of an Illyrian tribe named "Albanoi".  The Illyrians were Indo-European tribesman who populated the Balkan Peninsula around 1000 BC (Bronze Age/early Iron Age).  The area fell under Roman control in 165 BC, and Christianity arrived in the first century AD (Paul preached in Illyricum).  Following the fall of the Roman ...

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