Thus far in May we’ve mentioned two Eastern European authors, Muharem Bazdulj and Bruno Schulz. Today we’ll mention a third: Ismail Kadare.
Kadare is an Albanian whose works, not too light and not too dense, manage to be both entertaining and thought-provoking. I’ve read four of his books and enjoyed all of them immensely. Kadare’s The General of the Dead Army (which I have yet to read) pops up on Tibor Fischer’s Top Ten Eastern European Novels list. He’s also up for the Man Booker International Prize.
Back in January I posted on The File on H, Kadare’s novel on scholars trying to shed light on Homer by studying oral epic in Albania. The book, which could have been dry and pseudo-academic, was suprisingly funny and extremely entertaining. I just finished The Palace of Dreams a few minutes ago, and as always with Kadare, I was far from disappointed. Mark-Alem is a scion of the noble Quprili family, an Albanian family that has provided generals, viziers, and high officials to the Ottoman Empire for centuries. Mark-Alem gets a job at the Tabar Sarrail, the Palace of Dreams, where all the dreams from every corner of the Ottoman Empire are collected, sorted, and interpreted. Kadare’s description of this unusual state agency doubles as a darkly satirical criticism of totalitarian bureaucracy, and because of this the book was banned in Albania.
The Palace of Dreams contains all the familiar Kadare themes: state violence, the power of epic, the tragic whimsy of fate, and the complex question of Albanian identity. There are even concrete links to an earlier novel, The Three-Arched Bridge, in which a monk chronicles the building of a bridge in Albania- a bridge that doubles as Albania itself.
All of Kadare’s works are “important” in the sense that they shed light on Albania’s past and present. His books are multilayered and multifaceted without being too complex. He writes sparely and effectively. He’s a storyteller, and this in the end is what sets him apart. Many times “important” books are also “dry” and “uninteresting” books. Kadare’s works are consistently funny, suspenseful, lyrical, and ENTERTAINING which, in the end, is all that really matters when one tries to read the world.
Check out Kadare’s books at amazon, here.