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The Fall of the Stone City – Ismail Kadare

15 May

Stoney FacedIn September 1943, German soldiers advance on the ancient gates of Gjirokastër, Albania. It is the first step in a carefully planned invasion. But once at the mouth of the city, the troops are taken aback by a surprising act of rebellion that leaves the citizens fearful of a bloody counter-attack.

Soon rumours circulate, in cafes, houses and alleyways, that the Nazi Colonel in command of the German Army was once a school acquaintance of a local dignitary, Doctor Gurameto. In the town square, Colonel von Schwabe greets his former classmate warmly; in return, Doctor Gurameto invites him to dinner. The very next day, the Colonel and his army disappear from the city.

The dinner at Gurameto’s house changes the course of events in twentieth-century Europe. But as the citizens celebrate their hero, a conspiracy surfaces which leads some to place Gurameto – and the stone city – at the heart of a plot to undermine Socialism.

Thanks to Sarah over at Hard Book Habit for bringing this book to my attention and thanks to the well-known chain of bookshops that actually bothered to stock it, rather than just pander to the popular books and terrible novelty things clogging up the entrance that one has to wade through before getting to the good stuff.

World War II is a natural hotbed for history and literature (although perhaps it is reaching saturation point on the latter), yet Albania and its inhabitants aren’t mentioned in anything I have read.  Neighbour Greece has plenty written about it but it is surprising that Albania hasn’t had as much coverage as it makes for an interesting study.  Part of Italy’s empire until their eventual capitulation, taken over by Germany and then under the yoke of communism, there is certainly plenty of scope for exploring the political and human aspects of the conflict.

Mixing fact and fiction Kadare creates a thought-provoking story, filled with satire and darkness where fact and fiction mingle to manufacture confusion and fear at every turn.  From the outset there is a feel of magical realism to the book, slightly reminiscent of Gabriel García Márquez but this is layered over with a nightmarish quality that runs through the book, hinted at in the beginning and coming to brutal fruition towards the end.

The interpretation of events is key and coming to a truth – but not necessarily the correct version of said truth – is key to the book, the subsequent consequences based on these conclusions makes for a state in which heroes can become victims and vice versa at a whim.  There is a fantastical element (in the way it is written) to this but also a brutal reality, it makes for plenty of comic tragedy of the highest order.

The chaos and uncertainty of war and the need for conspiracies to drive forward events to allow people to subject others; coupled with the nature of people, endlessly speculating, creating stories and sowing confusion makes for an enigmatic tale.  One which moves fluidly between historical events, folklore, superstition and the inevitable ability for people to believe whatever is suggested to them, thanks to the paranoid and ridiculous fear of rulers.

At the heart of the book though is a resistance to forced authority of dictators and the whispers of a paranoid regime that sees treachery everywhere.  Everything is seen as symbolic, of something mysterious and dangerous or heroic and defiant, its frighteningly absurd as the needs of the individual impresses on the truth corrupting it to their own needs, leading to an insurmountable problem that ‘needs’ to be policed.

Kadare’s book is very intriguing, not only did I feel the need to check out more about Albania during the war but also in general and I will certainly be looking for more of his books in future.  His style is both oblique and incisive and will appeal to those who love a bit of Orwell or Kafka.

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32 Comments

Posted by on 15/05/2016 in Fiction

 

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32 responses to “The Fall of the Stone City – Ismail Kadare

  1. Sarah

    15/05/2016 at 13:55

    Great review Steve! I shall have to put a link to my own review as a contrasting example of what a proper reading of it looks like! Even though I didn’t especially hit it off with TFOTSC, I could see enough in Kadare’s writing to want to explore more, so I’ll definitely be back for more!

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Ste J

      15/05/2016 at 13:58

      A proper reading lol, you do say the nicest things. I enjoyed all the misinformation going around but I can see why you didn’t enjoy it as much as moi. I may have to do some more book shopping soon, you do cost me a pretty penny!

      Like

       
  2. Jill Weatherholt

    15/05/2016 at 20:07

    Excellent review, Ste J!

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      16/05/2016 at 07:46

      Thank you, on reflection, I think I could have put more about the book in but I am loathe to spoil too much.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  3. gargoylebruce

    15/05/2016 at 21:39

    Incidentally, did Albania do any good in Eurovision?

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      16/05/2016 at 07:42

      They failed to get out of the semi finals but here’s hoping for next year!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  4. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder

    16/05/2016 at 00:25

    Your choice of books always fascinates me. A wonderful review and I am adding this to my TBR list. Haven’t read any of Kadare’s works…he has won the Man Booker Award for one of his books, I think…

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    • Ste J

      16/05/2016 at 08:03

      I think it was the international award for the body of work produced. My Albanian history is sketchy at best so how could I pass up on such an author with the Booker recommendation and my own curiosity. You never know what book I will review next, such is my mix but I think the next one will fascinate you as well.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  5. Liz

    16/05/2016 at 09:36

    Thanks for highlighting this book – always interesting to get these left-field writings. Re your comment about WWII saturation, I know what you mean, and you may even be right, but it is so important to keep the knowledge and reality alive for upcoming generations that I hope it never tails off.

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    • Ste J

      17/05/2016 at 14:00

      I agree that new interpretations or fictional focusses on some lesser written about aspect is always good but reading the blurb of a lot of these books, I feel the urge to just put them down as it gets wearying. This book was refreshing, completely new to me as well which made me happy. I would like to go to Albania now and wander the Accursed Mountains.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  6. Love, Life and Whatever

    16/05/2016 at 16:11

    That’s a crisp to the best review. Yes I have read one of his short stories but this one seems to be a good pick. He is a powerful writer with a political inclination.

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    • Ste J

      17/05/2016 at 14:08

      He has been referred to as the Albanian Solzhenitsyn which is always a good pointer to his type of book. I will look for his short stories as well when I next go shopping.

      Like

       
  7. Jilanne Hoffmann

    16/05/2016 at 18:40

    Oh, this sounds tempting…..will have to see if I can accidentally run into this one somewhere in this bookish city.

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      17/05/2016 at 13:50

      If not I am sure you may accidentally bump into something else equally interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  8. macjam47

    17/05/2016 at 13:36

    Excellent review, Steve. I love when a historical fiction writer can meld both worlds together, so you aren’t sure where one ends and the other begins.

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    • Ste J

      17/05/2016 at 14:03

      It encourages the reader to research as well which then means more knowledge and things to look up and in turn more books. It’s the best cycle after the water cycle.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • macjam47

        17/05/2016 at 14:34

        Hope you’re having a great day. Ours is quite soggy here.

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        • Ste J

          19/05/2016 at 12:43

          It’s not too bad here, dry for the moment but it’ll probably rain later, such is the way of the weather these days, so unpredictable.

          Liked by 1 person

           
          • macjam47

            19/05/2016 at 13:10

            Exactly! I want to live in a perfect weather world. Sunny, warm spring. Hot, but not too hot and definitely not humid summer. Beautiful cool, but not cold fall. Snowy winter. A world where we get rain only at night. Is that too much to ask?

            Like

             
            • Ste J

              19/05/2016 at 13:13

              Sounds perfect and it could be closer than you think, plenty of companies are taking out patents for cloud farming which would help with crops and control the weather, which is as frightening as it is fascinating. I don’t mind the odd light shower in the day as long as I get told two weeks in advance so I can get excited for it and drink a diet coke, just like an advert.

              Liked by 1 person

               
              • macjam47

                19/05/2016 at 13:32

                Well, if you lived here this spring you would need cases of diet coke. All that advertising money would be flowing in faster than you could drink it all. LOL.

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                • Ste J

                  19/05/2016 at 13:38

                  You see I would come over but having the body of an adonis would make the area busy with women and I would hate to inflict that upon you lol.

                  Like

                   
                  • macjam47

                    20/05/2016 at 00:10

                    Well, you might be an Adonis, but you’d be a soggy one.

                    Like

                     
                    • Ste J

                      20/05/2016 at 08:36

                      Which is a good excuse to blame the weather on the my actual un-adonis-ness.

                      Liked by 1 person

                       
  9. shadowoperator

    18/05/2016 at 11:27

    Thanks for the review–this sounds like a book well worth investigating. I wasn’t aware that Albania played much of a role in WW II. Can you tell just how factual it really is, I mean, in the larger details, not in the fantasy bits?

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    • Ste J

      19/05/2016 at 13:10

      Albania is a bit of a dark horse, I think it was more a bystander ruled over by various powers than anything. The fantasy bits are based in the hearsay and folk tales aspect, the history is there in the background and you will easily be able to separate the two until it all goes a bit mad with the Soviets but that was how they liked it.

      Like

       
  10. anna amundsen

    22/05/2016 at 11:11

    I had his ‘The Palace of the Dreams’ for months on my bedside table. I haven’t picked it once..
    But I am still planning to. I also own ‘The General of the Dead Army’ so, if I find myself inspired by these I will probably get to ‘The Fall of the Stone City’ as well..

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      22/05/2016 at 19:29

      The General of the Dead Army is possibly next on my list although I was recommended Chronicle in Stone which is I believe more of an overview of Albania’s history which sounds great. I hope you enjoy your Kadare’s.

      Like

       
    • G.

      26/05/2016 at 20:44

      I recommend Broken April and Chronicle In Stone over The Fall of The Stone City. Btw the books you’ve picked are very good choices. If you like Kafka then you’ll enjoy The Palace of Dreams

      Like

       
  11. The Book Haven

    03/06/2016 at 03:54

    The plot seems brilliant.. it’s on my list now. I love war/conspiracy books!

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      03/06/2016 at 12:56

      It feels new as so little is talked about of the Albanian people during WWII, mix it in with an almost surreal atmosphere and it is a memorable read.

      Liked by 1 person

       

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