In 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. Read the rest of this entry »