The Fall of the Stone Cityby Ismail Kadare
A rich short novel in Kadare’s unique style, The Fall of the Stone City is a tale of dictatorship, resistance, and magic, set in the most tumultuous period of Albania’s recent history.
Albania, 1943. The ancient stone city of Gjirokastër is the first town in the warpath of Nazi troops invading Albania from occupied Greece. Spearheading these troops is Colonel Fritz von Schwabe, a man who happened to study with one of Gjirokastër’s most esteemed inhabitants, Dr. Gurameto. Von Schwabe is delighted to be reacquainted with his former classmate, who invites him to dine that evening at his apartment. But Albanian Resistance fighters have opened fire on the advance guard of the German tanks and, in retaliation, the Nazis have taken some of the townsfolk prisoner. Hearing the clinking of champagne glasses and the strains of Schubert from the doctor’s gramophone, the townsfolk presume that Dr. Gurameto has betrayed them but, in fact, as he hosts the colonel for dinner, Dr. Gurameto does his best to convince him to set free the prisoners the Nazis have taken, including a certain Jewish chemist. He succeeds. Years later, once the war is long over and the Communist regime has been established, the dinner and the strange events of the night of the Nazi invasion once again come to the fore. Dr. Gurameto is forced to answer to none less than Stalin himself for what happened on the evening of the Nazi invasion and reveal the secret behind the extraordinary dinner.
Masterfully intermingling Balkan legend with recent Albanian history, probing the theme of resistance in a dictatorship, The Fall of the Stone City shows Kadare at the height of his powers. .
“The name of the Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare regularly comes up at Nobel Prize time, and he is still a good bet to win it one of these days. . . . He is seemingly incapable of writing a book that fails to be interesting.” —The New York Times
“A harsh but artful study of power, truth and personal integrity . . . [The Fall of the Stone City is] an ironic, sober critique of the way totalitarianism rewrites history, from an Albanian author who’s long been the subject of Nobel whispers.” —Kirkus Reviews
“What’s most interesting apart from Kadare’s use of folk tales and dreams is [The Fall of the Stone City‘s] gender politics. . . . Like an unreconstructed Freudian, Kadare is fascinated by how men use ideological structures as proxy mechanisms to shore up their masculinity and carry out dominion over others. . . . Kadare’s skill as a storyteller [is] that he renders conventional wisdom with the force of a childhood trauma.” —Christopher Byrd, New York Times
“Kadare’s books reflect his country and are imbued with Albanian myths and metaphors. The book gives both the sense and essence of a totalitarian state in language that, while straightforward, is literary and often allegorical. . . . The Fall of the Stone City is a strong addition to Kadare’s body of translated work and which further demonstrates that he is deserving of wider acclaim and readership.” —Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Mesmerizing. . . A well-crafted translation of a European masterpiece.” —Booklist (starred review)
“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
“In his latest novel, Kadare features many of his motifs—bloody Balkan histories; bleak totalitarianism lives under silky threads of magical realism—that have made him a perpetual shortlister for Noble Prize laureate. 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
“An incisve, biting work. . . . [The Fall of the Stone City] refines our understanding of satire’s nature. . . . If you don’t know [Kadare’s] work, this is a good place to begin. I hope you won’t stop here.” —Alan Cheuse, NPR
“The town’s quirks, destiny, and characters—comic, extravagant, and all but floating an inch or two off the ground—are in some ways reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. . . . After a first part centering around a cheerfully extravagant wartime story, cracks develop; a hallucinatory crumbling ensues and descends into tightening nightmare. . . . the nexus between totalitarianism and madness is twisted tight. . . . The novel starts in the blithe wackiness of a place where gossip and rumor play the role that facts might anywhere else.” —Richard Eder, The Boston Globe
“Complex and exacting.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“The themes of Kadare’s novels—the allegories of empires old and new; the question of history and its meaning; his quiet yet persistent belief in the perseverance of the human spirit—all these apply across time and boundaries. The context for his stories is not just Albania at various points in history, it is us—the readers, and the worlds that we create in our own minds and hearts.” —Nina Sabolik, World Literature Today
“The sadism of totalitarianism is satirized as absurdist but lethal theater. . . [Kadare’s] novels are often surreal mixes of chaos, bureaucratic brutality, military overkill, and hardheaded survival (or not) by characters trapped inside a nightmare of history in a country caught in the snares of fascism and Soviet communism. This one is no exception. . . . The story takes on the flavor of mythology and folklore.” —Alan Davis, The Hudson Review
“A cryptic narrative suggesting that the past not only haunts us but—perhaps equally disturbing—that full disclosure will never be possible. Even under duress or torture. The translation by John Hodgson is seamless.” —Charles R. Larson, Counterpunch
“Multiple mysteries take shape as The Fall of the Stone City begins . . . Kadare, who is considered a Nobel literature prize contender, has an understated, elegiac style that throws the events into relief.” —Rhonda Dickey, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Kadare was awarded the inaugural International Man Booker prize in 2005, and 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
“The prose frequently evokes Albania’s rich tradition of folklore, invariably in unsettling fashion. . . . This is classic Postmodern fiction; literature which tells us that we can never be sure about the past. . . . 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.” —Peter Carty, The Independent on Sunday
“The Fall of the Stone City is playful, supremely sarcastic, mystifying, charming and bleak, by turns and all at once. Kadare raises ambiguity to an art form, and perfectly evokes the uncertainties of life under arbitrary rule.” —The New Zealand Herald
“This wonderful little novel, by the intriguing Albanian master Ismail Kadare, opens in September 1943. . . . Few writers use deceptive simplicity as well as Kadare. The Fall of the Stone City is as witty and as dark as is everything he has written in a magnificent career. . . . In Kadare’s fiction, the living and the dead are always closely connected and dead men, according to myth, are invited to dine. It all sounds very bleak, yet The Fall of the Stone City is written with a persuasive lightness of touch. Kadare’s authorial tone is invariably ironic and his fiction is playful, as if he has never lost sight of exactly how ridiculous humankind tends to be.” —The Irish Times
“One of the greatest storytellers in the world, Ismail Kadare has written another masterpiece. Superbly translated into English, The Fall of the Stone City is one of those novels that leaves the reader feeling privileged to have been whisked away into another world, into unimaginable lives and magnificent stories of joy and tragedy. . . . a Kafkaesque nightmare, an incredibly powerful tale of historical drama and human tragedy. Lovers of great literature should feast on a book like this, devouring the story and despairing when there are simply no more pages to turn.” —Rob Minshull, Australian Broadcasting Corporation Weekend Bookworm
Selected for The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize long-list