Kadare (Twilight of the Eastern Gods, 2015, etc.) subverts the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice into a parable of totalitarianism.
The prizewinning novelist published this in his native Albania in 2009 and set it within “the dictatorship of the proletariat” that ruled his homeland for much of the latter half of the 20th century. The protagonist is a playwright who has been summoned for questioning by the Party Committee. He figures his newest work has fallen under scrutiny by investigators, who would be “looking for hostile catchphrases, counting the number of lines given to negative characters as against positive ones, looking at the fingerprints on the manuscript to find out if anyone suspicious had read it.” Instead, it seems, the issue at hand is an entirely different matter: a young woman has committed suicide, and in her hands was a book the writer had inscribed to her. He tells the committee he had never met her but had inscribed the book at a reading, at the request of another young woman, with whom he had proceeded into a tumultuous relationship. The playwright had suspected that this woman might be a spy for the government, and now he becomes increasingly concerned about his suspected involvement in the death of a woman he never met. The novel spirals deeper into surreal mystery as it explores the relationship between the two women, the impetus for the suicide, and the impact of the investigation on a play the protagonist is in the process of writing. “Better if you don’t know,” an investigator responds when the playwright asks of the circumstances surrounding the suicide. In his obsessive reflections, the playwright somehow becomes Orpheus, whose artistry can bring his wife back from the dead, but only if he keeps from looking at her as he leads her out of Hades. Myth and dream, memory and repression, all converge as the novel illuminates the essence of art in totalitarian Albania.
An author respected throughout Europe should reach a wider American readership with this subversive novel.