A miscellany showcasing earlier work by the Albanian author (Elegy for Kosovo, 2000, etc.) and recipient of the first Man Booker International Prize.
Unfortunately, Kadare’s considerable gifts are absent from the title novella, a precursor to his 2003 novel The Successor. Its unnamed narrator, a journalist for the nation’s Broadcast Services, weighs his unexpected special invitation to the annual May Day Parade (a perk reserved for Socialist Party faithful) against his lover Suzana’s announcement that her father’s sensitive position—as chosen successor to Albania’s moribund dictator—obliges her to end their relationship. Nothing happens, literally, as the narrator ruefully compares Suzana’s decision to Greek king Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia, intended to placate gods directing the Trojan War’s outcome; tries to distinguish his own situation from those of friends and acquaintances who have compromised and betrayed in order to ensure their political survival; and clearly foresees the fate awaiting him. This turgid, redundant semi-fiction is far less interesting than the stories that accompany it. “The Great Wall” (1993) presents a plan to repair the Chinese landmark from the (oddly similar) viewpoints of a Chinese official and a barbarian member of the invading army of “Timur the Lame” (aka Tamurlane). It’s a wry Borgesian explication of the complementary permutations of conquest and survival. Even better is “The Blinding Order” (1984), set in the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century, when a sultan’s decree sentences “carriers” of “the evil eye” to be blinded. This brilliant metaphor (and premise) speaks volumes about the brutality and illogic of paranoid regimes (and is, incidentally, linked through its main subplot to Kadare’s fine 1981 novel The Palace of Dreams). Superbly plotted, charged with bitter black humor, it’s a masterly parable worthy of comparison with José Saramago’s Nobel-anointed fiction.
“Agamemnon’s Daughter” is negligible. But Kadare is a great writer, and “The Blinding Order” in particular is not to be missed.