The Albanian author and perennial Nobel Prize candidate considers the roots and long influence of Aeschylus, Dante, and Shakespeare, especially in his homeland.
Kadare (A Girl in Exile: Requiem for Linda B., 2018, etc.), who won the inaugural Man Booker International Prize in 2005, discusses the three authors through the filter of totalitarianism, particularly Albania’s oppression under a communist regime and the Kanun, a longtime legal code that effectively endorsed blood feuds. Knowledge of that element of Balkan culture, argues Kadare, is key to understanding a work like The Oresteia, for instance, in which Helen’s kidnapping is a crime as much for failing to follow strict rules regarding hospitality as the kidnapping itself. The author tracks The Divine Comedy’s slow path to translation into Albanian in the 20th century, writing that the epic poem was translated “more fully, more naturally and more lovingly precisely because his translators, like the rest of Albania, were experiencing one of his three states, hell.” Kadare also writes about how a 1999 performance of Hamlet in Albania stirred old tensions between Albanians and Serbs, particularly resentments about blood vengeance. Seeking out such connections to the Balkans threatens to make the works seem smaller, but more often Kadare effectively makes the case for their universality. That’s especially true in the case of Aeschylus, as Kadare thoughtfully explores the nature of Greek theater in its time and stage tragedy’s connection to ancient funeral rites; in both cases, “the performance of grief was more interesting to an audience than unvarnished pain.” These essays are too elliptical (at their worst, meandering) to qualify as effective introductions in themselves to the authors Kadare discusses. But as windows into his own fiction, they show that he perceives his favorite themes—among them, oppression, loss, revenge—as part of a throughline that runs back to antiquity.
A loose but informed and passionate study of why classic authors endure.