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A loose but informed and passionate study of why classic authors endure.

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.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63206-174-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Restless Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 7, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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