An ill-fated love affair symbolizes the chaos of contemporary Balkan politics in the latest novel from the acclaimed Albanian author (The Ghost Rider, 2010, etc.) who was awarded the Man Booker International Prize for Literature in 2005.
It begins as what seems to be a political thriller, in the immediate aftermath of a fatal taxicab accident on the Vienna Autobahn. Separate investigations are conducted by the governments of Albania and Serbia, as the two passengers killed were Albanians (and, as hastily gathered documentary evidence suggests, lovers who met frequently over a span of 12 years). The surviving cabdriver confesses he might have been distracted by catching sight of the couple “trying to kiss.” But it’s apparent that much more intimacy than that was shared by Besfort Y., a government operative employed by the Council of Europe and somehow involved with war-crimes trials then proceeding at The Hague, and his putative mistress Rovena, an intern at the Albanian Archaeological Institute. Summaries of investigative reports are juxtaposed with an unidentified “researcher’s” imagined history of the couple’s unequal relationship, as evidence implies a pattern of dominance and submission enacted by the sometimes cruel Besfort and the essentially passive Rovena. The enigma remains modestly intriguing throughout, yet the novel is anything but a thriller. Neither character, as seen in retrospective (and often flawed) remembrance and in speculation, is given enough life—or even specificity of detail—to elicit much reader interest; it’s as if we’re invited to empathize with chess pieces. The novel comes alive, fitfully, only when Kadare ingeniously connects the couple’s deathward progression with motifs from indigenous history and folklore (a device that is always one of the author’s greatest strengths).
Minor work from a major writer.