Recent Balkan history is reshaped with mordant wit in this wry 2003 parable—the 11th novel in English translation from the renowned Albanian author (The Pyramid, 1996, etc.).
Kadare’s own mixed fortunes include receiving both the (lucrative and prestigious) first Man Booker International Literary Prize in 2005 and brickbats hurled by critics who accuse him of a suspiciously cozy relationship with Albania’s late, notorious Communist dictator Enver Hoxha. Those critics should back off in light of this novel’s mischievous use of the unexplained death of Hoxha critic Mehmet Shehu, the former Party loyalist who either shot himself or was murdered—in this novel, on the evening prior to his “forgiveness” for past political errors by Hoxha (here identified as the Guide), whom he was to succeed in office. Following a brief tongue-in-cheek history of Alabania’s perpetual political instability, Kadare’s omniscient narrator describes the investigation into the Successor’s death, the reactions of his bereaved family (notably the Successor’s randy daughter, forbidden to marry a fiancé whose family had ties to the former monarchy), the architect who could confirm whether a secret passageway in the Successor’s home afforded a murderer safe passage and the minister of the interior simultaneously blessed and cursed by having been designated the Successor’s replacement. Kadare skillfully blends the thuggery of power politics with the willed naïveté of a populace still gripped as much by folklore and superstition as by the exigencies of a modern society. And he builds to a splendid crescendo of insanity, focusing climactic attention on the Guide’s brutal paranoia (symbolized by his increasing blindness), the architect’s guilty “confession” (presumably for having designed a lavish “private dwelling in a country where collective property is the rule”) and the Successor’s cautiously worded concluding statement—delivered from the afterlife.
Echoes of Kafka, Koestler, Camus and Orwell, in a master novelist’s blackest and most bracing report yet from Communist Cloud-Cuckoo-Land.