Jeffrey Keeten's Reviews > The Palace of Dreams

The Palace of Dreams by Ismail Kadare
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really liked it
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”Mark-Alem pressed on, his mouth dry despite his attempts to reassure himself. After all, what did it really matter if he did get lost? He wasn’t on some vast plain or in a forest. He was merely inside the Palace. But still the thought of getting lost terrified him. How would he get through the night amid all these walls, these rooms, these cellars full of dreams and wild imaginings? He’d rather be on a frozen plain or in a forest infested with wolves. Yes, a thousand times rather!

He hurried on faster. How long had he been walking now? Suddenly he thought he hear a noise in the distance. Perhaps it’s only an illusion, he told himself. Then, after a little while, the sound of voices burst out again, more clearly this time, though he still couldn’t tell what direction it came from.

He went down another two or three steps and found himself in another corridor, which he deduced must be on the ground floor. The sound of voices faded for a few moments, then returned, nearer...Mark-Alem was practically running by now, his eyes fixed on the end of the corridor, where a faint square of light came in from outside. Please, God. let it be the back door!"


 photo EndlessHallway2_zpsea276092.jpg
An empty, seemingly endless hallway can give a person a sense of disassociation.

There are no signs directing people in the proper directions at the Palace of Dreams. Mark-Alem finds himself lost not only in the corridors of the Palace, but also in the hour upon hour day to day work of selecting and interpreting dreams. He is descended from a prominent family called the Quprilis. They have contributed generations of powerful men to the Balkan Empire.

”For nearly four hundred years the Quprilis had seemed fated equally to glory and to misfortune. If its chronicles included great dignitaries, secretaries of state, governors, and prime ministers, they also told how just as many members of the family had been imprisoned or decapitated or had simply vanished.”

There are very few powerful families in the history of humanity that have not found themselves on the losing side of a power struggle at one point or at several points in history. After a few messy decapitations or quarterings these families eventually rise from the ashes (sometimes those ashes are relatives) and find that eventually the state has need of their services again. Now Mark-Alem’s mother is a Quprilis which means it is not evident immediately to the people he meets that he is related to that family. He is timid enough that he does not offer that information readily. Of course when he is summoned to the Palace of Dreams to be offered a position they are very aware of who he is.

He is assured he is the right sort of man.

Instead of starting at the bottom he starts in the middle of the hierarchy.

He moves up so quickly he barely has time to settle into one job before he is sent on to the next one.

Given the nature of the job which is to select dreams and interpret those dreams with the most important ones being sent to the Sultan to help him make decisions about the course of action he will take in running the empire you would think there would be a long and arduous training regime. There is not, at least not for Mark-Alem, but as the plot advances we start to get inklings that he is a pawn in a much bigger, much more dangerous game.

He is absolutely oblivious.

He is paranoid and nervous, but doesn’t know exactly what he should be paranoid and nervous about.

He is too worried about his workload and whether his interpretations of these dreams are correct. He wears out erasures writing what he thinks and then becoming paralyzed with doubt as to how his superiors would interpret his thoughts. Like any good bureaucrat he finds it is much safer to stifle any creativity and pass along the most bland, safest interpretations of the dreams he finds in his folder. Not that they need a reason to separate your head from your body, but certainly try not to hand it to them on a silver platter.

The empire is ruled by dreams. Every dream, no matter how mundane, is required to be written down by every citizen in the realm. I think it only seems reasonable that if I were to have a steamy dream say about my neighbor’s wife that I would make a few changes like say make it two horses in a pasture or really spice it up and have a pig with a goat. My luck somehow that would mean I was secretly plotting the downfall of the empire. These dreams are collected and hauled to the Palace of Dreams where they start the cycle of elimination of those dreams that are deemed worthless or fabricated (mine)and those that are thought to be important are pushed up the chain for further interpretation. As Mark-Alem wanders around his work, usually trying to find a door and usually on the wrong floor to find it, he discovers that sometimes the dreamers are brought in for further questioning about a dream they submitted. The questioning must be rigorous because sometimes those dreamers leave in a black coffin. You're not paranoid if actually there are reasons to be paranoid.

There is no sex in this book, barely a hint of desire. There is one moment where he passes a house where he knows two pretty sisters live and Mark-Alem might have felt a twitch or tingle, but other than that it seems as if the terror of his daily life is all consuming. There is talk at the end of the book of an arranged married, but Mark-Alem is about as interested in the details as he is in catalogued Elephant stool samples.

Ismail Kadare was in Albanian politics during the communist rule in the 1970s. He wrote a satirical poem in 1975 that came to the attention of the government and he was punished by not being able to publish for three years. In 1977 he publishes a book called The Great Winter that is flattering to Enver Hoxha, the Communist leader of Albania. Kadare later said that the book was the price of his freedom. In 1980 when the Palace of Dreams is published the book is immediately banned. Not a big surprise, dictatorships tend to not appreciate books that are Orwellian or Kafkaesque in nature. It seems to me that Kadare was fairly politically astute. He managed to be critical without getting himself killed. It also helps to be Albania’s most celebrated writer. In 1990 he applied for asylum in France.

 photo IsmailKadare_zpscc8f0dda.jpg
Ismail Kadare: dissident against a dictatorship or did he collude to survive? Both I do believe and brilliantly in my opinion.

This book is the English translation of the French translation of the Albanian version. Yeah, I know, scary isn’t it? I don’t read Albanian and I unfortunately do not read French so I have no clue how much this story has been sifted and strained and blended and fluffed. I will say after I got over my initial shock at what the publishers had done to me, (I mean seriously the publisher couldn’t find an Albanian intellectual that has a solid command of English?)I found myself as nervous, paranoid, and as frustrated as Mark-Alem in trying to figure out what really was going on. This book is certainly a blatant condemnation of the Albanian government trying to control everything, granted they couldn’t figure out how to control their subject’s dreams, but if they could have they would. This is must read for those fans of Franz Kafka and George Orwell.

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Reading Progress

July 22, 2013 – Started Reading
July 22, 2013 – Shelved
July 24, 2013 – Finished Reading
March 15, 2017 – Shelved as: albanian

Comments Showing 1-29 of 29 (29 new)

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message 1: by Kalliope (new) - added it

Kalliope Very much looking forward to your review of this one, Jaffrey.


Jeffrey Keeten Kalliope wrote: "Very much looking forward to your review of this one, Jaffrey."

The review has been launched.


message 3: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Peto I'm not usually a fan of taking dreams seriously. Not even sure I could stomach it in this context...


Jeffrey Keeten Jonathan wrote: "I'm not usually a fan of taking dreams seriously. Not even sure I could stomach it in this context..."

The best use of dreams for me is sometimes when they are vivid they give me ideas for short stories or even novels. To me that is the extent of their usefulness or maybe I'm just not gifted with dreams that portend anything important. Maybe we are not dialed in Jonathan or at least not to the right frequency.

Considering the plot the dreams are not focused on as much as you would think. The book is certainly not weighed down with dream interpretation, but focuses more on the paranoid state of affairs. You should keep a bottle of tums handy though just in case.


message 5: by Ema (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ema Great review, Jeffrey! I'm glad you've liked The Palace of Dreams in spite of the disputed translation. I've enjoyed this novel quite a lot, but then I've read a Romanian copy, which I'm not sure from what language was translated. I'll have to check that out.
As I've written in another thread, the information points out that the final version of The Palace of Dreams was the French one, in which case the English translation would not be far from the original. The novel was published in Tirana in 1981 and was banished by the communist regime, so the final version was published in France in 1990. Kadaré had a close collaborator who was translating his works into French, so I believe the French version is really good. He even started to write in French later on.


Jeffrey Keeten Ema wrote: "Great review, Jeffrey! I'm glad you've liked The Palace of Dreams in spite of the disputed translation. I've enjoyed this novel quite a lot, but then I've read a Romanian copy, which I'm not sure f..."

Thank you Ema for the information. It always makes me nervous when a book says it was translated from a translation. Too many translations can start to muddy the original intentions of the writer. I feel much better after your explanation. My title page says Translated from the French of Jusuf Vrioni by Barbara Bray.

Thank you for your kind words as well.


message 7: by Dolors (new) - added it

Dolors Can't think of a better way to start my day, Jeffrey. Another completely foreign author discovered through one of your multifaceted reviews. And he evokes Kafka... I doubt it can get any better! :)


Jeffrey Keeten Dolors wrote: "Can't think of a better way to start my day, Jeffrey. Another completely foreign author discovered through one of your multifaceted reviews. And he evokes Kafka... I doubt it can get any better! :)"

Thanks Dolors! I also really liked The Siege, but unfortunately no review because I read it in the Dark Days before I knew about GR.


message 9: by Harry (new)

Harry Excellent review, Jeffrey. Like you, I'm very interested in foreign writers and what they bring to our table here in the States. Definitely sounds existential, along the lines of Kafka, Kundera and Orwell. And how come all those writers end up exiling themselves to France, huh? What's wrong with Luxumberg, or Belgium? Or Holland for that matter? And why is that eastern region so prone to existentialism?


Jeffrey Keeten Harry wrote: "Excellent review, Jeffrey. Like you, I'm very interested in foreign writers and what they bring to our table here in the States. Definitely sounds existential, along the lines of Kafka, Kundera a..."

I would assume it is for the French women. haha (Exile me to Italy please.) Existentialist writers do seem to come from that geographical area. I would say it has to do with reaching a certain level of paranoia (only paranoia if your wrong right?) for long periods of time. People in Holland must be too content or at least depressed in a more passive way. Thanks Harry!


message 11: by Cathy (new)

Cathy DuPont Jeff, my friend.

Such an informative and interesting review. Well written, no surprises there, of course.

This is one I would pass up for a number of reasons. However, (and I'm not saying I'm using you) I have you to read and review such books saving me time and providing me a short lesson on diverse subjects. Thanks for that.


Jeffrey Keeten Cathy wrote: "Jeff, my friend.

Such an informative and interesting review. Well written, no surprises there, of course.

This is one I would pass up for a number of reasons. However, (and I'm not saying I'..."


Thank you Miss Cathy. If I write a review correctly it should call to those that should read it and dissuade those that probably wouldn't like the book. I can think of no better usage for me than to be of some service to the Queen of Florida. :-)


message 13: by Cathy (new)

Cathy DuPont Jeff:

You're a hoot.

Meant to mention about your comment ...if I were to have a steamy dream say about my neighbor’s wife....

If I recall a previous review, you mentioned your neighborhood and how, if you paid much attention, you might notice some interesting movement among your neighbors. Pardon me, Jeff, but does one have anything to do with the other?


message 14: by Steve (new)

Steve I'm going to wait for the English translation of the German translation of the Mandarin translation of the Urdu translation of the Farsi translation or the original Albanian to see if it's even remotely like the version you read, Jeffrey.

You're informative and entertaining as always!


Jeffrey Keeten Cathy wrote: "Jeff:

You're a hoot.

Meant to mention about your comment ...if I were to have a steamy dream say about my neighbor’s wife....

If I recall a previous review, you mentioned your neighborhood a..."


I cannot answer that question without running the risk of incriminating myself. Although it did make me speculate about all the men in the DuPont neighborhood and how many steamy dreams they've entertained themselves with over the years with you as the star. haha


Jeffrey Keeten Steve wrote: "I'm going to wait for the English translation of the German translation of the Mandarin translation of the Urdu translation of the Farsi translation or the original Albanian to see if it's even rem..."

Thank you Steve! I just so rarely run into a translation of a translation. It must have made sense to the publisher.


message 17: by Cathy (new)

Cathy DuPont Jeffrey wrote: "Cathy wrote: "Jeff:

You're a hoot.

Meant to mention about your comment ...if I were to have a steamy dream say about my neighbor’s wife....

If I recall a previous review, you mentioned your ..."


In my dreams...

And Steve's comment was pretty funny. I'm with him. I'll wait for THAT translation to read!


message 18: by Praj (new)

Praj This is such a brilliant appraisal. I have Kadare's 'The Ghost Rider' yet to be opened. I shall look forward to it soon, I hope. Thanks, again for a wonderful review.


Jeffrey Keeten Praj wrote: "This is such a brilliant appraisal. I have Kadare's 'The Ghost Rider' yet to be opened. I shall look forward to it soon, I hope. Thanks, again for a wonderful review."

Thanke Praj! The only other Kadare I've read was The Siege and it was great. I look forward to your assessment of The Ghost Rider.


Luisa darbelis carela Que loco es el jeffrev keeten lo calificó con


message 21: by Vessey (new)

Vessey I think it only seems reasonable that if I were to have a steamy dream say about my neighbor’s wife that I would make a few changes like say make it two horses in a pasture or really spice it up and have a pig with a goat. My luck somehow that would mean I was secretly plotting the downfall of the empire.

You did it again. :) You’re too good at this. :)

There is no sex in this book, barely a hint of desire.

I’m not surprised. Especially considering that it was written in 1980. Albanians are a very conservative people, even now. In North Alabania it is patriarchal society and they still follow the old ways. They are quite shocking and confusing. Blood feuds between families aren’t uncommon there. When the male members of the family die due to some of them, one of the women takes on the role of the head of the family and has to avenge her dead male relatives. For the purpose she needs to change her sex. She cuts off her hair, she wears only man’s clothes, she gives up on men and on sex and relationships all together. Or never gets to them. Some of them are put into this role while still children. Some enter it voluntarily, others are forced into it. They are called The Sworn Virgins. All signs of femininity need to be gone. They are expected to look and act like men. However, they aren’t allowed to actually become ones. Sex changes through operation are completely forbidden. As is homosexuality. They are still considered women enough to be forbidden to have girlfriends. They could be stoned for it. They have killings there similar to the so called honour killings in the Muslim societies. Actually, in Albania they follow the Islam. That’s right. It had slipped my mind. The tradition of the Sworn Virgin exists since the Middle Ages. Scary stuff.

This was, as always, a great review of what sounds like a very interesting book. I liked the concept. :) I love you <3


message 22: by Elyse (new)

Elyse Walters Everybody pauses when you say there's no sex in this book you know. Lol. It wonderful review Jeffrey!


Jeffrey Keeten Vessey wrote: "I think it only seems reasonable that if I were to have a steamy dream say about my neighbor’s wife that I would make a few changes like say make it two horses in a pasture or really spice it up an..."

Haha! I'm glad you liked that. I was having a bit of fun with the whole idea of interpreting dreams.

The whole sworn virgin thing sounds scary. I'm almost as scared of virgins as I am clowns. *shudder* A vengeful virgin. *double shudder*I've heard of that concept before. It is one of those things that you hear about and think how easy it is for everyone to get REALLY CRAZY. Come on that is some crazy stuff. Who sold them on that concept to start with? I want to hire them to sell for me. This is how people like Trump become President. *Sigh* Good stuff though Vessey! Thanks!


Jeffrey Keeten Elyse wrote: "Everybody pauses when you say there's no sex in this book you know. Lol. It wonderful review Jeffrey!"

Hey I can spice up any review by mentioning sex. The only thing that works better is to lead with a gif of Pamela Anderson running on the beach...book review GOLD!!! Ha! What helps even more though is when a famous reviewer like you drops a comment on my review. The like button gets worn down to a nub. The stock market jumps 100 points. I get strange women from countries I've never heard of PMing me asking me if I have a girlfriend. I have strange men from countries I've never heard of PMing me asking why their wife is writing me. You are a force of nature Elyse!


message 25: by Vessey (new)

Vessey Jeffrey wrote: "Vessey wrote: "I think it only seems reasonable that if I were to have a steamy dream say about my neighbor’s wife that I would make a few changes like say make it two horses in a pasture or really..."

Unfortunately, I don’t know how this tradition was born, but I know that they weren’t Muslims once. It happened as a result of the Ottomans taking a hold of the Balkans. I have never heard of this being tradition with them, but they were – still are – Muslims and we know what place women have when it comes to the Islam. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the Albanians have taken the inspiration for it from them. Their attitude (I mean the Alabanians’) isn’t good even toward women who aren’t selected for sworn virgins. One thing led to the other and there it is. A madness, as you said. Maybe they were more free-thinking before that. Maybe it happened the way it happened with ancient Egypt and Rome. Egyptian women had more independence and rights before the coming of the Romans, whose attitude toward their women influenced the Egyptian men’s thinking. It is scary how enduring the idea that the woman is inferior turns out to be. Even today women have to fight for their rights. And what’s even worse is that some countries, instead of progressing, have actually been regressing. Turkey – today’s Turks are descends of the Ottomans – has taken a route that really bothers me. It seems to have become or to be on the path of becoming a religion ruled country again. And the chances for it to become member of the EU seem slimmer and slimmer. Assuming that the EU continues to exist. The Netherlands have been considering an exit too….But back to the other thing. Yes, it is scary and I am so glad that Bulgaria, despite being a Balkan country too, has taken a different route. I love you <3


Jeffrey Keeten Vessey wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "Vessey wrote: "I think it only seems reasonable that if I were to have a steamy dream say about my neighbor’s wife that I would make a few changes like say make it two horses in a p..."

Yes, I've been very worried about Turkey. They have always been so progressive. Ataturk dragged them kicking and screaming into a more democratic, separation of church and state, and Western form of government. I'd hate to see them slide away from that because a religious based government always seems to lead to women losing rights. Great stuff Vessey!


Jeffrey Keeten Luisa darbelis carela wrote: "Que loco es el jeffrev keeten lo calificó con"

I don't know how crazy I am Luisa! I think the whole rest of the world is crazy. Either I'm wrong or they are. :-)


message 28: by Teela (new)

Teela Love it


Jeffrey Keeten Teela wrote: "Love it"

Thanks Teela!


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