21st Century Literature discussion

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2018 Book Discussions > The Fall of the Stone City, Background and General (May 2018)

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message 1: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2250 comments Mod
This topic is for role call, general impressions, reviews, links etc. No big spoilers, please. The Fall of the Stone city is a short book that doesn’t lend itself well to breaking up into parts, so I’ll open the discussion on the entire book in a few days. Meanwhile, here are some questions and links. The reviews all contain minor spoilers.

What did people think? Has anyone read Kadare before, and if so how did this book compare?

For some reason, books from the Balkans always seem the most ‘alien’ to me in terms of how people think and behave. Did you relate to the characters, or did you think you were even supposed to?

Kadare said that "dissidence was a position no one could occupy [in communist Albania], even for a few days, without facing the firing squad. On the other hand, my books themselves constitute a very obvious form of resistance". Is that resistance something you thought was apparent in this book?


A little history of Kadare. He was born in 1936 in Gjirokastër, where this and many of his other books take place. He studied in Tirana and Moscow. Many of his books were banned by the Albanian government, and in 1990 he claimed political asylum in France, which is where his books first started to gain international attention. He won the first Man Booker International Prize in 2005, when it was more an award for body of work instead of individual books, and in 2015 he won the Jerusalem Prize. He is frequently on the list of authors expected to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Here’s a brief summary of some the Albanian history relevant to this book (although I’m sure Kadare would say the relevant history starts well before the Ottoman Empire). This timeline is from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-...

1939 - Shortly before the start of World War II, Italy invades. King Zog flees to Greece.
1940 - Italian army attacks Greece through Albania.
1941 - Enver Hoxha becomes head of new Albanian Communist Party.
1943 - German forces invade and occupy Albania following Italian surrender.
1944 - Germans withdraw after Communist resistance. Enver Hoxha installed as new leader.
1945 - Tribunals begin against thousands of "war criminals".
1946 - Purges of non-communists from government positions.
1948 - Albania breaks ties with Yugoslavia; Soviet Union begins economic aid to Albania.
1950 - Britain and US back landings by right-wing guerillas, who fail to topple communists.
1955 - Albania becomes a founding member of the Warsaw Pact.

Here’s a Wikipedia article on the manufactured “Doctor’s Plot” to assassinate Stalin: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctors...

Some reviews of the book:

This one from the Guardian is by Alberto Manguel and focuses on the role myth and history play in the book. https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...

This is from The Independent, and gets points for its subheadline “Truly, the dinner party from hell” https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-en...

This review / blog entry looks at The Fall of the Stone City in light of some of Kadare’s other novels. http://jim-murdoch.blogspot.com/2012/...


message 2: by Hugh (last edited May 16, 2018 06:35AM) (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2835 comments Mod
Thanks Whitney.

Whitney wrote: "What did people think? Has anyone read Kadare before, and if so how did this book compare?"

I read this last week for this discussion, and although I found parts of the story fascinating, I found it a little difficult to engage with the story.

I have read three previous Kadare novels: These were The Siege, which is set during the Ottoman empire, The File on H., a very strange book on academics studying Albanian oral folklore and The General of the Dead Army, which is his most famous book and probably the best. I have always found him interesting but rather difficult to enjoy. All four books are very different, though they all deal with history at a personal level.

Unlike some of the earlier ones, which David Bellos translated from existing French translations as his primary sources, this one seems to have been translated directly from Albanian, and I had hoped that this would make it easier to relate to. Unlike the other three, this one could never have been published under the old regime - any criticism of the government is much more veiled in the ones that were.

For some reason, books from the Balkans always seem the most ‘alien’ to me in terms of how people think and behave. Did you relate to the characters, or did you think you were even supposed to? "

I didn't feel any of the characters were much more than ciphers - I think Kadare is more interested in the history, the situations and Balkan folklore than in engaging with his characters at a psychological level. I have not read that many other Balkan writers - the only ones I can think of were one by Dubravka Ugrešić and two by Danilo Kiš, both of whom were from the old Yugoslavia (and I suppose Téa Obreht counts too but she was brought up in America), so I can't really comment on how Kadare fits into the wider local literary culture.


message 3: by Lily (last edited May 16, 2018 06:34AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2503 comments Whitney and Hugh -- thanks for your comments and background.

Other than feeling as if I was reading about the U.S. current political situation at times when reading ..The Stone City over this weekend, I felt totally lost in this "fable." It is interesting to me that Hugh says this one would never have been published under the old regime, since the use of fables and myth have long been tools to publish political criticism "under the radar."

I was reminded of how ignorant I am of European history, especially for countries such as Albania and that I was going to have to do some digging if I am to "understand" the book at all.


message 4: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2835 comments Mod
The Wikipedia page on the eponymous stone city:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gjiroka...


message 5: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 142 comments Thanks for the information.

This is my first book by Ismail Kadare.
But he has been on my list of authors to read, so I am glad for the opportunity to read with this group.

As it is often the case with me, my first book by an author usually takes me a while to get my reading rhythm with the author's writing style/theme.

I am not quite finished with the book - I have about 50 pages to go and at this time I do not know if I would pick up another book by the author, though the blurb for Agamemnon's Daughter - does seem to pique my interest.

This is also the first book that I am reading that is set in Albania.

I am enjoying learning the history and feel like I am getting a feel for the place, I am not necessarily connected/vested in any of the characters, but then maybe that is not necessary to get the point the author wants the reader to take away from reading this book.


message 6: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2250 comments Mod
Hugh wrote: "I think Kadare is more interested in the history, the situations and Balkan folklore than in engaging with his characters at a psychological level. I have not read that many other Balkan writers - the only ones I can think of were one by Dubravka Ugrešić and two by Danilo Kiš, both of whom were from the old Yugoslavia (and I suppose Téa Obreht counts too but she was brought up in America).."

I had a similar feeling about the characters, Hugh. Kadare is interested in what they represent rather than their interior life.

I don't count Téa Obreht as a Balkan writer, or at least count her in a separate category. I read The Tiger's Wife for an IRL bookclub, and intentionally avoided reading anything about it or her ahead of time. Within less than 2 pages I was certain this was someone who was raised in the west. The sensibility was too immediately relatable (as well as the inclusion of details no native would bother to note).

Full disclosure, my ideas of "Balkan character in the arts" are far more from watching films, of which I've seen quite a few, than from reading books (of which I've read very sparsely).


message 7: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2250 comments Mod
Lily wrote: "It is interesting to me that Hugh says this one would never have been published under the old regime, since the use of fables and myth have long been tools to publish political criticism "under the radar." ..."

Lily, have you finished the book? The later chapters are a little more direct in their target.

From what I've read, you are spot-on in the way Kadare uses myth (and history), but even that was enough to get some of his earlier books banned - but at least they weren't pointed enough to get him thrown in jail.


message 8: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2877 comments Mod
Traveling this week and half of next so I won't be on GR much, but will chime in upon settling back at home. This is my first Kadare and I knew nothing about the book prior to its selection.


message 9: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2503 comments Whitney wrote: "Lily, have you finished the book? The later chapters are a little more direct in their target...."

Okay, I'll go re-read. I was anxious to "finish" before heading home from a weekend away and so frustrated with understanding that I skimmed the last chapters.

And, yes, I know myth and history aren't always sufficient. (My "model example" sort of goes back to Revelations, but that isn't quite fair or even appropriate. Not sure we know what happened to John of Patmos, let alone who he was.)


message 10: by Lia (last edited May 17, 2018 07:51PM) (new)

Lia I saw this coming up and checked my local library, they have other books by Ismail but not this title. I'm waiting for interlibrary loan to deliver.

Meanwhile, I'm flipping through his other books, and they seem interesting. I've always been partial to contemporary works that resonate with the classics -- Homer, Ovid, Aeschylus, Euripides ... Ismail seems to do that. I'm so happy this group introduced me to a potential goldmine.


message 11: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2250 comments Mod
Lia wrote: "Meanwhile, I'm flipping through his other books, and they seem interesting. I've always been partial to contemporary works that resonate with the classics -- Homer, Ovid, Aeschylus, Euripides ... Ismail seems to do that..."

I stumbled across a Kadare in a used bookstore. After reading more about him, I started looking for more of his books, although this is the first one I've read. It may not be the best 'starter' book for his work, but it was one of the few that fit the criteria for 21st Century Literature.


message 12: by Lia (new)

Lia Whitney wrote: "this is the first one I've read. It may not be the best 'starter' book for his work


The funny thing is that there are 13 titles by Kadare in my library, they just don't have this one. It's like the book faeries are scheming to protect me from reading this first.

I'm almost done with The Accident. I looked through all the Kadare on the shelf and this one's got the most gripping opening pages. By the time I walked away from the shelf I was a few chapters in. Unfortunately it's not giving me the tidy developments and resolutions that I expect from crime novels. The foggy indeterminacy reminds me of Kazuo Ishiguro; maybe even Kafka and Conrad.

I do like Ishiguro, Kafka and Conrad, but I haven't decided if I like Kadare. I feel like I'm getting the same foggy confusion but without understanding what's the point.

Which one do you think would be a good first (or second) Kadare?


message 13: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2835 comments Mod
Lia wrote: "Which one do you think would be a good first (or second) Kadare?"
Of the ones I have read, probably The General of the Dead Army


message 14: by Lia (new)

Lia Hugh wrote: "Lia wrote: "Which one do you think would be a good first (or second) Kadare?"
Of the ones I have read, probably The General of the Dead Army"


Thanks! I'll check that one out next.


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