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The Fall of the Stone City
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2018 Book Discussions > The Fall of the Stone City, Entire Book (May 2018)

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Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
This is for discussion of the entire book, spoilers allowed.

Any topic of discussion or questions are welcome, here are a few I had.

How did people like this book after finishing? Do you think the comparisons to Kafka are valid? Was anyone inspired to take a deeper dive into Albanian history?

In Alberto Manguel’s review, he writes of Kadare “In his admirable and vast literature …. mythology and history are equally competent to bear witness, except that the former is better at illuminating facts than the latter at reporting them.” What role is myth playing in this book? How are “facts” reported or distorted?

The relation between the two Gurametos waned in importance to the town as time went on. By the end there are doubts expressed as to whether Little Gurameto even existed. What purpose do you think Little Gurameto served?

There was a shift in tone in the later part of the book. I thought it was interesting that the interrogator Shaqo Mezini is the only one for whom we are shown much interior life. Why do you think Kadare made him the main ‘protagonist’ in the last part of the book? And why does Big Gurameto remain largely a cipher?

What is the importance of Gurameto’s dream that he is operating on himself? His words to himself at the end of the dream are “Don’t you know that a person’s worst enemy is his own self?” Did it turn out that Dr. Gurameto was his own worst enemy?


message 2: by Lia (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lia Whitney wrote: "Do you think the comparisons to Kafka are valid?"

I can see why people would compare Kadare and Kafka: the gratuitous torture scenes, the sudden and unexpected projection of male designs on women, the dehumanization, the sense of inescapable doom, the blurred boundary between dreamscape and reality. But for me, the most pervasive thing about Kafka is this constant sense of being guilty. Kadare seems more about constant victimization and persecution. Obviously they are not mutually exclusive, but I feel like Kafka’s novella/ stories are “funny” (?), on some level the characters embrace the inevitable yet “fortunate” fall and laugh, either at themselves or at the Universe. Yes, his characters struggle against it and complain a lot, but ultimately they don’t deny they are in fact guilty (but so is everybody else.)

Also, Kafka really conveys the inner experience of an outsider: a flaneur staring at everybody else living a normal life of belonging. His characters often seem... incompetent? Like they’re not clever enough to adapt to the modern world like “the natives”. I don’t get that from Kadare at all. You do get confusion, anxiety, questions about identity and memory, etc, but of the two Kadare I’ve read (this and The Accident,) I don’t get any sense of alienation from communities — it’s the political apparatus (and not the normal people and their routines) that’s oppressive. And the “victims” are often people more savvy than the everyday “peasants,” even though it’s not enough to help them escape fate.


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Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
Lia wrote: "... I don’t get any sense of alienation from communities — it’s the political apparatus (and not the normal people and their routines) that’s oppressive. And the “victims” are often people more savvy than the everyday “peasants,” even though it’s not enough to help them escape fate. ..."

I think that's a great point. The Gurametos are certainly not outsiders, but prominent members of society, in a way that's actually part of their downfall.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2439 comments How did people like this book after finishing? Do you think the comparisons to Kafka are valid? Was anyone inspired to take a deeper dive into Albanian history?
I liked how that the book made me think and struggle with what was reality and what was not. I confess to never having read Kafka, so have no opinion as to the comparisons. I'd like to say I was inspired to take a deeper dive into Albanian history, but while interested, I've not done so. I have, however, added it to my list of countries that I need to visit.

In Alberto Manguel’s review, he writes of Kadare “In his admirable and vast literature …. mythology and history are equally competent to bear witness, except that the former is better at illuminating facts than the latter at reporting them.” What role is myth playing in this book? How are “facts” reported or distorted?
History is written by the victors, and rewritten by each new victor. Who knows what the facts really are? This is also a theme in Homegoing, where we are challenged to figure out whose story is not being told and to find out what it is. Myth seems to be a way of speculating about what is really going on.

I have no response yet to the third and fourth questions. But I do have a question of my own -- Why did Little Dr. Gurameto just disappear? What role did he play?


Kristina | 66 comments I am not sure whether you could compare Kafka and Kadare, since Kafka often focuses on the individual in a buraucratic and absurd society. Kadare more looks at society represented by various characters like here Gurrameto, the German colonel, the investigators and so on. The rivalry between the stone city and its neighbours reminded me of the tensions in the whole balkan regions during history, which is also a topic throughout the book. The description of torture in order to get a signature of the confession reminded me of all the reports in communism and how the procedure apparently was to determine guilty ones.

While I was reading , especially towards the end, I found it difficult to understand what really happened and if big Gurameto was indeed part of The Joint. I am not sure if Little Gurameto was not real, but I think it would explain why he never is the centre of attention, but merely used for comparison with the other doctor.

One thing, I could not really understand, was the plot on the ladies of the city. Why do they die when addressed as comrades and what role do they play for the city?


Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
I have been avoiding the question about Kafka because to me any comparison seems very superficial, and Kafka was unique. In my opinion these comparisons are never helpful to contemporary writers.


Beverly | 142 comments This is my first time reading Ismail Kadare.

I am glad to that I have read this book with a group.

Yes, It did interest me in finding out more about Balkan history and one of the first things I usually do when reading a book when not necessarily familiar with the geography is look at a map to see where the city/country is located.

Here are a couple of comments after reading:
- It seems the people of Gjirokaster after experienced wave after wave of invasion and each one bringing to own's rules/control of the people of the city who seem have their own traditions/culture and have learned to be sly in being resisting and/or subverting the new "invasion".

- At first I was curious why there was such a need to know "why" the prisoners were released when it was lives saved but as I started thinking about myths - the power of myths, the need for myths and how myths can be a form of resistance - I can see why each new "power" needs to not only understand the myths but to ensure that it is not only used to their needs but also to not let myths be a form of resistance to their control over the people.

- As said above - history is written by those in power so "history" does not necessarily tell the whole truth. History is also is used to control the present and to guide the future.
I was also thinking about truth, facts. reality and beliefs (which can also be called myths in certain situations) and how a known situation can be the truth but not necessarily reality but can become a belief that guides current & future actions. The connecting of the dinner party situation and the Russians need to get a confession from Big Doctor G and the need/want to connect to the plot to kill Stalin.

My favorite character was the blind poet and how he could "see" but was also blind or you can say was blind but could also "see".


message 8: by Lia (last edited May 27, 2018 11:29PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lia Whitney wrote: "What role is myth playing in this book? "

I’ve been thinking about this — there are a number of things in the novel that seem to allude to Greek myths, but they seem trivial.

Looking at the structure of the novel: Big Gurameto bonded with Schwabe over novels which...

“which extolled the local customs, especially those of the Albanians: hospitality, the word of honour, the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini. Gurameto had often talked about these things.”


And that somehow led to a legendary dinner, and a chain of inexplicable nightmares.

Like others, I’m not sure what is real and what is hallucinated/ dreamt up. I bet that’s intended. When your country is controlled by one dictator after another, each and every one equally arbitrary and brutal, their propaganda can mean anything (but the truth), and your social status can suddenly flip between polar extremes with the tide, and you constantly need narratives to justify your actions, and everybody speaks in codes and myths to evade persecution, and authorities are paranoid themselves, the best way to convey that kind of precarious existence is perhaps to make you see how confused the entire situation is. The torturer is just as confused as the sacrificial lamb, no one is actually in control.

And with that kind of shared turbulence, myth is a useful — and dangerous — tool to help you make sense, and justify insane coercion.

So a supposedly dead man shows up at a consequential dinner with latin spoken and other strange utterances, the townsfolk needed a narrative to explain how that happened, whether it’s justified. The Nazi wanted to know what happened; the Russians wanted to know how that happened, the communists wanted to know how that happened. The jilted lover with wounded masculinity wanted to know how that happened. And the music must be replayed during his torture to fulfill the “prophecy.” As for that doctor, well, there’s this old-wives legend about a boy dropping an invitation on a grave. *Maybe* that could explain this unstoppable chain of nightmares. At any rate, he’s the dead man now...


Nutmegger Linda (lindanutmegger) | 103 comments Did anyone else think that Kadare has quite a sense of humor?


message 10: by Lia (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lia Nutmegger wrote: "Did anyone else think that Kadare has quite a sense of humor?"

The macabre kind, yes.


Kristina | 66 comments Oh yes, there were quite some few passages in the book that had a subtle and more absurd humor.


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Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
Lia wrote: "Whitney wrote: "Do you think the comparisons to Kafka are valid?"

I can see why people would compare Kadare and Kafka: the gratuitous torture scenes, the sudden and unexpected projection of male d..."


You're right. Kafka's characters always seem to feel they are missing some key that would let them be "normal" members of society. In Kadare's Albania, there is no key, and frequently no way of doing things that let you avoid being guilty. It was Big Gurameto's position and connections that made him able to save the city, but it was that same position that caused Shaqo Mezini's envy and led to his death.


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Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
Kristina wrote: "While I was reading , especially towards the end, I found it difficult to understand what really happened and if big Gurameto was indeed part of The Joint. I am not sure if Little Gurameto was not real, but I think it would explain why he never is the centre of attention, but merely used for comparison with the other doctor. ..."

I never saw any hint that Big Gurameto was involved with anything beyond the many surgeries he did all day. Did you think there was a hint of him being involved in politics beyond the dinner party? "The Doctor's Plot" and "The Joint" conspiracy were pure Stalinist fabrications to justify purges. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/arti...

Interesting idea that Little Gurameto may not have been real. I got the idea he did exist, but as a fairly nondescript character he may have simply gotten swept up in the 'conspiracy' by virtue of always being connected to Big Gurameto in the eyes of the city. (As well as in the general distrust of intellectuals that follows communist takeovers.)


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Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
Lia wrote: "...And with that kind of shared turbulence, myth is a useful — and dangerous — tool to help you make sense, and justify insane coercion....

...As for that doctor, well, there’s this old-wives legend about a boy dropping an invitation on a grave. *Maybe* that could explain this unstoppable chain of nightmares. At any rate, he’s the dead man now... ..."


I like your interpretation of how myth operates in the book. People want things to make sense, for there to be a logical, even if fantastic, narrative. In addition to the way you point out myth is operating in Gjirokaster, the Doctor is caught up in Stalin's myth of the Doctor's Conspiracy, which, as in your words, justifies insane coercion.

It speaks to the power of myth that Gurameto uses not only the story of the invitation on the grave, but his purely imaginary insertion of himself as a boy into the story, to explain the events that have happened to him - as well as his inversion of himself from the boy to the dead man. Great insights!


Kristina | 66 comments Whitney, thank you for the interesting link. I have never heard of this story and it explains the plot of the book for some degree.


message 16: by Lia (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lia Another thank you from me Whitney, the linked article certainly adds important contextual clues to the novel.

Whitney wrote: "It was Big Gurameto's position and connections that made him able to save the city, but it was that same position that caused Shaqo Mezini's envy and led to his death.”

Actually, I think it’s not necessarily his position that made it possible for him to save the city, but the fact that they bonded over this romanticized, fictional idea of Albanian hospitality and honour code — another common theme in myth (from Homer to ASOIAF). Persuading the imposter to conform to this romanticized code of conduct was the “trick” that saved the city — that is, myth making and myth-performing saved the city.

And yet, His own downfall is also rooted in myth-thinking. The projected anxiety about conspiring doctors is certainly one of them; but the fact that they were recorded speaking in latin and in “codes” (of fictitious honour) also roused suspicion. And it’s this tendency to conform to mythical performance — to fulfill the “prophecy” that he will experince the music differently — that structured the doctor’s torture. Almost as though he composed, orchestrated his own vivisection (or bodily torture anyway.)

I don’t know how to say this without sounding like I’m blaming the victims, but I think there’s a very strong sense that the community survives on myths: everybody participates in myth making (like the white-curtain mental-gymnastic), and in doing so, also enables their own oppressions.

Maybe that’s why he’s seen operating on himself; and is said to be his own worst enemy.


message 17: by Whitney (last edited May 28, 2018 04:51PM) (new) - added it

Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
Lia wrote: "Actually, I think it’s not necessarily his position that made it possible for him to save the city, but the fact that they bonded over this romanticized, fictional idea of Albanian hospitality and honour code — ...— that is, myth making and myth-performing saved the city. .."

Certainly not disagreeing with you, just noting that his position and connections are what led him to have German officers as acquaintances and the resources to host a dinner party in the first place.

I don’t know how to say this without sounding like I’m blaming the victims, but I think there’s a very strong sense that the community survives on myths: everybody participates in myth making (like the white-curtain mental-gymnastic), and in doing so, also enables their own oppressions. ?

It would be impossible to not place some blame on people for totalitarian governments. There has to be a certain level of complicit citizenry to allow oppressors to operate. Isn't the current trend of many people declaring anything that they disagree with "fake news" a way of asserting one's preferred mythology?


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Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
Beverly wrote: "I can see why each new "power" needs to not only understand the myths but to ensure that it is not only used to their needs but also to not let myths be a form of resistance to their control over the people...."

I think this ties in with Lia's comments, as well.


message 19: by Marc (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2872 comments Mod
If the point of this book was to immerse the reader in the type of ongoing confusion and historical re-writing/twisting oppressors and tyrants ruthlessly employ, I'd say Kadare succeeds in spades. As others have already stated, it did seem like his characters suffered in pursuit of this agenda, leaving me mostly confused and much less sympathetic than I would have expected.

Interesting question to compare the author to Kafka. For me, I'd say Kafka makes me share his character's paranoia and fear and that his characters tend to be the nobody-caught-up-in-the-system, whereas Kadare seems to utilize a privileged, larger-than-life central character whose plight I watched and was confused by, but to whom I felt no real connection.


Beverly | 142 comments Kristina wrote: "Oh yes, there were quite some few passages in the book that had a subtle and more absurd humor."

I agree.
And I think humor is necessary to get through every day when under oppressive situations.


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Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
Marc wrote: "Kadare seems to utilize a privileged, larger-than-life central character whose plight I watched and was confused by, but to whom I felt no real connection..."

Did you think it was intentional that Kadare kept most of his characters at arms length? I'm wondering if we were intended to have a bit of a "common man" perspective on the events taking place. I did feel bad for Gurameto at the end, which is I think the first time we get a little of what he's thinking or feeling.

And why wasn't that distance there when it came to Shaqo Mezini? He seemed to be an example of the "small man" who uses the new communist government to justify his revenge on those he's envied.


message 22: by Marc (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2872 comments Mod
It definitely seemed intentional to me. I believe you made a comment in the non-spoiler thread about Baltic lit being more alien to you--did Kadare' s writi g fit this description?

I'm not sure I've read a book that was so readable (good pace, interesting) but still left me so ambivalent.

I do agree that one feels more for the doctor toward the end. My reading may also have been colored by way too much travel on the day I read it (had a 4-hour delay between flights in Chicago).


message 23: by Lia (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lia I wonder if the distancing and humor weren't covert indictments against everyone who "consumes" this. Which may or may not include the author himself.

The brutality of each successive regime is known to its community and to the world. It should not be possible to tolerate that, it's only made tolerable by coping mechanisms like distancing, humor, mythologizing. Every survivor -- and observer -- is complicit, the only truly innocent ones are the ones on the sacrificial altar. The rest of the community devours the myth, the rumor, the trumped up charges, the rhetorics. If the individual were more relatable, more real, his scapegoating could not have been "legitimized," it would have torn the community apart.

Shaqo Mezini is a real-enough person: small, full of contradictions, confronts small chains of frustrations and obstacles everyday, just like us. (Or maybe it's just me.) We can understand his mental processes, his feelings, his needs. And it's his neediness that drove him to cling to mythologized, larger than life figures -- Stalin, the "big" doctor, someone big enough to inspire awe. To fulfill the needs of someone so deprived, so desperate, the doctor has to be aggrandized, mythologized, made more conspiratorial, more dangerous, entirely inhuman.


message 24: by Lily (last edited May 31, 2018 09:16AM) (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 2503 comments Marc wrote: "I'm not sure I've read a book that was so readable..."

Not my experience at all. I found Stone City so obtuse that I didn't give it a fair chance -- I had other challenging reads where I wanted to put any reading/research effort required at the moment. BUT, I am very glad that Kadare was chosen here. I did not know him or his work and now have some suggestions on what I might try instead in the future. AND, more fun, the topics of Albania and Kadare prompted some interesting discussions with a visiting friend from Eastern Europe, especially on the Communist influences and the dynamics of invading countries. It was a reminder that not every read has to be "close" to be worth the time spent.


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Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
Lia wrote: "Every survivor -- and observer -- is complicit, the only truly innocent ones are the ones on the sacrificial altar. The rest of the community devours the myth, the rumor, the trumped up charges, the rhetorics. If the individual were more relatable, more real, his scapegoating could not have been "legitimized," it would have torn the community apart...."

Geez, tough crowd!

Do you think that the communities tendency to mythologize the Gurametos all along contributed to their complacency in what happened to them? I didn't really get an idea what the 'common man' thought about everything after communists took over, did you think Kadare was offering judgement on their complicity?


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Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
Lily wrote: "Not my experience at all. I found Stone City so obtuse that I didn't give it a fair chance -- I had other challenging reads where I wanted to put any reading/research effort required at the moment...."

I agree with Marc that the book was very readable in terms of having very straight-forward prose, but with you in that what was being implied by that prose didn't lend itself to ready understanding. I also agree that not all books are for everyone at every moment. Glad that you found value without loving the book itself!


message 27: by Whitney (last edited Jun 02, 2018 07:33PM) (new) - added it

Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
Marc wrote: "It definitely seemed intentional to me. I believe you made a comment in the non-spoiler thread about Baltic lit being more alien to you--did Kadare' s writi g fit this description?'..."

Hmmm, it's hard to say. Were the characters such ciphers because he intended it, or was it at least partially because they are so different from my experience? I wonder if an Albanian reader would be more likely to nod their head in recognition of things that left me scratching mine.


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Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
Just FYI, your stalwart moderator will be out of town for a couple weeks. Please keep the conversation going if you have anything else to say. And thanks to everyone who has participated, it certainly helped me appreciate this book!


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Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
Kristina wrote: "One thing, I could not really understand, was the plot on the ladies of the city. Why do they die when addressed as comrades and what role do they play for the city? ..."

My lack of response to this was due to me not knowing, either. I thought perhaps they recommended to 'old' traditions of the town, and being addressed as an equal was just too uncouth.


message 30: by Suki (new) - rated it 3 stars

Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 23 comments I had a bit of a struggle with this book; I never really seemed to get my footing. I'm not really familiar enough with the history of the region, and I'm sure that a lot of the references went sailing right over my head. This was my first Ismail Kadare novel; I have a copy of Chronicle in Stone for another group read starting later this month. From the description, it sounds like it is more character-driven than this one, and I hope that I will like it better.


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