I realised Ismail Kadare was a great writer when I read his novel Broken April, which tells the story of blood feuds in the mountains of Albania. I've been waiting for him to win the Nobel Prize for Literature ever since.
The Fall of the Stone City is set in Gjirokastër, Albania, birthplace of both Kadare himself and the Albanian communist leader Enver Hoxha. The story starts in September 1943 as Nazi troops prepare to bombard the city. However, something stops them and it turns out that the Nazi colonel remembers he has an old friend from University living in Gjirokastër, Big Dr Gurameto, one of two surgeons in the city (the other who is also called Dr Gurameto). A reunion dinner ensues which leads to the doctor being considered a traitor, but then the hostages are released, soi perhaps he's a hero?
The story continues through the city's changing political fortunes. It's a city that has been invaded by foreign powers many times and is
used to this, the residents carry on as though nothing has happened even
as leaders come and go.
This is a enigmatic and intriguing novel that illuminates a key period in Albanian history, while asking questions about the nature of truth, power and loyalty, lightened by a dark humour. Any reading of it probably benefits from some knowledge of Albanian history, customs and folklore and some knowledge of Kadare's other novels.
Thanks to Jim Murdoch, who sent me a spare copy of this novel and who wrote a much longer review of it last year!
The Fall of the Stone City by Ismail Kadare, published by Canongate.
As ever, coloured text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.