Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Pride of Albania

#23 - "The Successor" by Ismail Kadare

Four books in a couple of weeks, and five days off work coming up. Years of experience have taught me what will come next: I'll convince myself that I'm back on the "50 books" train, I'll boldly proclaim that here, then I'll make my next two books Pynchon and Dostoyevsky and I'll be lucky to crack 35 for the year.

I'm long overdue in mentioning Kadare here. He's really about the only Albanian novelist in print in English, and I've been a fan for years. A line in "Spring Flowers, Spring Frost" gave this blog its name. Thanks to winning the Booker International prize last year, many of his books are now back in print in the U.S., a circumstance I'm very happy about.

Most of his novels -- including this one -- deal with totalitarianism on some level, understandable since he's from the country that was the Hermit Kingdom before it was cool to be the Hermit Kingdom. They deal with power, and the shifting nature of perception in a country where someone is controlling reality. The result is dreamy (the temptation is to say "Kafkaesque," but I throw that word around too much, especially for someone who's read very little Kafka), paranoid, and often slyly (and unexpectedly) funny.

The titular successor of the novel is a very thinly-disguised Mehmet Shehu, once next in line to Enver Hoxha, then disgraced and dead, purportedly by his own hand -- but rumors abounded that it had been orchestrated. The plot of "The Successor" centers around that death, and the various theories and conspiracies surrounding it.

It's one of the better introductions to Kadare, actually, along with (I'd say) "The General of the Dead Army" and "Broken April." My favorite is "The Concert" -- his most ambitious and wide-ranging book -- but that one sent me to the reference books more than a few times, so its requirements for Albanian history knowledge may be a bit much. In any case, "The Successor" is a fine example of a good (and little-known) novelist.

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