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The Fall of the Stone City by Ismail Kadare

The Fall of the Stone City (2009)

by Ismail Kadare

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    The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Involving the reactions of communities under German occupation

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An allegoric novel, like many of Kadare's work. A main role for his hometown Gjirokastër in Albania, that is so prominent that it looks like the protagonist. Of course Kadare is again joking with the communist regime that dominated for so long his country and this time it's so hilarious that you can only wonder why so many people saw for such a long time a realistic alternative in these oppressive, even stupid, regimes.
Not all ends well, and some mysterious people pass by, die, get mad or simply survive. And this is, maybe, how life was in Albania under that regime: you were lucky, or not, or you didn't want to know anymore ( )
  Lunarreader | Apr 8, 2016 |
When Albania is occupied by the Germans during WWII doctor Guremento holds a dinner for the head of the German army. This dinner haunts him and leads to trouble when communists take over the country. ( )
  RachelNF | Jan 15, 2016 |
Kadare's ironic take on human folly and hypocrisy and the uncertainties of history combined with strong story telling makes a good read. In a strange way, makes something of the horrors of totalitarianism into dark comedy; in that, reminiscent of the Italian film 'Life is beautiful' ( )
  vguy | Oct 12, 2014 |
What a tedious book! By the time I’d got close to the end, where apparently all is explained, I found it difficult to follow and had so lost interest in it that I couldn’t really make the effort, especially since it seemed to focus on a myth of a dead man from a cemetery coming to dinner.

I thought at first my distaste for this book came from not liking satires but then I remembered how much I had enjoyed ‘Catch 22’ and then I realised that it’s this particular type of satire that does not appeal to me, the type where the characters are distanced, there’s little direct speech and the whole thing seems like an overview to mock institutions, societies and politicians so that unless the reader is amused by what is written, it all seems rather silly. Some people, for example, might like reading ‘The city recalled other long-forgotten tales of hostages. Everyone had their own style of hostage-taking. The Ottoman Turks had one way and Mussolini’s troops another, while the Italians did it differently to the Albanians brigands, who in turn were not like Macedonian brigands, nor the nomadic Roma’. To me this is tiresome – it was even tiresome just writing that out now.

Mocking bureaucracy produces similar writing: ‘The investigation was conducted by eleven communist states, in twenty-seven languages and thirty-nine dialects, not to mention sub-dialects . . .’ Altogether I was pleased to have struggled through to the last page but lacked any interest in reflecting on this book. I wonder if other works by Kadare are better than this or if he always leads with ideas – obviously someone deciding Man Booker awards thinks he’s very special . . .

I can understand an Albanian wanting to capture the never-ending cycle of plotting and retribution which has obviously gripped this part of the world and I can perhaps see something more universal in the way we're always caught up in the past, but this myth/fable/satire with its intended humour - e.g. all the 'ladies' fainting away when called 'comrade' - just leaves me cold. With no individual characters to become involved with and next to no dialogue, it read more like a warped thesis to me. ( )
  evening | Sep 24, 2013 |
There is a place where the literary world and the gaming industry intersect. It's the Nobel Prizes. Once again this year you can place bets on who is going to win the Literature Prize.

Once again, Albanian author Ismail Kadare is considered a contender. As of this review, he's one of three authors listed at 14-1 odds with four authors ahead of them. Last year, he wasn't in the top 10. That has no bearing on whether Kadare will win this year but I am fairly certain he ultimately will be a Nobel laureate.

Kadare's books reflect his country and are imbued with Albanian myths and metaphors. It's a country that has seemed to struggle, not always of its own doing, in moving from legend and history to modernity and from Communism to an open market. Albania is not only the setting, it is a major part of the context. His latest work to be translated into English, The Fall of the Stone City, continues the pattern.

The book is set in his native town of Gjirokastër in southern Albania, coincidentally the birthplace of Enver Hoxha, the committed Marxist-Leninist dictator of the country from 1944 until his death in 1985. The medieval city, which Kadare describes as having "a reputation for arrogance," is populated with large stone houses, although its skyline, as it is, is dominated by a prison built on top of a medieval castle at the highest point in the city. These features also play a role in The Fall of the Stone City.

Kadare, the winner of the inaugural Man Booker International Prize in 2005, breaks this tale into essentially three parts. In the first, the Nazis occupy the city following Italy's surrender in 1943. The leader of the Nazi tank division is Colonel von Schwabe, a friend of Dr. Gurameto, one of the city's leading physicians, who attended school in Munich. The physician is known locally as "Big Dr. Gurameto" because another physician in town also is named Gurameto. There seems to be an longstanding and ongoing fascination among city residents with assessing whether "Big" or "Little" Dr. Gurameto has the most prestige at any particular time. Because a small group of partisans attacks the vanguard of the tank division before it enters the city, the Germans seize 80 hostages upon assuming control of the city. Still, Big Dr. Gurameto hosts a dinner party that night for von Schwabe and other German officers. Shrouded in mystery and couched in myth, over the course of the long night all the hostages are released.

The second part of the story is transitional, addressing the transformation of life in the city as the Communist partisans take charge of the country following the German withdrawal in 1944. It traces the changes in and effect on the city of the Hoxha regime until both Big and Little Dr. Gurameto are arrested in 1953. Kadare's account of the impact of Communism on the town is more subtle and somewhat indirect. For example, it illustrates the contrast between past and present by looking at the effect of party programs and discipline, and even being called "Comrade", on the "ladies" of the city, with the term being used in the medieval sense of superior social rank.

The final part focuses on the arrest and interrogation of the two physicians. They are taken to the worst part of the prison, known for torture. They are caught up in the reverberations of the so-called Doctors' Plot against Stalin. Here, though, Kadare presents an unexpected twist, one which leads Big Dr. Guerameto to being interrogated not only by two members of the Albanian secret police but also investigators from East Germany and Moscow. All of them are intent on learning what really happened at the dinner party in 1943. And even though he wasn't involved with the events of that night, Little Dr. Guerameto is dragged along, perhaps representing an Albania that is caught up in a Nazi occupation succeeded by an extremely repressive native totalitarian regime.

Translated by John Hodgson, the book reflects the plight of Albania during these times. First, it is the Nazis who are prepared to shoot hostages. Ten years later, Albanian officials stand ready and willing to torture their own countrymen in pursuit of plots that likely never existed. The book gives both the sense and essence of a totalitarian state in language that, while straightforward, is literary and often allegorical. The Fall of the Stone City is a strong addition to Kadare's body of translated work and which further demonstrates that he is deserving of wider acclaim and readership.

(Originally posted at A Progressive on the Prairie.)
1 vote PrairieProgressive | Sep 12, 2012 |
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Book description
German soldiers advance on the ancient gates of Gjirokastër, Albania. It is the first step in a carefully planned invasion. But once at the mouth of the city, the troops are taken aback by an act of rebellion that leaves the citizens fearful of bloody reprisals.

Soon rumours circulate, in cafes, houses and alleyways, that the Nazi Colonel in command of the German Army was once a school acquaintance of a local dignitary, Doctor Gurameto. In the town square, Colonel von Schwabe greets his former classmate warmly; in return, Doctor Gurameto invites him to dinner. The very next day, the Colonel and his army disappear from the city.

The dinner at Gurameto's house changes the course of events in twentieth-century Europe. But as the citizens celebrate their hero. a conspiracy surfaces which leads some to place Gurameto - and the stone city - at the heart of a  plot to undermine Socialism.

As a medieval city strives to become a communist one without descending into madness, the citizens are left wondering: what exactly took place on that strange night and what lies in store for Doctor Gurameto?

Enigmatic and compelling, The Fall of the Stone City displays Ismail Kadare at the height of his considerable powers.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802120687, Hardcover)

It is 1943, and the Second World War is ravaging Europe. Mussolini decides to pull out of his alliance with the Nazis, and withdraws the Italian troops occupying Albania. Soon after, Nazi forces invade Albania from occupied Greece. The first settlement in their path is the ancient stone city of Gjirokastër, an Albanian stronghold since the fourteenth century. The townsfolk have no choice but to surrender to the Nazis, but are confused when they see that one of the town’s residents, a certain Dr. Gurameto, seems to be showing the invading Nazi Colonel great hospitality. That evening, strains of Schubert from the doctor’s gramophone waft out into the cobbled streets of the city, and the sounds of a dinner party are heard. The sudden disappearance of the Nazis the next morning leaves the town wondering if they might have dreamt the events of the previous night. But as Albania moves into a period of occupation by the Nazis, and then is taken over by the communists, Dr. Gurameto is forced to answer for what happened on the evening of the Nazi’s invasion, and finally explain the events of that long, strange night.

Dealing with themes of resistance in a dictatorship, and steeped in Albanian folklore and legend, The Fall of the Stone City shows Kadare at the height of his powers.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:17 -0400)

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Townsfolk assume a prominent citizen betrayed them during the 1943 Nazi invasion of Albania. Years later he will be forced to reveal the secret behind his actions.

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