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The General of the Dead Army (1963)

by Ismail Kadare

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4701045,542 (3.79)21
This is the story of an Italian general, accompanied by his chaplain, charged with the mission of scouring Albania in search of the bones of their fallen countrymen, killed twenty years earlier during World War II.

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English (7)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (10)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
A book that points to the complex repercussions of war on the people engaged in it as well as those who come in its wake. ( )
  colligan | Dec 2, 2020 |
A beautifully written work that makes you feel for the character. Absolutely heart wrenching as you read of this Italian General's task to retrieve the dead bodies of his countrymen and the affects it has on him in this appropriately titled novel. ( )
  malvinak | Sep 30, 2016 |
As a previous reviewer has mentioned, this is a bleak, gray book, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's a bad novel. It describes the travails of a post-Second World War Italian general charged with finding and recovering his country's war dead from Albania. The job, and the book, is a slog, but that might be by design: while the author avoids addressing the issue of fascism directly, his main character is clearly dealing with the impersonal, bureaucratic aspect of modern conflict. Permanence is also an important theme here: Kadere convincingly demonstrates how injustice and the human damage that it causes can survive decades, and even centuries. It's probably a cliché at this point to say that the dead don't always stay buried, but Kadere's decision to make this truism concrete is still an effective metaphor for personal histories as well as the history of nations. As others have noted, the parts of "The General of the Dead Army" that leaves the deepest impression are its descriptions of Albania's landscape, which is almost uniformly rough, barren, and, inhospitable. They give the book a certain bracing, poetic quality that keeps it descending into sheer miserablism and is, I think, conveyed rather well by the translation. I can't imagine that Albanian is too easy to translate from, but the language here seems natural and appropriately spare. As the general of the title slowly descends into alcoholism and illness, the book begins to drag -- again, perhaps, on purpose -- allowing the author can suggest, perhaps with some reason, that dealing with the aftermath's of war can be as arduous and as emotionally damaging as trench warfare itself. "The General of the Dead Army" is the only book by an Albanian author that I've ever read. Next time, however, I think that I'll pick a cheerier product of Albanian literature, if such a thing exists. ( )
1 vote TheAmpersand | Sep 18, 2016 |
Romanzo di un grigiore e disperazione pazzesco. Credo che sia un messaggio dell'autore nei confronti del proprio popolo nella speranza che escono dalla violenza in cui sono piombati per tornare agli albanesi di una volta. Onestamente l'ho finito giusto per non dire di avere abandonato un libro. Scarso e inconsistente. ( )
  Maistrack | May 28, 2016 |
More so than in any of Kadare's other books, Albania is presented in The General of the Dead Army as an unwelcoming and depressing place. There is no sense here of the setting also being awe-inspiring to temper the morose landscape as there was in Kadare's The File on H. There is no filter of childlike curiosity and discovery like there was in Chronicle in Stone. There isn't even the surreal atmosphere of The Palace of Dreams to soften the blow. Instead, The General of the Dead Army has an unremitting bleakness that drains you as you read. The weight of the mountains, of the mud, of the death that the general has to bear is transmitted to you, the reader, and as his task breaks him it chips away at you as well.

The doomed nature of the general's task is quickly apparent, even if it doesn't crumble in the way I was expecting. Though he discusses his assignment with overconfidence, even arrogance, in the first chapter, the general realizes the depressing nature of the task he's been given before the first body is even exhumed. A lesser author would have had the general's descent be more gradual, starting him off as energetic and enthusiastic before eroding his confidence. Instead Kadare sets a course of events that makes for a much more interesting and evocative book, as he undercuts the general's confidence and enthusiasm in the first few chapters, with the operation and the general's mental wellbeing going downhill from there. The general muses more and more on the pointlessness and difficulty of his task, the setting gets more and more oppressive, and even the respite of a chapter set in town and not exhuming graves only mounts the tension and foreboding: at best the Albanian people distrust the general, at worst they hate him. The only companion that the general has with him is the priest, a character that the general doesn't trust, and often doesn't seem to like. It's hard to emphasize enough how there's just nothing happy or uplifting going on in this book. It's all depression and distrust, pain and death.

Besides Kadare's uncompromising dedication to making The General of the Dead Army as bleak as possible, what impressed me most about this book was the ending. I assumed that, given his initial overconfidence and how depressing the story was, the general would fail in his quest to locate the bodies. I expected months to stretch to years, and the majority of the corpses the general sought to remain elusive in the harsh Albanian landscape. Instead, the general succeeds in gathering most of the corpses he was sent out to retrieve, albeit with several delays and misfortunes along the way. While on paper he has succeeded, however, the general ends the book having been mentally broken by his task. Perhaps he'll recover, perhaps not, but it seems clear that the image he had of himself, as a conquering general without fear, has been shattered. I half expected him to commit suicide, be driven mad, or die of a fever right as the end of his mission was in view, but I should have trusted Kadare not to give us such a boring resolution. The general leaves Albania, his task complete, but he leaves defeated despite this. He's managed to retrieve the bodies of some of his countrymen, but he's lost something of himself in the process, and ultimately he hasn't changed anything: the mountains, the rain, and the wind of Albania remain and will outlast us all, and any bodies retrieved from the earth will return to it before too long, with interest paid in due course.

Unrelentingly bleak and with an interesting ending that defied my expectations and avoided simple clichés, The General of the Dead Army is a good book. I'd put it behind The Palace of Dreams, The File on H, and Broken April, but it's still worth a read if you want a depressing book (which I think is nice, from time to time). ( )
2 vote BayardUS | Jan 10, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
In 1963 verscheen het debuut van de enige Albanese schrijver die ook over de landsgrenzen naam en faam geniet er waarvan veel werk in Nederlandse vertaling is uitgegeven. Op een onorthodoxe wijze beschrijft hij de zoektocht van een Italiaanse generaal naar de vele tienduizenden landgenoten die tijdens de Tweede Wereldoorlog in het onherbergzame Albanië zijn gesneuveld en achtergelaten. Alhoewel het de debuutroman van Ismail Kadare is, lijkt het of er een zeer ervaren en gelouterde auteur aan het woord is...
Ismail Kadare’s world is a sort of antimatter. It destroys ours. Except that, unlike the example from particle physics, it also complements ours and to stark effect. To read the novels of this great Albanian writer...is to enter a nightmare we cannot inhabit, but we sense that it inhabits us.

» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ismail Kadareprimary authorall editionscalculated
Arenander, BrittTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Coltman, DerekTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smiley, DavidIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Sobre la tierra extranjera caía una mezcla de agua y nieve.
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This is the story of an Italian general, accompanied by his chaplain, charged with the mission of scouring Albania in search of the bones of their fallen countrymen, killed twenty years earlier during World War II.

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Arcade Publishing

2 editions of this book were published by Arcade Publishing.

Editions: 161145252X, 1611454182

Hachette Book Group

An edition of this book was published by Hachette Book Group.

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