This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

The File on H. by Ismail Kadare

The File on H. (original 1981; edition 2002)

by Ismail Kadare

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2621169,305 (3.77)27
A political comedy on two American academics who are recording story-singers in Albania. The two are on a project to show that story-singers were the source of Homer's epics, but this is much too highbrow for the district governor, convinced the pair are spies. By an Albanian writer, author of The Concert.… (more)
Title:The File on H.
Authors:Ismail Kadare
Info:Arcade Publishing (2002), Trade Paperback,
Collections:Your library

Work details

The File on H. by Ismail Kadare (1981)

Recently added byprivate library, DeidreH, mariquon, apmahd, SandraBrower, Ujaldon, Meleos, Himmelkoemov
Legacy LibrariesMaria Àngels Anglada d'Abadal



Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 27 mentions

English (10)  French (1)  All languages (11)
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
The story started promisingly with suggestions of a spy intrigue and a number of interesting pompous characters. But it was weighed down by the research on Homer and the epics. I still give it a rating of 4 though because of its originality. ( )
  siok | Mar 30, 2019 |
Night had fallen, and Shtjefen lit the tall oil-lamp, the one used for important occasions such as this. There was a special atmosphere at the inn this evening, something like a party feeling. Only the rhapsode, who was aware of being the hero of the night, stayed aside, and looked calmly at the tape-recorder. Bill kept glancing at him, trying to imagine what feelings the sight of this ultramodern device aroused in the rhapsode — bewilderment, or apprehension, or guilt about betraying his predecessors, the singers of yore? In the end he reckoned that the calmness of the rhapsode must have been masking inner turmoil. It would be the first time that the sound of his voice and of his labuta would not be lost in space, just as sounds always had been, but instead would be collected inside this metal box, like rainwater in a cistern or like . . . He suddenly feared that the rhapsode might change his mind.

Written around 1980 but set in the 1930s, this is a satire on Albanian politics and Albanian-Serbian rivalry. It tells the story of Bill and Max, two Irish scholars who come to Albania in search of the last remaining rhapsodes (travelling minstrels). While in Albania, they hope to work out whether Homer was single author of the Iliad or someone who created a standardised version of an existing epic into a single version by writing one of the variants down. They also want to find out if epic-composition is still a living art-form by recording the same rhapsodes signing the same songs on different occasions to see whether the songs change at all, and looking for evidence that new epics are still being created.

The governor of the nearby town has been asked to keep an eye on Bill and Max, as they are suspected of being spies, and he sets his favourite informer on the case. He sends back wonderfully-written letters from the inn where Bill and Max are staying although he is handicapped by being unable to speak English, so he can't tell what Bill and Max are saying when they are alone together, although they do speak a strange archaic version of Albanian when talking to the locals.

The historical setting of this story allows the author to get away with satirising the communist government in the guise of satirising the monarchist government of the 1930s. I loved the governor's reactions to his informer's ornate writing style, the governor's wife's fantasies about the Irishmen, and the reactions of the Albanians to the newly-invented tape recorder used by the scholars, all of which made this an interesting read. ( )
1 vote isabelx | Apr 20, 2016 |
Up until the ending this was in the running for my favorite Kadare, with a tone that starts out humorous and slowly grows more and more oppressive, and with parallel story threads that resonate with each other quite wonderfully. The final pages of this book, however, take the story in an unexpected direction, and in general the ending feels rushed. Another fifty pages or so, and a better payoff to a few of the major story lines, and I would consider this book one of Kadare's best. Even as it stands it's still good, it just didn't quite reach the heights that I was expecting it to.

Arriving in an Albanian backwater, Bill and Max are scholars from Ireland by way of Harvard, and they're on a mission to record the epic poetry still sung by traveling bards in the inns and tiny mountain towns of the Albanian countryside. By doing this they hope to decipher how oral epics transform or keep shape over time, which will in turn allow them to extrapolate how Homer himself operated. The Albanian government considers this reason for the scholars' visit to be patently absurd, an obvious cover story for foreign spies. In addition, others see the scholars' visit as an exciting escape from the boredom of a small Albanian town, while others guess that the work of the scholars will somehow play a role in the longstanding ethnic conflict between Albanians and Serbs.

The work the scholars are conducting, combined with the intrigue surrounding their visit, provide interesting themes for Kadare to explore. As they study the travelers who perform the epics the two scholars realize that, even though they are in their twilight, the epics are still changing, with different people telling the same legend in a myriad of different ways, and even the same performer shaping the story differently, perhaps as a subconscious response to what experiences he has undergone. Similarly, the people who are observing Bill and Max create their own stories about what the pair are up to, letting their own beliefs and expectations change the narrative they invent. To some the scholars are spies, and every word they say about Homer is their attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the locals. To others the scholars are adventurers and potential romantic partners. To yet others the pair are committing blasphemous acts and threatening to rob Albania of one of its greatest assets. All these stories are true, at least to the people coming up with them. The recurring theme of how a story evolves and why is an interesting one, and Kadare gives us a situation where the theme could be explored in great dramatic ways.

I was expecting that the story would end with the Albanian government bringing in Bill and Max and accusing them of being spies, thus confronting the scholars with the idea that a story isn't a concrete thing, but one that can be completely different based on a person's expectations and biases. Thus I guessed that the denouement would feature the scholars realizing the hopelessness of their endeavor to solve the mystery of how Homer's epics evolved- whether Homer was a man or a committee, you can't figure out exactly why he gave us the Iliad and the Odyssey in the form that he did, as stories aren't created and don't change in some scientifically calculable way. Sometimes they just arise and morph in ways you couldn't possibly guess. Instead, the ending featured the scholars' equipment being destroyed, indeed because of someone else's story of what Bill and Max were doing. Despite giving up on their project, however, Bill and Max prepare to leave convinced that the key to solving how epics are formed was almost within their grasp. This of course is similarly an invented story, not a clear truth. The very last pages, however, seem to depict Bill having a revelation of sorts, mimicking the performance of the bards he had been studying and perhaps signifying that in fact he has grasped how an epic functions through personal experience in a way that he could never have understood through purely academic analysis. This isn't entirely clear here, though, as the book ends quickly and Bill's actions are left ambiguous. Still an interesting ending, to be sure, but I'm not sure if the climax was the best possible culmination of the themes explored up to that point.

My quibbling about the ending is really the only significant complaint I had with the book. Otherwise I thought nearly everything was great, highlighting some of Kadare's best qualities as a writer and revealing some skills that I didn't even know he had. For instance, the beginning of this book is genuinely funny, in a way that I hadn't seen Kadare pull off in previous books. The absurd bureaucracy of Albania, presented seriously in The Palace of Dreams and The Pyramid, here is satirized, especially with regards to the system of informers used to gather information. The book doesn't stay humorous throughout, however, as the scholars' stay in a lonely inn, trying to grasp the evolution of epics as delivered by ritualistic, almost mystic storytellers, and being constantly observed by the state and other parties as well, gradually turns the tone into an oppressive one. Additionally, with Bill going blind and every question in their research answered raising two more in its place, not to mention the distrust the other travelers feel about the recording device, there's underlying tension throughout. Kadare is also a master at depicting the setting of Albania, the ancient inn at the foot of the accursed mountains where the last remaining storytellers cross paths is a unique and evocative place for the bulk of the story to unfold. We don't learn a huge amount about many of the characters, but they are distinct, with individual personalities and motivations. For a book this short the characters are quite well drawn, even though we don't spend quite enough time with them for them to feel like real people. Kadare's writing is excellent here as well. Though not nearly as much of a focus here as it was in Broken April, Albanian culture is still touched upon in passing in The File on H, and it's yet another aspect of the book I enjoyed.

Really everything about this book I enjoyed, except the ending felt rushed, and generally I thought Kadare could have crafted an ending that gave more of a payoff to the theme of the creation and evolution of a story that permeated the book. I'd say that despite this complaint I'd still heartily recommend The File on H, and it's a good place to start if you haven't read any Kadare before. ( )
1 vote BayardUS | Jan 10, 2016 |
This was a fun read, but a little uneven, and missed some of its potential.

It tells the story of a small Albanian town. Two Irishmen, bearing newfangled tape recorders, come to study native epic traditions. The Albanian government suspects them of being spies, so the mayor of the anonymous town keeps the Irishmen under surveillance. Meanwhile, the mayor's wife fantasizes about having an affair with the foreigners. The Irishmen - fictional versions of the famous Lord and Parry- stay in a hotel outside the town, excitedly doing their research, but inadvertently ending up in the ages-old conflict between the Albanians and the Serbs.

There are some delightful and hilarious characters - the mayor is a delight, and the spy who writes verbose reports on the Irishmen's activities is hilarious. The sexual frustration and innuendo throughout the book is tasteful and funny.

However, the book gets bogged down in the details of the Irishmen's research. I'm familiar with the work of Lord and Parry, so maybe I found this part less interesting than I could have, but for a long time (especially in such a short book) the narrative grinds to a halt as we read the research diaries of the Irishmen - the detail is interesting, but doesn't drive the plot at all.

The end of the book happens a little abruptly - it feels like Kadare got tired or writing at what should have been the halfway point and just suddenly stopped the book. Part of the point is that ancient cultural conflicts can be destructive, but he could have made the point in a more satisfying way. ( )
1 vote Gwendydd | Aug 14, 2012 |
L'arrivée de deux Irlandais new-yorkais, Max Roth et Willy Norton, dans le ville de N., au coeur de l'Albanie, fait l'effet d'une bombe dont les intéressés auraient bien étouffé l'explosion. Le sous-préfet de N. partage bien sûr l'avis de son ministre : il n'est pas exclu que les deux étrangers soient des espions... Devant la théorie des deux voyageurs - prouver, en enregistrant le chant des Rhapsodes, que l'Iliade et l'Odyssée sont la retranscription de légendes albanaises - le sous-préfet n'a qu'un mot : prétexte ! Prétexte fallacieusement intellectuel pour deux espions à la solde de forces étrangères. Les recherches des deux Irlandais vont bientôt se compliquer, entre le fin limier du sous-préfet chargé de les surveiller, la femme de celui-ci qui rêve du prince charmant, les habitants de ces terres reculées, curieux et superstitieux... Ismaïl Kadaré signe ici un roman d'une truculence folle qui n'épargne aucun de ses personnages. Aventure, mystère, suspens et humour... tous les ingrédients qui font du Dossier H. un grand moment de bonheur et un témoignage en faveur de la poésie épique albanaise. --Hector Chavez
  PierreYvesMERCIER | Feb 19, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
no reviews | add a review

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ismail Kadareprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bellos, DavidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sánchez Lizarralde, RamónTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vrioni, JusufTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Information from the French Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
First words
The diplomatic bag from the Royal Albanian Legation in Washington, DC, arrived on a gloomy winter's day, of the kind that nature bestows with a particular prodigality on the capital cities of small and backward states.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Information from the Catalan Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (2)

No library descriptions found.

Book description
Haiku summary

Quick Links

Popular covers


Average: (3.77)
1 1
2 1
3 16
3.5 6
4 23
4.5 6
5 7

Arcade Publishing

2 editions of this book were published by Arcade Publishing.

Editions: 1611452503, 1611457998

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 142,630,796 books! | Top bar: Always visible