Nnor has Ismail Kadare (born 1936) ever received the Nobel Prize in Literature. Readers can be happy that a new volume of autobiographical prose has been published by him: prose in which the writer describes his childhood and adolescence in the southern Albanian town of Gjirokastra – the place where Enver Hodscha was born.
The young Ismail and his friend Ilir are bright playmates who are not shy about being bullshit. They want to write a novel together, but fail because of their ambitious plans; they want to get rich by melting old lead letters and minting a few five-lek coins from them. They don’t get rich, but they end up in prison for a short time because of counterfeiting. This also contributes to fame. They want to conquer a loved one and boldly hold her under the skirt, so the friendship is playful. The political situation is opaque. The German occupation has left and suddenly Communists are emerging from the underground everywhere. Even an elegant lady, called “the Frenchwoman”, turns out to be a comrade. This is what the author calls “self-unveiling”, and as a child he was amazed. The new rulers were not convincing; the children saw them as washcloths.
Ghosts and foolish things
“Born from stone” was the title of Kadare’s four prose pieces, based on his “Chronicle in stone”, published in 1971, which also deals with his homeland. Stone, these are the massive castles in which the better Albanian families live. The houses are obscure labyrinths, have alleys and side alleys, inhabited and uninhabited rooms, winding stairs, secret doors and secret exits, shaded courtyards, corridors and hallways that seem to lead to nowhere.
Even a dungeon belongs to these houses, a private prison, set deep into the mountain and only accessible via a rope ladder from above. The dungeon is a symbol of ancient traditions. “Some thought it was just a whim, the others thought they discovered an old, now outdated legal concept: state and house exist side by side, each with its own laws.”
Ismail’s mother does not come from such a stately home, she is afraid of the mighty walls and has the oppressive feeling of being eaten up by the old house. There are ghosts that cannot be tamed, “foolish things” happen, and a text is titled “How Hamlet helped me to drive away the ghosts”.
Kadare mixes old legends with the present with a wild lust for fabulization, looks ironically at the society crouched under the dictatorship and also makes fun of himself as a high-spirited observer of the confused Albanian living conditions. The writer danced on the waves, sometimes he was at the top and enjoyed Hodscha’s recognition, sometimes he was at the bottom and was banned from publication.