Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Siege by Ismail Kadare: Part 2

Published 1970
This translation by David Bellos, 1994 and 2007

Also known as The Rain Drums, or The Castle







“Let’s go out,” the Quartermaster suggested when the courier had left. “We’ll have a better chance to talk outdoors. Otherwise the thorns of everyday business will throttle the violet of our conversation!”…

Dusk was falling. The camp was in a state of lively activity. Akinxhis were coming from all directions, leading their horses to water. Standards rustled in the wind from the tips of the tent poles. With the addition of a handful of flowers to add their smell, the many-coloured camp would have looked less like a military installation than a blooming garden. The chronicler remembered that none of his colleagues had ever described an army as a flower garden — a gulistan — but that was what he was going to do. He would liken it to a meadow, or else to a polychrome kilim, but one from which, as soon as the order to move forward was given, would emerge the black fringes of death.


observations: Second entry on this book – the first one explains more about it.

I said earlier that some of the book reads anachronistically, which is deliberate, because the whole thing is a response to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. That left Albania – a communist regime but one not aligned with the USSR – very very isolated and concerned. This is how the very helpful translator, David Bellos, puts it: 

The intentional anachronisms in tone seek to achieve a two-sidedness characteristic of all Kadare’s fiction. The use of show trials, of banishment to “the tunnel”, the unquestioned authority of the Pasha and the shifting chain of command beneath him — all these details make the Ottoman world, ostensibly the very image of Albania’s Other, merge into an evocation of the People’s Republic that Kadare could not possibly tackle directly. In a magical way that perhaps only great writers can achieve, Kadare’s Turks are at one and the same time the epitome of what we are not, and a faithful representation of what we have become. 

But you don’t need to know that at all. His writing is mesmeric, and summons up a world you know nothing about, and one that presumably he only knows through research. He likes his carpets – earlier than the passage above, Kadare says:
At the moment the army was swathed in darkness, but at the crack of dawn it would shimmer like a Persian carpet as it spread itself out in all directions.
It is a strange and wonderful book, eerily real, which convinces you that Kadare does know (but how could he?) what it would be like to be a common soldier, a pasha, a chronicler at this military event.

The top picture of two men, from the NY Public Library, is from the 19th century, ie 400 years later, but it is very hard to find older images, and the dress is supposed to be traditional Albanian dress… and perhaps Kadare wouldn’t mind anachronisms as he used them himself.

The other picture is an Ottoman official – who I’m seeing as the Pasha in this book – and two janissaries under his command, a late 16th century picture.


14 comments:

  1. Moira - I love that passage you shared; I can see how a person would be drawn into that writing. And it's interesting how some spectacular writing comes from authors who use their stories to comment on their own societies, but can't really say so. Does that make sense? Shakespeare did it too, and so have a lot of other writers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes you are so right, and it's an interesting line of thought isn't it, whether hiding something in plain sight leads to great writing. And this really is, even in translation you can see that. (Or perhaps I should say, because the translation is so good.)

      Delete
  2. Liked the passage too, but not enough to want to read more. Sorry...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One day you'll be visiting Albania and wishing you'd read more books about it...

      Delete
    2. Now if it was actually a depiction of Albania with references to the situation in Czech, as opposed to allegorical.......you might have sold me

      Delete
    3. Yes I do see that. For your serious-minded side.

      Delete
    4. Hmm.... my serious side isn't always on display, as you well know, but post-WW2 Europe and the Cold War and Berlin, East Germany, Stasi etc does interest me and this connects....ditto the Balkans in the late 80's/early 90's.

      Delete
    5. I do know really, I just couldn't resist the cheap shot, sorry!

      Delete
  3. I looked briefly into other books by this author, and Chronicle in Stone or The Fall of the Stone City both sound interesting. Set around World War II.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He's a great writer Tracy, definitely worth a try. I haven't read either of the ones you mention.

      Delete
  4. I've read on of Ismail Kadare's books but the title escapes me. It had the feel of an urban legend and was very atmospheric. Glad to find another fan.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that's a great description of all the ones I have read! Yes, so rare to find anyone else who has read him.

      Delete
    2. There are plenty of people who read and love Kadare among albanians. They adore him. He's a very talented,poetic and witty writer. I suggest you Chronicle in stone, The Palce of Dreams, Broken April or the satirical The File on H.

      Delete
    3. Of course, my remarks referred to people in the West who don't know enough about him! I'm not surprised Albanians take great pride in his work. I loved Broken April and the Palace of Dreams, and will look up the other ones you mention.

      Delete