translated by John Hodgson 2010
All the reports claimed that Besfort was in Tirana 33 weeks before the accident. The few opulent skyscrapers belligerently reflected the summer light off one another. As he walked through the once forbidden neighbourhood, unable to decide upon a café, it seemed to Besfort Y. that the very glass of the buildings expressed the city’s malice and its troubled conscience, as vented every morning by the newspapers. Lawsuits, grudges, debts, unsettled feuds that bided their time – they were all there.
He… entered the Sky Tower.
The view from the enclosed terrace on the 16th floor was beautiful at any time of the year. From this height the journalists’ speculations seemed more credible: the owners of the first four storeys of the Sky Tower, included the café where Besfort was sitting, were fighting a court case with the state. At the foot of the tower were the foundations of another skyscraper.
observations: Ismail Kadare is, as I keep saying, Albania’s greatest writer. His Ghost Rider and The Siege have both featured on the blog, and I’m a big fan of his work. I found this one more of a problem than his others: perhaps because it has such a contemporary feel. Other books of his have been either historical, or set in some dream-like non-world. This one is very plainly set over a period of time around 2002 – the character above is about to mention the attack on the NY Twin Towers, and the death of the real-life Queen Geraldine of the Albanians (in Oct 2002) also features.
The book starts off with two deaths: a taxi crashes on a motorway in Vienna for no reason. The taxi driver survives, his two passengers die. When asked what happened all the driver can say is ‘they were trying to kiss’, with the implication that seeing this in the rear-view mirror caused him to veer off the road. So it’s time to investigate who these people were, what they were doing, and what the taxi driver could possibly mean.
I think that’s a pretty enticing setup, and I settled in for the usual hypnotic atmosphere and brilliant writing. We find out that the man Besfort had been having an affair with the woman Rovena over many years. The police and then a mysterious researcher are looking into the accident. The story of their affair unwinds – mixed with political events of the end of the 20th century: war, the fall of regimes, events in Serbia. At one point there is a list of famous and important people which includes Bill Clinton, the Dalai Lama and Kadare himself.
There were elements of the book I liked very much: the look at the motif of rediscovery in Albanian folklore, the description of a train journey battered by snow, the visit to the sex club. Hamlet and Don Quixote both are brought into the story. And it is a good and intriguing book – but it wasn’t the wonderful immersive experience his other novels have been, and if anyone is looking to try him for the first time I would recommend The Ghost Rider or Broken April instead.
The top two pictures were taken in the Albanian capital Tirana earlier this year, and come from my favourite source, Perry Photography, and are used with her kind permission. You can see more of her pictures at Flickr, or at her website weddingsinitalytuscany. Her wonderful photos have featured on the blog many times before.
The third picture is the view from the Sky Tower mentioned above – the photographer, Brams, made it available on Wikimedia Commons.