The Siege by Ismail Kadare Part 3

published 1970

this translation by David Bellos, 1994 and 2007

the book is also known as The Rain Drums, or The Castle

[The Pasha’s harem, travelling with the army, are relaxing in their tent]

They were reclining on their camp-beds, leaning on their elbows. It was suffocating inside the tent. Despite their light garb, they found the heat unbearable. “It must be cooler outside than in here,” Lejla said. “It’s always either hotter or cooler inside a tent than outside.” She was the only one of the women to have been on a campaign before. She had been taken by her master, a vizier, on the Thessalonian campaign, where he had been killed. Her first act as a young widow had been to disperse the harem, as custom required. She had sold the girls with unusual haste, and, as if that had not been enough to express her spite towards them, she set a price that was more or less equivalent to that of a she-goat…

In recent weeks, presumably because of the hostility all around them, the women had grown closer to each other. “Phew! This heat is stifling!” said Blondie (so named for the colour of her hair), who was slouching next to Lejla. “Where’s Hasan? Him to get fetch little water to fresh up!” The others all laughed at Blondie’s broken Turkish, knowing full well they would not find even that very amusing for long. The youngest, Exher, said nothing and sat outside the circle, which was unusual for her. She was pale and hadn’t put up her plaits very neatly.

“Are you already feeling queer?” Lejla asked.


“It must be that.”

Exher stared hard at her.

“I had a hard time of it too,” Ajsel said. “Oh! I miss my little daughter so! She’ll be nearly two when autumn comes. Will we be back by then?”

observations: A third entry on this book, as it was so full of interest.

The description of the besieging army, from the lowest soldiers to the supreme commander (and his body double…) is strangely reminiscent of Terry Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment – I don’t suppose Pratchett is often compared with Kadare. His Polly Oliver would not at all approve of the treatment of women here, starting with the women above, kept ready for the commander (there is quite the discussion of how their pubic hair looks best – blonde vs brown, shaved or not – it’s like Sex and the City). There are badly-treated women gathered for the comfort of the soldiers, with much mention of flowery (would ‘flowered’ be better?) dresses needed for the captured women so they look nice

and can be sold on easily once their first captors have had them – a few thousand such dresses are in the list of military supplies for a campaign.
They really are not treated well. We can only hope that the Rumelian women ‘reputed to be witches’ get a bit of their own back.

A chronicler is noting down the details of the campaign, even though most of the soldiers ‘did not even know the word history’. He says ‘in the raging storm of battle the crocodiles charged the ramparts again and again’ after thinking hard whether ‘shark’ or ‘whale’ might be better words.

The top picture shows Turkish women ‘at home’, from the Codex Vindobonensis, from 100 years after the setting of the book.

The other is a picture of an Albanian peasant woman, from Wikimedia Commons, and from 400 years after the date of the book, in a spirit of co-operative anachronism – as explained in an earlier entry – and because it is extremely difficult to find Albanian images from the 16th century.


  1. Moira - I find all of the sense of place and time here absolutely fascinating. Those women really are treated appallingly badly though. Still, that, too, is a part of history. One of the things I like about this is also the writing style; it's quite descriptive without being wordy.

    1. As you know, I really like Kadare, for the reasons you mention, and I also think the translator has done a terrific job.

  2. Each time you feature this book, it sounds more interesting. However, were I to try this author, I would go for some set in a time closer to present day.

    1. I don't know which of his to recommend - I'll have to think!

  3. Can't remember my response from previous occasions, but it's not singing out to me today!

    1. Pretty sure you didn't like the sound of it then, so no surprises there....


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