cover image The Concert

The Concert

Ismail Kadare. William Morrow & Company, $25 (443pp) ISBN 978-0-688-09762-2

Set in the mid-1970s, as the alliance between Albania and Communist China unravels, this subversively inventive satire traces the impact of the zigzagging Albanian party line on the personal lives of a group of friends and associates. These include a jittery Albanian diplomat in Beijing, his jealously insecure wife, an establishment novelist who confronts ``the void inside him'' and a civil servant who writes an ``autocritique'' castigating himself for his petty-bourgeois mentality. A Kafkaesque subplot concerns an army officer who's arrested, apparently for refusing to obey an order. Albanian novelist Kadare ( The Palace of Dreams ), who lives in France, sketches a devastating portrait of Mao Zedong as a megalomaniac whose goal is ``the brainwashing of the human race.'' Historical figures like Zhou Enlai and genocidal Cambodian leader Pol Pot appear intermittently in an elliptic narrative spliced with dreams, officers' coerced confessions and short-short stories. China, depicted as a dystopia where simple human relations are stultified and surveillance is a way of life, becomes a mirror image of Albania through Kadare's mordantly ironic vision. (Sept.)