cover image The Fall of the Stone City

The Fall of the Stone City

Ismail Kadare, trans. from the Albanian by John Hodgson. Grove, $24 (176p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2068-7

In his latest novel, Kadare (The Ghost Rider) features many of his motifs—bloody Balkan histories; bleak totalitarianism lives under silky threads of magical realism—that have made him a perpetual shortlister for Noble Prize laureate. This novel, set in the isolated Albanian city of Gjirokastër, covers roughly 10 tumultuous years, encompassing the Italian withdrawal and subsequent German invasion during WWII. Always aware of this historical backdrop, Kadare considers its impact on private lives. The mystery preoccupying both the city and novel centers around events of September 16, 1943, a night when “Big Dr Gurameto” hosted a dinner for Col. Fritz von Schwabe, commander of the first German division to enter Albania and old friend of Gurameto’s from their college days. That party, resulting in the unexpected release of hostages held by the Germans, remains shrouded in inscrutability until Gurameto is made to account for his actions when the country’s new Communist leaders force a reckoning after the war. The answer doesn’t explain the circumstances of September 16 so much as shine a light on the impossibilities of negotiating the relentless press of history. A thoughtful exploration of the colluding forces of fascism and communism and a country caught between them that is at once obscure and enigmatic, lucid and insistent. (Feb.)