cover image Twilight of the Eastern Gods

Twilight of the Eastern Gods

Ismail Kadare, trans. from the French by Jusuf Vrioni and David Bellos. Grove, $26 (208p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2311-4

Back in the days of the USSR, the regime maintained a literary institute in Moscow for young writers from the vast region it dominated. On the evidence of Kadare’s (The Fall of the Stone City) early autobiographical novel, the writers, including a very young Ismail Kadare, spent their time drinking, attending stupendously boring lectures, hitting on women, and dealing with their ambivalence. It’s 1958: the big news is the scandal of Boris Pasternak’s Nobel Prize, but below the surface lurks the gradually cooling relations between Albania and the Soviet Union. Kadare, now an elder statesman of Albanian literature, casts a cool eye on his fellow writers, depicting discussions of plots they will never write (about “limping party secretaries who stole piglets from the collective farm,” for instance) and their guilt at renouncing their languages to “take up with that hag of a step mother, Russian,” but he seems no less miserable and conflicted. Translated into English for the first time (with an informative note by the translator about the book’s complicated publishing history), its appearance as Putin’s Russia tries to reclaim former possessions is timely, and the view of a world that seems so tremendously far away has its interest. Unfortunately, however, Kadare’s fidelity to the dull, compromised, and often soddenly drunk lives he and his fellow writers led makes for dull reading. Agent: Andrew Wylie and Jacqueline Ko, Wylie Agency. (Nov.)