cover image The Pyramid

The Pyramid

Ismail Kadare. Arcade Publishing, $21.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-1-55970-314-7

Albanian novelist Kadare (The Concert), living in political exile in France since 1991, spins cogent tales about the temptations and evils of totalitarian bureaucracy. His latest carries a universal message. Set in ancient Egypt-where Pharaoh Cheops oversees the construction of his tomb, the highest, most majestic pyramid ever, to be built by tens of thousands of his brainwashed subjects-the novel's hypnotically Kafkaesque narrative exposes the alienating, destructive effects of investing unquestioned power in a ruler, a state or a religion. The massive pyramid devours Egypt's resources and energies. Thousands die as it rises ever higher, and Cheops, depicted as a power-mad lunatic who craves adulation, periodically unleashes waves of arrests and torture of those falsely accused of sabotaging the project. Analogies to Stalin's paranoia, bloody purges and other terrors spring to mind, but the story takes on a broader meaning, demonstrating how a state or a ruling elite can mold public opinion so that its citizens willingly act against their own best interests. As the narrative closes, it leaps ahead centuries to display Timur the Lame (Tamerlane) erecting in central Asia a pyramid made of 70,000 skulls. Through this closing image, and the horrors that precede it, Kadare again proves himself a master of the political parable. (Apr.)