cover image The Doll: A Portrait of My Mother

The Doll: A Portrait of My Mother

Ismail Kadare, trans. from the Albanian by John Hodgson. Counterpoint, $16.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-64009-422-2

Kadare’s wistful, introspective family portrait (after A Girl in Exile) combines fiction and memoir as he recollects his childhood in Gjirokastra, Albania, and early writing career in Tirana while imagining his mother’s early life. Kadare calls his mother “the Doll” because she is light as paper; everything about her, in fact, is light: her clothes, her speech, and her sighs. As a 17-year-old bride in 1933, having come from a family lacking in rich history (the groom’s great grandfather was immortalized in a song) though better off than the Kadares, the Doll hates her new husband’s centuries-old family house with its dungeon, secret passages, and forbidden recesses. A palpable chill develops between her and another resident of the house, the Doll’s mother-in-law. After the dowager dies in 1953, teenage Ismail moves with his parents to an apartment in Tirana. When Ismail gains attention for his poetry, his mother worries that he will neglect her. Later, she tries to get him to marry a woman she meets, and he resists. Kadare offers illuminating reminiscences of his literary development, describing the temptation of forbidden western literature under communist rule and his habit of writing ad campaigns for his books before they were finished (“The century’s most demonic novel” was his pitch for the first novel he began writing in a notebook). Kadare’s rich portrayal of his mother dovetails neatly with that of communist Albania, full of conflicts and incongruities. Kadare’s fans will relish this slim, enigmatic snapshot of the author’s origins. (Nov.)