Elegy for Kosovo

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June 28, 1389: Six hundred years before Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic called for the repression of the Albanian majority in Kosovo, there took place, on the Field of the Blackbirds, a battle shrouded in legend. A coalition of Serbs, Albanian Catholics, Bosnians, and Romanians confronted and were defeated by the invading Ottoman army of the Sultan Murad. This battle established the Muslim foothold in Europe and became the centerpiece of Serbian nationalist ideology, justifying the campaign of ethnic cleansing ...

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Elegy for Kosovo: A Novel

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June 28, 1389: Six hundred years before Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic called for the repression of the Albanian majority in Kosovo, there took place, on the Field of the Blackbirds, a battle shrouded in legend. A coalition of Serbs, Albanian Catholics, Bosnians, and Romanians confronted and were defeated by the invading Ottoman army of the Sultan Murad. This battle established the Muslim foothold in Europe and became the centerpiece of Serbian nationalist ideology, justifying the campaign of ethnic cleansing of Albanian Kosovars that the world witnessed with horror at the end of the past century.  

In this eloquent and timely reflection on war, memory, and the destiny of two peoples, Ismail Kadare explores in fiction the legend and the consequences of that defeat. Elegy for Kosovo is a heartfelt yet clear-eyed lament for a land riven by hatreds as old as the Homeric epics and as young as the latest news broadcast.

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Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
“He has the gift of writing parables of great weight in the lightest of tones.”
News and Observer (Raleigh)
“A courageous and accomplished storyteller who is simply one of the best novelists alive.”
Boston Globe
“The shadow of the
Kafka of The Castle and The Trial intersects his work . . . .
Kadare is patently a world-class novelist and prose poet.”
Boston Globe
“The shadow of the Kafka of The Castle and The Trial intersects his work . . . .
Kadare is patently a world-class novelist and prose poet.”
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1389, a battle was fought against the Ottoman Turks at Kosovo, ending in a momentous standoff that amounted to a defeat for the Balkan defenders. According to Serb tradition, in a nationalist legend inflamed and exploited by Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbs stood virtually alone against the Turks in a battle that defined Serbian identity. Kadare, an Albanian national, here takes up the Battle of Kosovo in three brief elegiac narratives from a critical perspective. He is sympathetic to the suffering on all sides, but also eager to correct the Serb view: it was a coalition of Albanians, Rumanians, Serbs and other Balkan peoples that clashed with the forces of Sultan Murad I on the Field of Blackbirds. Kadare's point is important and well taken, but this small book is a disappointment. These epic events demand a much fuller and deeper exploration than he offers. Moreover, one hopes that the often lame English--awkwardly pitched in a sort of faux-epic idiom--does not fairly reflect the Albanian original. For Kadare is certainly a novelist of importance. Now in his mid-60s, he remains Albania's foremost intellectual. Though originally trained in Moscow at the Gorky Institute to be a purveyor of the party line, Kadare became a dissident in his homeland and eventually found it necessary to flee. He has lived in Paris since 1990, and is a powerful presence on the French intellectual scene, but his Elegy for Kosovo, however right-minded, is not likely to attract new readers to the fine novels (The Three-Arched Bridge, The Palace of Dreams, etc.) he currently has in print here. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Kirkus Reviews
Albania's Kadare is probably the premier writer of fiction to have emerged from the Balkan countries since Bosnian Nobel-winning novelist Ivo Andric. His latest (1998) locates the sources of Slobodan Milosevc's campaign of "ethnic cleansing" in a 14th-century battle fought on the Blackbird Plains of Kosovo, in which armies of Serbs and those allied with them were defeated by Ottoman Turks, and the seeds of sectarian resentment and hatred were thus firmly planted in the blood-soaked soil. The figures of an idealistic Prince, two naive "minstrels of war," and a "great lady" who reveres and mourns the vanished culture of classical Greece, among others, provide representative involved figures, in a "novel" that's really as much an essay in historiography as it is fiction: an effort to explain how a people to whom unity would seem so natural have become instead so fiercely divided. As such, it's a revealing addition to such acclaimed novels as Chronicle in Stone and The Three-Arched Bridge, and one of Kadare's most eloquent books.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781611456974
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing
  • Publication date: 2/5/2013
  • Edition description: Translatio
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 991,526
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 6.90 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Ismail Kadare is the winner of the inaugural Man Booker International Prize, and is acclaimed worldwide as one of the most important writers of our time. Translations of his novels have been published in more than forty countries. He divides his time between Paris, France, and Tirana, Albania.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Never before had rumors of impending war been followed by rumors of peace. Quite the opposite — after hopes for peace, suddenly war would be declared, which was practically routine in the large peninsula.

    There were times when the peninsula seemed truly large, with enough space for everyone: for different languages and faiths, for a dozen peoples, states, kingdoms, and principalities — even for three empires, two of which, the Serbian and the Bulgarian, were now in ruins, with the result that the third, the Byzantine Empire, was to its disgrace and that of all Christianity declared a Turkish vassal.

    But times changed, and with them the ideas of the local people changed, and the peninsula began to seem quite constricting. This feeling of constriction was spawned more by the ancient memories of the people than by their lands and languages rubbing against each other. In their solitude the people hatched nightmares until one day they felt they could no longer bear it.

    This usually happened in the spring, when, along with the whispers of war or peace, there was a feeling of inexplicable tension in the air. In fact, both the good and the bad prophecies never ebbed in the low-lying regions, particularly in the towns. But they tended to become a flood when they mingled with the anxiety of the mountain people. And this happened in the spring, right after the first signs of the snow melting. The explanation was simple enough: the predictions of the city people were based on information and rumors spread by itinerant merchants, consuls'coachmen, spies, epileptics, and harbor prostitutes, and on the rate of exchange of Venetian ducats in the Durrës banks. Nonetheless, however reliable these sources of information might be, another dimension was necessary to authenticate such rumors, a dimension that was mysterious and intangible — in other words, irrational. This dimension was provided by the mountain people.

    For the mountain people, everything from the Cursed Peaks of Albania and Montenegro to ancient Mount Olympus and the Carpathians was linked with snow. Just as the city people imagined a world that was basically flat, the people of the mountain pastures made the opposite mistake; they believed in the supremacy of the mountains. So even if somebody swore a solemn oath that he had seen with his own eyes an army ready for war, the mountain people would look up toward the snows and shake their heads. As long as the cherished snow still lay up there, no army was on the move, no war was about to begin.

    In the spring this conviction was shattered, and with the melting snow thoughts changed.

    This is what happened in that spring of 1389 when, right after the news that there would be a very special peace, there came other news that there would be war, and that this war would be very special indeed.

Chapter Two

That spring the world was rife with rumors. No caravan transporting cheeses, no consul passing through could fill the emptiness — it filled itself spontaneously. People had also realized in recent years that where the roads were blocked by snow or plague, the whispers, instead of dying away, became even stronger. The reason seems to have been that the lack of fresh news made people turn to the past. The news of what had gone before, like old clothing, was easier to slip into.

    In remote taverns they spoke of the Turks moving their capital from Bursa to Adrianople, as if the event had occurred the day before and not some twenty years earlier. And that the Turkish monarch was moving the capital, some said, in order to shift his empire to Europe. Others either refused to believe this or shook their heads in horror. Can one move an empire as if it were a house? Not to mention: Where would poor Europe find enough space for such a huge empire? The Turk doesn't give a damn if it fits or not. "Move over!" he says. "Make room for me, or I'll kick you out!"

    Others, who did not want to believe that this calamity could come about, said that if the sultan was moving the capital nearer, it was perhaps so that it would be easier for him to keep an eye on the quarrels of the peninsula's princes. "To keep an eye on our wrangling?" others objected incredulously. "Our wrangling is so deafening that there is no need to come closer — in fact you can hear it better from afar!"

    The discussion about the quarrels of the native princes turned spontaneously to their secret alliances, particularly their bondage to the Turk. Of all the rumors, these were the most unsubstantiated. No sooner did word go around that King Tvrtko of the Bosnians had bowed down to the sultan, than other news came that it wasn't King Tvrtko, nor Mirçea of Rumania, but Sisman, czar of the Bulgarians, who had knelt before the sultan. "I am not surprised about the Bulgarian czar," an unknown man said, "but my soul aches when I call to mind Emperor John V!"

    "Ah, Byzantium!" others sighed. "Byzantium, my friend! You have sinned and now you must pay the price."

    The news that people were wrangling not only here in this godforsaken part of the world but everywhere, even among the Turks themselves, was a consolation. Everyone was talking about the affair of the two princes, the Turk Cuntuz, son of Sultan Murad, and Andronicus, the heir of John V. While the fathers had formed an alliance and were busy waging war in Asia, the sons were conspiring to overthrow them. The fathers clapped them in irons, and Sultan Murad, in order to reaffirm his friendship with his Christian ally, had his treacherous son punished with the official Byzantine torture — blinding. And, needless to say, the Christian monarch reciprocated with his son.

    Talking about the savagery of these two fathers reminded people of their evils and caprices. Many of these monarchs' actions, which seemed to defy reason, were beyond understanding not because they were inscrutable but because of their inherent madness. The idea of moving the capital, for instance, might well have had a sound motive but was more likely the outcome of one of the sultan's whims. With an empire of such boundless proportions, such whims were to be expected. Too often the great are permitted what lesser men are not. The Montenegrins might have liked to move their capital, Cetinje, but where would they have put it? Two miles over, and the wretched city would have landed in the talons of the Albanian eagle. The same goes for Skopje, and as for Sofia, God knows where it would have ended up! In Russia, probably, or in the Black Sea!

    Twilight fell, and before the taverns closed and everyone wished each other a good night, the conversation turned to the latest piece of news — the Turkish monarch's change of title. Until recently, he had been called "Emir," but now he was going to be called "Sultan." This was definitely a bad sign. The last time there had been a change was on the threshold of a war. Besides which, the title "Emir" sounded tender to all ears — in the languages of the southern Slavs the word mir means peace, while in the language of the Albanians it sounds like i mirë, good man, or e mirë, good woman.

    "And yet, did he not slash us all to pieces under that title at the battle of Maricë?" someone asked as he put on a skullcap. "Slashed us to pieces, by God!" said another, scratching his head. "And not only the Serbs and the Hungarians, but also we Albanians who had rushed off to help them, and even the French king, Louis d'Anjou. It is where my lord Count Muzaka fell, may he rest in peace!"

    "Sultan." The people muttered the new title to themselves as if they were trying to fathom its secret.

    It was clear as the light of day that the Turkish monarch wished to adopt a new title, just as he had invented new weapons in the last couple of years, just as he had modernized the shape of the yataghan sabers and their curved blades.

    In other words, new war, new name, the people said, and put a curse on him then and there: "May he not live to enjoy it!" and "May the title swallow him up!"

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Table of Contents

I. The Ancient Battle 1
II. The Great Lady 45
III. The Royal Prayer 113
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 4, 2011

    An Elegy for Peace

    It's a very beautiful book - a short tale of the battle that started it all; a background to the never ending conflict between two ethnic groups; an elegy of the inertia of conflict resolution in the Balkans. All in all, it is fiction loosely based on historical facts, and it should be treated as such. Some things are lost in translation, but nevertheless a beautiful short story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2003

    An albanian girl living in USA

    I enjoyed very much this book. I would like to congradulate the author for his great job.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2000


    Ismail Kadare is the best of the best modern Albanian Author. He spended his life writting the truth that has happened in Kosova and in the other Countries

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