Kadare's lifelong theme and the context for much of his work is the four-decade dictatorship of Enver Hoxha, whose grotesque, paranoid, Stalinist regime slaughtered thousands. However,
A Girl in Exileset in the 1980s against a backdrop of interrogation, exile and thwarted livesalso offers a more incandescent tale.
The New York Times Book Review - Cynthia Haven
A middle-aged writer’s oblique connection to a young suicide is the avenue by which Kadare (The General of the Dead Army) provocatively explores the intrusive Albanian state apparatus of the 1980s. When the Party Committee summons writer Rudian Stefa, he worries artistic censors complained to the regime about his latest play. If not the play, perhaps he should worry about shoving his girlfriend Migena, or accusing her of being a spy. The regime’s invasiveness becomes increasingly clear as the tragedy of the dead girl—who grew up in exile—unfolds and connects her to Rudian; Migena asked him at a signing to autograph a book “for Linda B.” The authorities have Linda’s copy of the book and her diary, which reveals an obsession with Rudian and provides clues to a desperate plan that involves Migena. Comparisons to Kafka are inevitable, but there’s also some Joseph Heller here. Kadare successfully renders Big Brother, and, though Linda’s hopeless scheme strains credulity, this is nonetheless a poignant narrative about exile. (Jan.)
This translation of a 2009 work by award-winning author Kadare is set in Communist-era Albania, circa 1990. A playwright/author, who is having an affair with a young woman he's met at a book signing, is called in for questioning—not, as he fears, about Party disapproval of his recent play but about his potential involvement with another young woman he's never met. She had been detained, along with her entire family, in government-imposed exile in the provinces and recently committed suicide. Though the novel effectively conveys the era's drabness and repression, providing a timely sense of the constraints imposed by authoritarian regimes, it might have been more interesting had it focused on the regime's impact on the two young women. Though Kadare briefly sends his imagination in that direction, the playwright/narrator ultimately reduces the women to literary tropes and makes the story all about himself, with the usual surveillance fears and interrogation scenes typical of Cold War novels. VERDICT A good treatment of repressive politics but a missed opportunity for fuller involvement; Kadare's name will attract some readers.—Reba Leiding, emeritus, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA
Kadare (Twilight of the Eastern Gods, 2015, etc.) subverts the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice into a parable of totalitarianism.The prizewinning novelist published this in his native Albania in 2009 and set it within "the dictatorship of the proletariat" that ruled his homeland for much of the latter half of the 20th century. The protagonist is a playwright who has been summoned for questioning by the Party Committee. He figures his newest work has fallen under scrutiny by investigators, who would be "looking for hostile catchphrases, counting the number of lines given to negative characters as against positive ones, looking at the fingerprints on the manuscript to find out if anyone suspicious had read it." Instead, it seems, the issue at hand is an entirely different matter: a young woman has committed suicide, and in her hands was a book the writer had inscribed to her. He tells the committee he had never met her but had inscribed the book at a reading, at the request of another young woman, with whom he had proceeded into a tumultuous relationship. The playwright had suspected that this woman might be a spy for the government, and now he becomes increasingly concerned about his suspected involvement in the death of a woman he never met. The novel spirals deeper into surreal mystery as it explores the relationship between the two women, the impetus for the suicide, and the impact of the investigation on a play the protagonist is in the process of writing. "Better if you don't know," an investigator responds when the playwright asks of the circumstances surrounding the suicide. In his obsessive reflections, the playwright somehow becomes Orpheus, whose artistry can bring his wife back from the dead, but only if he keeps from looking at her as he leads her out of Hades. Myth and dream, memory and repression, all converge as the novel illuminates the essence of art in totalitarian Albania.An author respected throughout Europe should reach a wider American readership with this subversive novel.
Praise for A Girl in Exile A New York Times Book Review’s Editors’ Choice Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2018 by the Chicago Review of Books and The Millions 1 of 19 Translated Books to Add to Your Reading List This Summer (Signature Reads) "Ismail Kadare's readers are astonished every year when the Nobel committee overlooks him . . . A Girl in Exile, published in Albanian in 2009, may rekindle the worldwide hopes." The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice) " A Girl in Exile is erotic, paranoiac and lightly fantastical." The Wall Street Journal "Kadare’s mellifluous fever dream is a portrait of madness: the madness of the Stalinist state and the madness of men and women in the clamp of the state’s machinations . . . At a time when parts of the world are indulging nostalgia for communism, Kadare’s novel confronts the infuriating impossibility of art in an autocratic, anti-individualist system." The Washington Post "While common sense says that no artist can overhaul a country’s literature singlehandedly, Kadare has done so . . . A Girl in Exile is the work of a historic talent who is still at the peak of his power. It confirms Kadare to be the best writer at work today who remembersalmost aggressively so, refusing to forgetEuropean totalitarianism. Kadare tackles Albania’s specific strangeness with a ferocious rigor that would feel scientific if it were not for the haunted, haunting humans he writes into being." New Republic " A Girl in Exile is the gripping account of a playwright’s tragic struggle with the effects of his creative work, as understood through political upheaval, narrative interchangeability, and a magnetic relationship . . . Beautifully, the text addresses the cruelties of dictatorship." Los Angeles Review of Books "Set among the bureaucratic machinery of Albania’s dictatorship, this compelling novel evokes the paranoid nature of life and love under surveillance." Chicago Review of Books, The Most Anticipated Fiction Books of 2018 "Kadare structures the novel like a psychological detective yarn, but one with some serious existential heft . . . A strong study of the ease and banality of human duplicity." The Millions, Most Anticipated: The Great 2018 Book Preview "Powerful, empathetic, at times harrowing . . . executed with an elegant combination of horror, absurdity, indignation, and other-worldliness . . . A chilling, humane and strangely beautiful work." Independent "A brilliant novel that captures the horrors of a totalitarian regime." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette "A compelling amalgam of realism, dreaminess and elegiac, white-hot fury. Kadare communicates with awful immediacy the nature of tyranny and the accommodations that those subject to it must makeas Kadare himself had to do." John Banville, Financial Times "The literature Kadare has produced in the face of obstacles lesser writers would find insuperable, is, genuinely, of world significance . . . Invites comparison with Milan Kundera's recent satire on Stalinism, The Festival of Insignificance. Both writers are favourites, year-in, year-out for the Nobel prize. Kadare will not damage his prospects with A Girl in Exile." John Sutherland, The Times "Melodrama, tragedy and myth illuminate the relationship between individual and state in a fine novel from the great Albanian writer." Guardian "Kadare is frequently mentioned as a Nobel contender, and his chances should only be enhanced by this odd and powerful novel." Booklist "Myth and dream, memory and repression, all converge as the novel illuminates the essence of art in totalitarian Albania. An author respected throughout Europe should reach a wider American readership with this subversive novel." Kirkus Reviews "The novel effectively conveys the era's drabness and repression, providing a timely sense of the constraints imposed by authoritarian regimes . . . A good treatment of repressive politics." Library Journal "Comparisons to Kafka are inevitable, but there’s also some Joseph Heller here. Kadare successfully renders Big Brother . . . A poignant narrative about exile." Publishers Weekly "Ismail Kadare is one of the most lauded writers-in-translation in the English language, certainly one of Europe’s most important writers, and virtually the singular representative of Albanian culture to the anglophone world . . . The novel is by turns a probing exploration of the strict censures on everyday lifefrom which coffee shop one drinks at to the friends and lovers one has and the art one makesunder a totalitarian regime, and by turns epic in its connections among the present of life under Hoxha in the 1980s and the ancient past of Western mythology and history." World Literature Today "[Kadare] captures the paranoid nature of life under constant surveillance . . . and produces an ironic masterpiece." Daily Mail "Filled with striking images and conceits . . . a powerful Kafkaesque charge . . . Kadare's imaginative intelligence ensures that it is chilling and intriguing." Theo Tait, Sunday Times "Coolly ironic writing, which traverses ominous themes of censorship and state control . . . Kadare masterfully conjures an atmosphere of paranoia . . . This powerful novel is a monument." Francesca Wade, Daily Telegraph " A Girl in Exile, from internationally acclaimed Albanian author and perennial Nobel Prize favorite Ismail Kadare, is a powerful and complex tale of life in the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' . . . [A] striking exploration of love, art, paranoia, and the limits of freedom in a totalitarian state." Foreword Reviews " A Girl in Exile is both a timeless, ghostly love story, and a trenchant portrait of the artist in a totalitarian state." 4Columns