The Fall of the Stone City by Ismail Kadare
There’s an old Albanian folk tale at the heart of The Fall of The Stone City where a dead man responds to a dinner invitation. The book’s plot revisits this tale several times as the situation in the stone city, properly called Gjirokaster, changes dramatically. Albania had a dramatic twentieth century, being invaded first by the Nazis, then the Soviets. This book dramatises that process, beginning in 1943 when the Nazis invaded.
A number of hostages were taken, but the German commander releases them after dinner with one of the local doctors, Big Dr. Guarameto. It’s not certain why he did this, and since he dies soon after, the event remains uncertain. But it does invoke the tale of a dead man at dinner. Nevertheless, it’s confusingly told, and the rumours add to the confusion. When the Communist regime arrives in Albania, they want to know what happened too. They torture Big Dr. Guarameto to find out, but the truth remains elusive. It turns out the German commander was impersonating a different deceased commander – a different dead man at dinner? This is a book that shows layers of change affecting a story, without clarifying it. A strange book, but a compelling one. [Ryan Agee]