The Fall of the Stone City

Written by Ismail Kadare
Review by Edward James

The Fall of the Stone City is a translation form the Albanian of a short novel by Ismail Kadare, set in Kadare’s home city of Gjirokaster, the Stone City of the title. The action takes place between the German occupation of the city in 1943 (following Italy’s withdrawal from the war) and the death of Stalin 10 years later. The main protagonist is a German-educated doctor who saves the city from German reprisals, but how? Some years later he is arrested by the Communist regime as a suspected collaborator and is eventually murdered by his gaoler, apparently in a fit of grief at the news of Stalin’s death.

Do not expect an historical novel written in the usual west European or American style. Kadare does not tell the story from the viewpoint of one of the protagonists, but from that of an unidentified narrator telling the story 40 or 50 years later. Far from being an omniscient narrator, he freely admits that parts of the story are unknown and others based on speculation and hearsay. There is no sense in the doctor’s murder. The story is a tragic-comic satire of the inhuman senselessness of the Albanian (and any other) dictatorship.

As far as I know Kadare is the only Albanian author translated into English, and his work gives a unique insight into the history of this, the strangest corner of Europe.