Twilight of the Eastern Gods

Written by David Bellos (trans.) Ismail Kadare
Review by Anne Clinard Barnhill

Twilight of the Eastern Gods, by internationally acclaimed Albanian writer Ismail Kadare, is one of this Man Booker International Prize winner’s early novels, translated for the first time into English by David Bellos, Director of the Program of Translation at Princeton University. Set in Moscow in the mid-1950s at the Gorky Institute for World Literature, the story follows a young Albanian student as he attends school. The irony of attempting creative work such as writing while under communist rule forms the crux of the novel.

Told in first person, the novel explores the life of this unnamed student, which is not so different from students’ lives today – he is interested in scoring with young women, drinking, and thinking of the politics of the times. When he finds a forbidden manuscript, Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, he reads it and wonders if the book is really as dangerous as the Soviet authorities who banned it have claimed. He considers his own work and how writing the ‘realism’ demanded by the communist party can in any way enhance literature.

This thinly veiled autobiography leaves the reader with much to ponder: the role of politics in artistic creation, the struggling young writer’s need to experience the larger world, and the incredible importance and insistence of the written word.