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Ismail Kadare: Vajza e Agamemnonit (Agamemnon’s Daughter)

Though not published in Albanian till 2003, this novella was originally written in 1985, at the height of Communist repression within the country. The story concerns a journalist, unnamed. He is the narrator, who is having an affair with the daughter of a party official. She has asked that they see less of one another, as her father has recently been promoted within the Party hierarchy and she feels that it might spoil her father’s changes of advancement if she continues to see the narrator. To his very great surprise, he has recently received a ticket to the privileged enclosure to watch the 1st May parade. Tickets to this event are normally given to only the most faithful of Party loyalists and our narrator does not consider himself as such, not least because he works for the Broadcasting Corporation which had recently been subject to a serious investigation, about which we later learn.

Much of the story, which is only just over 100 pages, is the reactions of the narrator as he makes his way to the privileged enclosure and, in particular, his reactions to various people he encounters. For example, he meets his uncle, with whom he has had ideological disagreements. His uncle had favoured rapprochement with China while the narrator was opposed. When the narrator had been proved right and Albania moved away from China, their disagreements had intensified. Other stories include G. Z. who had been the totally committed Party hack but had seen his star fall dramatically when his cousin had committed political misdeeds but was able to buy his way back into favour by betraying others, and the story of the narrator’s own Broadcasting Corporation, which had ignored a mild letter of criticism from a rural town, indeed had mocked it, but soon paid the price for their actions, with the head of the Corporation being gradually demoted to being a municipal head and then an ordinary house painter and finally being arrested and locked up and ending up with a fifteen year sentence. All the rest of the staff, including the narrator, were tainted.

He does finally make it to the privileged enclosure and watches the parade with a certain amount of anxiety. But while he has been thinking about these various people, he has also been comparing the actions of Suzana, his girlfriend, to those of Iphigenia, Agamemnon’s daughter, whom Agamemnon sacrificed, to get favourable winds for his ships’ sailing to Troy. The link is, frankly, a bit stretched but it is an interesting comparison. This is not one of Kadare’s great works but a minor though interesting one.

Publishing history

First published in 2003 by Shtëpia Botuese “55”, Tirana
First English translation in 2006 by Arcade
Translated by Jusuf Vrioni (Albanian-French) & David Bellos (French-English)