Ismail Kadare: Kronikë në gur (Chronicle in Stone)
Another fine novel from Kadare, this one is set in an unnamed Albanian city, which is obviously Gjirokastra, home town to Kadare but also, as we shall see, home town to Enver Hoxha. Much of the story is told through the eyes of the unnamed narrator, a boy at the time of the story and, presumably, Kadare himself. The town is old-fashioned in every sense of the world. It consists of a series of old stone buildings which seem to have been around forever, particularly the ancient citadel. Not only are the buildings old-fashioned but so are the people. Many still believe in witchcraft and strongly fear it. Many of the inhabitants seem old and some seem to have been around well over a hundred years. But everything is changing. The Italians have occupied the city (it is shortly after the Italian invasion of Albania in 1939) and the city is unwittingly caught up in the war. The Italians seem generally anonymous, except for chasing the local girls, till they take over the unnamed plain at the bottom of the town and convert it to an airfield. The result is that the English start bombing the town, causing some damage. The town gets its own anti-aircraft gun and manages to shoot down one of the planes and the left arm of the pilot who is killed becomes a sort of relic.
Despite the occupation, the town and the narrator go on with their life. There are brief and fragmentary chronicles from the chroniclers of the town as well as the narrator’s own experiences, including sexual awakening. The town itself survives bombings and successive occupations by the Italians and the Greeks, who seem to interchange on several occasions, till the Germans come and cause substantial damage. The Germans are finally replaced by the Communist partisans, who include the young Enver Hoxha amongst their number. But, all the while, we get a superb story of a city that is almost as real and eccentric as its inhabitants and, moreover, a city that has survived invasion and occupations for hundreds of years and, despite the German tanks, is likely to survive this one. Kadare has peopled his city with a wonderful cast of characters, all of whom have their special idiosyncrasies and it is these people and the character of the city itself that make this book such a pleasure to read.
First published 1971 by Naim Frasheri, Tirana
First published in English 1987 by Serpent’s Tail, London, Meredith Press, New York