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Ismail Kadare: Viti i mbrapshtë [The Dark Year]

This short novel has not been published in English. Fortunately, it is not one of Kadare’s major ones. It is set just before World War I and follows the fate of Albania at that auspicious time. Albania had been part of the Ottoman Empire for nearly five hundred years but the Ottoman Empire is falling apart and it is not clear what will become of Albania. The story, as is typical for Kadare, follows a few key individuals, who are swept along by historical forces. In particular, it follows a small group of Albanians, who are off to war to fight for Albania but who are unsure – and generally remain unsure for the entire book – as to where the war is, who they are meant to be fighting and what the war is about. Of course, they get killed and injured, generally by the wrong person. They are not alone in their confusion. There are a variety of others involved in Albania – the French, the Germans, the Austrians, the Serbs, the Dutch (who are in charge of the Albanian Army) and a few others I have probably forgotten, as well as any number of different Albanian groups, none of whom is clear who the enemy is and who their friends are. Of course, the other European powers, while not involved, are keeping a watchful eye on what is going on. It is – deliberately – confusing for reader and participant alike but, as ever, Kadare keeps the humour and the story going, with his clear message that others should keep out of Albania and her politics.

Publishing history

First published 1980 by Naim Frasheri, Tirana
No English translation
Published in Dutch as Het donkere jaar in 2002 by Van Gennep
Published in French as L’année noire in 1987 by Fayard
Published in German as Das verflixte Jahr in 2005 by Ammann, Zurich
Published in Spanish as El año negro in 1996 by Anaya & Mario Muchnik