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Ismail Kadare: Dosja H (The File on H)

Another clever, witty book from Kadare, this one is once again about the myths and legends of his own country. It is about two Irish-Americans who are determined to find the source of Homer (the H. of the title). They are undoubtedly based on Parry and Lord who proved that Homer’s works were oral and looked in and around Albania for the sources. However, Kadare’s intent is not to honour these pioneers but, rather, to mock them as well as to mock the simple ways of his own people. Ross and Norton, the two Irish-Americans in question, are mainly interested in making an academic name for themselves. They have a huge advantage over their predecessors – the tape recorder has just been invented (it is the mid 1930s) and they get hold of one. They quickly learn literary Albanian and set off.

Of course, they are immediately taken for spies. The Albanian Embassy passes this information on to the Governor of the province and where they are going and they are spied on for the rest of the stay. On arrival in the remote province where they are to do their studies, the Madame Bovary-like wife of the Governor lusts after them, while the Governor gets his best spy, Dull Baxhaja, on the job. Dull is the perfect spy – perfect hearing, writes well, totally committed. Unfortunately, he does not speak English. However, he keeps the Governor informed of what is going on. However, unaware of this spying activity, our intrepid heroes set out for a remote inn at the crossroads of two major highways, where they can expect to hear rhapsodes recite their epic poems, using the lahuta. And, of course, the rhapsodes are rough, secretive fellows who only cooperate reluctantly but who do cooperate. The locals are, of course, suspicious of the tape recorder, fearing that it will trap the voices and songs. Our heroes do see how oral tradition is passed on and modified – Kadare has some interesting things to say about this. However, this is the Balkans and they unwittingly get involved in local politics and pay a bitter price. Though Kadare takes great pleasure in mocking researchers drawing conclusions that might not be there as well as mocking the Bovaryism and intrigues of his own people, he does have some interesting thoughts on oral traditions and how they become literary traditions and, as always, tells a wonderful story.

Publishing history

First published 1981 by Naim Frasheri, Tirana
First published in English 1997 by Harvill Press, London