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Ismail Kadare: E penguara: E penguara: Requiem për Linda B. (A Girl in Exile)

Normally, when I translate the title of a book that has not been translated into English, I try and do a literal translation if at all possible, which might not be elegant but does get, more or the less, the sense of what the author was trying to achieve with the original title. This one has been tricky and I am really curious to see what they will call it when (if?) it is translated into English. The first problem here is that Albanian and French both allow adjectives used as nouns (which English sometimes does) but also allows a feminine version which English generally does not. Penguara in Albanian and entravée in French mean something like blocked or hindered (woman). Fortunately, Kadare explains what he means in the text and, indeed, in the dedication. It refers to someone who is prevented from doing something and, in this case, has a very specific meaning. In the dedication, Kadare refers to people who have been relegated (the term used in French), which means those that have been banished or sent into internal exile. They are blocked or hindered, in the sense that they have to report to the police station every day at a specific time and are not allowed to go to other places without authorisation, which is rarely granted. There is a sliding scale of punishments for breaking these rules, which may amount to life imprisonment or even execution for going to Tirana. This practice was not, of course, invented by the Communist regime and has been in use for many years. The victim in this story is the Linda B. of the sub-title. As a result, I have come up with the title The Banished Woman which is not entirely accurate but not bad. I also thought of The Internal Exile but prefer the first one.

The story is told from the perspective of Rudian Stefa, a playwright who has managed, more or less, to keep on the right side of the administration. His current play, however, is having some problems as it features a ghost, which the Communist regime is not entirely happy with. He is struggling with a specific scene. It seems that, during the War, a partisan group executed one of its fellows, apparently for mocking the others. In this scene, the executed partisan lies dead but his ghost arises to defend himself. Also in the scene is a committee investigating the execution and they have been talking to the executioner. Stefa struggles with how to have the deceased communicate with the committee and he has various ways, including the ability of the ghost to talk to the committee, without his executioner hearing or seeing him do so and the ability to talk to the executioner without the committee hearing him or seeing him do so. A different colour light shines on him, depending on which mode he is in. The victim is unaware of why he was shot (he claims) and the executioner won’t tell him, though he does tell the committee that it was for mockery. This will, in some way, be relevant to the Linda B. story.

At the start of the novel Stefa is heading to the Party committee, to which he has been summoned. He is unsure why but guesses it is either because of the play or because of his girlfriend Migena, with whom he has had a major row. In case you did not guess, Kadare points out to us that Migena is an anagram of enigma and, indeed, Stefa does not know much about her, not even her surname or where she lives, as it is she who makes the contact every time. At the committee, they ask him to tell everything about the girl and, assuming that they are referring to Migena, he tells about his relationship with her. However, they are not interested in her but in Linda B. Linda B., we learn, is the woman who is in internal exile (primarily because of her father, not because of anything she has done). However, she is obsessed with Rudian Stefa. When her friend Migena (they were best friends at school) is coming to Tirana (which she, of course, cannot visit) she asks her to get Stefa to dedicate a copy of a book of his to her, which Migena does (and which leads to their affair). The Committee has got hold of a copy of this book with his dedication and wants to know more about her and his relationship with her. He tells them only that he is often asked to dedicate books and this must have been the case here. He does not mention the fact that Migena brought the book for his dedication. On further discussion, he learns that Linda has committed suicide, though it is not known why. As the Prime Minister recently committed suicide, leading to major upheaval, all suicides are now investigated with considerable thoroughness.

But why did she commit suicide? Was it despondency at her situation? Or was it something to do with the mammogram she and Migena had recently had? Had she had bad news? Or was it, conversely, the fact that having the mammogram and the obligatory regular follow-ups would now allow her to travel up to Tirana every month for six months and therefore gain her a measure of freedom she could not hope otherwise to have? But perhaps this mammogram had proved that she was in perfect health and was not going to get these regular trips to Tirana. Or perhaps it was something to do with Migena’s relationship with Stefa, either jealousy or perhaps a desire to live the relationship vicariously through Migena. Kadare keeps us guessing, with his usual often implausible explanations. And we also see the follow-up to Linda’s suicide, with the fall-out affecting everyone who had contact her and, indeed, some like Stefa, who did not have contact with her, which manages to go right up the Guide, i.e. Enver Hoxha, who is never mentioned by name.

As always, Kadare keeps us guessing, throwing in at the end the Orpheus and Eurydice legend, with the possibility that Linda may not be dead or could perhaps have come back from the dead. And, as always, there are several twists and quite a few digs at the Albanian authorities, particularly Hoxha. Not one of his great works but still highly enjoyable.

Publishing history

First published 2009 by Onufri, Tirana
First English translation by Vintage in 2016