Ismail Kadare: Muzgu i perendive te stepes (Twilight of the Eastern Gods)
Kadare was selected to pursue literary studies at the Gorky Institute for World Literature in Moscow. This book is about his time there. There are many others, both Russian but also those from other parts of the Soviet Empire or from other countries, like Kadare himself. (At the time, Albania was almost a satellite of the Soviet Union but, as we learn from his Dimri i madh [The Great Winter] (a book translated into six other languages, but not English) the two countries went their own ways and Albania became more closely allied to China, before splitting up with them as well).
Though he is attending the Gorky Institute, the book opens in a Writers Retreat on the Baltic. Most of the other people there were old and, presumably, distinguished writers but he is not impressed. He had been previously been in Yalta, where he had a room next to Konstantin Paustovsky, who was writing his memoirs (these have been translated into English (as Story of a Life in six volumes) and are well worth reading). If he actually meets him, he does not mention it.
Both here and back in Moscow, he seems to have two key non-literary interests – women and drinking. At a gathering here, he meets Brigita, a Latvian woman. She was looking for a dance but does not find one. . All we have here is fame, he comments. He also finds that ordinary Soviet citizens compare others to the natives of one of the sixteen Soviet republics. She though that Albanians were darker than Georgians, that they all had hooked noses and were keen on the kind of Oriental chanting she hated. He defends Albania – the home of outstanding poetry, the birthplace of many legends and ballads of incomparable beauty. He then tells her of the Constantine and Doruntine legend.
They go out for a walk, get lost, take a train and meet some other Latvians. His evening is spoilt when he learns that King Zog had a villa nearby. Kadare does not like Zog. However, they go looking for the villa.
In Moscow he had had a girlfriend, Lida Snegina, but when he returned to Moscow, he hoped to continue the relationship but it is a very uneven and eventually it ends. He essentially passes her on to a Latvian colleague, Stulpanc. We learn from the introduction that Stulpanc later committed suicide.
We meet more people once he is back in Moscow and he mildly mocks some of the, such as the man from the Altai mountains who seems very impressed with Albanian trousers and the Belarus virgins who may or may not be virgins but only one is from Belarus.
One day he finds an empty room which he uses as his private room. When he goes back later he is annoyed to find someone else has used it. He even finds a partial manuscript which seems to be about a doctor called Zhivago. He has previously seen Pasternak walking in the area.
There are two big external events, the first involving Pasternak. He is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and this causes a huge furore in Russia, with everyone condemning him. A group of writers come to the Institute and speak out about him and many of Kadare’s colleagues (but not Kadare himself) condemn Pasternak and his book.
The other big episode is a smallpox scare when someone brings it back from India. In what can only be seen as a model reaction (compared to how covid has been handled in some countries in recent time (i.e.2021)), there is immediately a major vaccination project.
Kadare does not, overall, have a happy time. He does not share the Russian view on literature, i.e. he is not a social realist. His love life does not work out well. Though he makes friends, he cannot continue relations with them as Albania and the Soviet Union are to break off soon after. Indeed, we get indications of this when the Albanian nationals are summoned to their embassy and warned about his and told to behave and keep away from Russian women (an order Kadare ignores).
While nothing like his later books set in Albania, this is certainly an interesting account of an Albanian in Moscow and how he sees the Soviet Union and, to some degree, how they see him. He enjoys the big city but clearly the Soviet way is not for him.
First published in 1976 by Naim Frasheri, Tirana
First published in English in 2014 by Canongate
Translated by Jusuf Vrioni (Albanian-French), David Bellos (French-English))