Book Reviews


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

The writer Ismail Kadare was born in a 600-year-old town in Albania. It's called Gjirokaster, and it serves as a setting for his novel "The Fall of the Stone City." The book, translated by John Hodgson, has just appeared in the U.S. And our reviewer Alan Cheuse says we should take note.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: Kadare's biting novel opens in 1943 just as German tanks arrive on the outskirts of the town. Some resisters fire on them, and the Germans take hostages. But it appears that the town's leading surgeon, Dr. Big Gurameto, has an old school friend in Colonel Fritz von Schwabe, the commander of the German army division. At a dinner that evening at the surgeon's house, along with other guests such as his surgeon friend Dr. Little Gurameto, Dr. Big takes advantage of his old friendship with the Nazi officer.

He asks the military man to set the hostages free. His intervention saves the lives of dozens of local citizens. Ten years pass and the Communists have taken over, and we find that because of that 1943 dinner, which turns out to be more mysterious than it first appeared, the reputations of the two surgeons and their lives hang in the balance. And Kadare all the while holds up for intelligent ridicule various customs and inequities of Albanian life, mocking the judicial system and class distinctions and making us suffer as witnesses to the nastiness, stupidity, careerism and criminal madness of newly minted Albanian Stalinist functionaries.

These creatures interrogate and torture the good surgeons because of their past deeds. Kadare is a master at creating distinctive historical fiction and a genius, really, for writing dark historical and political satire - satire here that's closer to "Saturday Night Live" than "Animal Farm." And if you don't know Kadare's work, "The Fall of the Stone City" is a good place to begin.

BLOCK: That's our reviewer Alan Cheuse recommending Ismail Kadare's novel "The Fall of the Stone City."

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