Chronicle in Stone by Ismail Kadare (Man Booker International Prize Winner 2005; Back When Prizes Were Given To The Good Books)

 

 

To say that I am discouraged because the recent Man Booker International Prize was awarded to A Horse Walks Into A Bar, is an understatement. As I stated on Twitter, perhaps the books written with satire (i.e. angry accusation) are the only ones the judges will choose lately. Consider Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, which won the Man Booker last summer.

But, let’s move on to Chronicle In Stone, winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2005, which is written in gorgeous prose. It is a book with incredible symbolism, subtle and sweet, whose elements of magical realism and personification make it more real to me than if I had lived in Albania in the 1940s myself.

“I thought about how the countless raindrops were gathering their rage down below, the old ones that had been languishing there so long getting together with the newcomers, the drops unleashed by tonight’s storm, plotting something evil. Too bad Papa has forgotten to move the pipe. The waters of the storm never should have been let into our well-behaved cistern to stir up rebellion.” 

What brilliant writing! What exquisite symbolism for the woe that Albania had faced, and would continue to face, in its violent existence as a country.

The difficulties in Albania’s history, of invasion by Greece, Italy and Germany, as well as civil unrest, are told through the perspective of a boy, an innocent boy who thinks it will be interesting to visit the slaughtering house in the city, and then upon seeing it covers his eyes and runs in horror. He loves the aerodrome, built in a field for the airplanes. He does not consider their purpose in war, and is baffled at his parents’ astonishment when he mourns their take-off.

The narrative is interspersed with sections entitled FRAGMENT OF A CHRONICLE, paragraphs which begin in the middle of a sentence, or leave off with the first two letters of the next word. They support the story with fact, being less imaginative than the young narrator’s point of view.

Early in the novel he finds a glass lens amidst his grandmother’s things, and when he holds it up to his eye things immediately sharpen. It is a perfect analogy for how his eyes will be opened as he matures in Albania, clearly seeing all the discord. The story begins slowly, evocative of youth and innocence, gradually becoming more real and therefore more horrific. For who can hide from the tragedies of war for long? Eventually our eyes are opened, and we must leave our innocence behind.

Truly, this is a magnificent novel.

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4 thoughts on “Chronicle in Stone by Ismail Kadare (Man Booker International Prize Winner 2005; Back When Prizes Were Given To The Good Books)”

  1. Oh dear, you’re not a happy chappie, as they say. Official judges never agree with me, but then I would fall from my reading chair, if they did! I suspect differing evaluation criteria are at play.

    I’ve only read one Kadare. I was so underwhelmed that I’ve forgotten the title and haven’t read him since. But I might just pick this up, after reading your review.

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    1. Oh, my friend, I am decidedly UNhappy. What judges deem as prize-worthy these days is beyond me. But, as you say, “judges never agree with me”, even though that’s a two way street! Are judges readers? Or, are they coming at it from a writing perspective? I also suspect a lot of political correctness getting in the way of recognizing truly stellar books. Anyway…

      This is the first book by Ismail Kadare that I’ve read, and I find it profoundly pertinent. Of course, I am not living in a war torn country, but I do feel many factions at play here in the U.S. I do feel much unrest and worry about our future as a divided house cannot stand.

      But, not only is this novel pertinent, it is so beautifully written. (And, if this matters at all to you, it is only 195 pages. So you wouldn’t be committed to reading it for the rest of the summer. 😉

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  2. Thanks for your observation, Bellezza. I hope being satirical, clever, or being outspoken won’t replace quality writing to attract awards. Not saying writers intentionally write like that to lure attention, but it’s the jury, isn’t it. We listen to the jurors to tell us what is a good book, or, for that matter, what is a good film. I haven’t read any of these books you’ve mentioned, but from the quote in your post, I can appreciate the fine writing.

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  3. The writing you feature here is exquisite. Like Arti, I haven’t read any of these selections, but I appreciate and value your opinions, and this post, and will keep your thoughts in mind.

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