After much searching I, with the help from my BCF friends, finally found an Algerian author who had been translated into English. I have to admit, it really took me a long time to decide which of Ismail Kadare’s books I was going to read because none of them really appealed to me. I settled on Chronicle in Stone.
It is an interesting book & I sort of enjoyed reading it, but I really can’t see myself rushing out to buy another Kadare book. The story takes place during WWII, in Albania & it is purported that the narrator is based on Kadare himself as a child. I’ve searched the book & I can not find a single reference to the main character (the narrator) by name, which I found quite odd. He is a 12-ish (I guess because I can find no reference to his real age) year old boy who spends his days with his best friend Ilir, when not travelling to visit his grandparents who live in another part of town. While at his grandparents he spends his days telling fantastical stories to a girl named Suzana.
I am really at a loss of words on how to describe this book – it is like a bunch of short stories strung together to make a novel & it doesn’t really work (at least not for me). Kadare has a real talent for writing – he has an incredible gift for making inanimate objects seem alive, but that doesn’t save the book.
For instance, at the beginning of the book the narrator is in bed listening to the rain pound on the ceiling & thinking about the fate of the raindrops as they unwittingly get caught in the guttering & eventually end up in the family’s cistern, where all of their water is kept. He says of the rain drops: “The raindrops spend tedious days and months below, until my mother, bucket in hand, would draw them out, disoriented and dazed from the darkness, to wash our clothes, the stairs, the floor. But for the moment they knew nothing of their fate. They ran happily & noisily across the slates, & I felt sorry for them as I listened to their wild chatterings.”
There are a few other excellent sections where he atributes human factors to inanimate objects, like the 1st “real” book he ever read & his description of the words & the way the book comes alive to him is amazing!
“I couldn’t sleep. The book lay nearby. Silent. A thin object on the divan. It was so strange…Between two cardboard covers were noises, doors, howls, horses, people. All side by side, pressed tightly against one another. Decomposed into little black marks. Hairs, eyes, legs and hands, voices, nails, beards, knocks on doors, walls, blood, the sound of horseshoes, shouts. All docile, blindly obedient to the little black marks. The letters run in mad haste, now here, now there. The h’s, r’s, o’s, t’s gallop over the page. They gather together to create a horse or a hailstorm. Then gallop away again. Now they create a dagger, a night, a ghost. The streets, slamming doors, silence. Running & running. Never stopping. Without end.”
Now, that said, these little descriptors, that was about all I really liked about this book. I have read some rave reviews & perhaps they are right & I’m “just not getting it”. Maybe it is a brilliant book? I don’t know, it in a lot of respects reminded me of 100 Years of Solitude – another book raved about by millions but I just didn’t get.