Saturday, September 30th, 2006
Те, кто, могут:
1. Адонис (Сирия – Франция)
Те, за кого болею:
1. Сейс Нотебоом (Нидерланды)
Sunday, September 24th, 2006
«Рассказ служанки» Маргарет Этвуд
"Que vivan los muertos ! ",
December 9, 2000
An Italian general is sent to Albania in the early 1960s
to locate and disinter the bones of the thousands of his countrymen who
died there during World War II. He and his partner, a sinister priest
who is also an Italian Army colonel, run into a rather atypically unorganized
German team doing the same. This miserable task takes a couple years.
Over the course of the tale, we realize that the general is totally unpenitent
and still rather hostile to those who [fighting off invasion and occupation]
put his countrymen six feet under. Gradually his insensitivity is revealed
as moral corruption. Neither priest nor general have clean hands. In this
way, Kadare linked fascism in the 1930s and '40s to bourgeois democracy
in the 1960s. While there is some truth to this, I fear that it was necessary
to underline such continuity for Kadare's personal safety.
Wars and their aftermath, July 4,
One of the most brilliant novels by a much neglected novelist, finally coming into his own, the beneficiary of excellent translators and a prestigious literary prize.
Skeletons as Guides in Ismail Kadare's The General
of the Dead Army, July 1, 2005
WHEN ISMAIL KADARE'S The General of the Dead Army was published in France in 1970, seven years after its initial printing in Albania, it was celebrated for its literary freshness -- for its break from the sunny imagery of social realism and the propaganda-tinted themes typical of most Socialist-era novels. Inside Albania, however, those same attributes drew criticism from Communist Party officials, threatening the 26-year-old author's literary future. But with its nationalistic nuggets and, undoubtedly, with the blessing of leader Enver Hoxha, the book survived and today is easily the best known and most critically acclaimed work of Kadare's in and outside the Balkans.
Though The General gives subtle nods to socialism and modernism, the novel's overall form resembles something rather Homeric in its portrayal of a protagonist engaged in a noble battle abroad, subject to the wrath of nature, seeking victory and, ultimately, home.
UNLIKE ACHILLES or Odysseus, Kadare's proud but nameless Italian general arrives by airplane, in Albania in the mid-1960s with the mission of retrieving the buried bones of Italian soldiers killed during World War II. The general, accompanied by a military priest and the weighty expectations of the dead soldiers' families, embarks on the grisly quest with a listing of the missing soldiers, official maps, and anecdotal evidence from surviving infantrymen to help locate his "dead army."
The general and the priest -- with an Albanian work crew in their command -- make their way around the countryside, exhuming Italian remains. The general's anxiety grows in tandem with the body count; he is haunted not simply by the macabre nature of the work and the animosity he senses from the Albanians around him, but most profoundly by the guilt he assumes for the soldiers' deaths. Thus begins his unraveling, marked by nightmares featuring corpses and hallucinations that amalgamate reality and fear. In one particularly tender, demented scene, the general maps ingenious new strategies for famous battles past, for he and his army of dead men.
"He began making tiny sketch plans on his cigarette packet, marking the positions of the troops, his lines of attack, the points where the decisive assaults would occur ... First he surrounded Caesar, then he cut off Charlemagne's supplies, and after that he staged a whirlwind confrontation with Napoleon and forced him to retreat ... He won many battles that history says were lost. And if he did emerge the victor it was because he led his troops with skill and never abandoned them to their fate. He was a general who knew what it meant to command. And at the moment he was in the throes of a study of warfare in mountainous terrain. And besides, he had brave soldiers under him, oh yes, very brave soldiers. But the reason they're such daredevils, he thought, is that they've nothing left to lose."
Seasoned by years in command, however, the general maintains a facsimile of lucidity and remains honorable to his task. After more than 12 months of searching, and with the majority of bodies accounted for -- minus that of the highly sought Colonel Z -- the general and priest prepare for their final descent from the treacherous Albanian mountains, to the capital. Before reaching Tirane, however, they encounter a wedding festival, which the general insists on attending despite the priest's protest. The stop is the general's undoing, as he's confronted by a bitter crone with the bones of the infamous Colonel Z, who hanged her husband, raped her daughter, and terrorized countless other Albanians as leader of the notorious Blue Battalion. The general's brief reprise of happiness is toppled, and in a fit of rage and realization, he kicks the Colonel's bagged bones into a rushing creek, hence wrecking his hope of receiving a hero's return.
LIKE THE GENERAL who begins to see beyond the skin of the living, beyond to their bones beneath, the discerning reader can see the skeletons of archetypes that give form to The General.
"As soon as I see someone -- anyone at all -- I automatically begin stripping off his hair, then his cheeks, then his eyes, as though they were something unnecessary, something that is merely preventing me from penetrating to his essence; and I envisage his head as nothing but a skull and teeth -- the only details that endure."
From the powerful and lost general, to the ruthless Albanian landscape, to the pervasive presence of death underfoot, The General contains many elements typical of a tragic myth (Frye).
As the novel's hero, the general has a noble deed before him, and expectations upon him. In Odyssean fashion -- not long after having "just come back from the sea" (78) and with stripes earned on tours to Africa and the Middle East -- the general leaves home for the geographically not-so-distant but spookily seclusive land of Albania, the soil his countrymen once occupied, then desecrated, and now lie in.
Being a top military official, the general possesses the requisite traits and aspirations -- assumed superiority and heroism, respectively, among others. He openly enjoys the awe his uniform inspires and the esteem and privilege his position entitles him to. His movements are described as "majestic" and "lofty," and throughout his journey, the self-important words from a supporter serve as his mantra: "Like a proud and solitary bird, you will fly over those silent and tragic mountains in order to wrest our poor young men from their jagged, rocky grip." The general speaks often of the Greeks and the Trojans (51), likening his own mission to those undertaken by them during the retrieval of their dead (12). He imagines himself "like a new Messiah" to the dead soldiers who await him (14), and later, he recollects the families who gathered at his house prior to his departure as "patients waiting to be examined," he the surgeon able to remove their despair (38).
But the general is, too, a compassionate man; his sense of obligation toward the dead soldiers is palpable and matched only by the animosity he harbors toward the leaders who abandoned and survived them. However, while his remorse for the slain Italian soldiers is endearing, the general displays an insidious obliviousness toward the Albanians who suffered under their occupation. Only when he's handed Colonel Z's bones does the general's suppressed anguish fully unfurl, revealing remorse for his countrymen's brutal deeds.
Thus ensues the general's fall, complete in nearly every sense -- psychologically, emotionally, ethically -- except, ironically, mortally and, ultimately, morally. That the stage for this plummet is a wedding celebration -- a typically triumphant occasion -- is no coincidence. The juxtaposition of the merry fest, eerily set in the seasonably stark season of winter, against the general's hexed union with his long-sought prize, at the hand's of a "witch" (Frye), no less, throws into the relief the velocity and depth of his descent, and the tragic nature of human traditions like warfare. In fact, cycles repeat relentlessly throughout The General. Here time is incessantly predictable: swings in the general's mood; his forays between city life and the remote, frigid "underground" (Frye); bodies roused from rest then bagged, boxed and buried again; and, mostly enduringly, Albania's own embattled biography.
The seasons, too, are regimentally obedient, with the chilly, wet months of fall and winter conspicuously consuming all but three paragraphs of the general's 252-page, year-long stay (163). Like the weather, the Albanian countryside is ominous, to the general's eyes, with its "menacing mountains" and their "jagged," "hostile" peaks. Collectively, these elements give the general a sense of isolation, as does his cultural ignorance. Unlike the priest, he doesn't speak Albanian and makes no effort to. He characterizes the language as "harsh" and "a fatal tongue," and views the Albanians -- from their physical form, to their manners, to their rituals -- with deep disdain. Early on he states that he "hates" them, and wishes to avenge his soldiers' deaths, and throughout he outwardly resents the curious stares of the peasants who witness the exhumations. Not surprisingly, when the Albanians' voices are allowed into the narrative, they emerge as warm, passionate, lively people, further belying the general's narrow view of his hosts. However even their stories -- tracing the fate of the prostitute, the deserter, and the partisan sniper -- echo the ubiquitous howl of death.
To assuage his loneliness, the general indulges in thoughts of home, of his wife and of a brief holiday interaction with Betty, widow of the infamous Colonel Z. Though given little stage time in the novel, Betty is a vividly rendered "siren" (Frye) who spurned the general's advances purportedly in favor of those of the priest, though this is one of a handful of threads that Kadare leaves to dangle.
The zenith of the general's demoralization is poignantly captured as he begs through a door, drunk and desperate to replace the 6' 1" Colonel Z's lost bones, urging the priest to forgive him for kicking the sack into the creek and to hear his proposal.
"We can settle the whole business quite easily, reverend father. We can make another colonel for you ... You need a skeleton, don't you? Well I've got one! ... We've got any number of six-foot-one soldiers. If you'll just get up now, we'll choose one. There's one here in the second machine-gun company, and another here in a tank regiment ... As a matter of fact, I think I'm six-foot-one myself."
But when a hotel maid discovers the general's precious list -- that virtual blueprint of his patriotism and ambition -- abandoned in the hallway, the reader understands that in the eleventh hour, he has capitulated; the general has committed professional suicide, his "general" persona able to join its dead army at last. He is returning to Italy a "traitor" (Frye), his lifelong faith in militarism and its requisite ideology suffocated by so many nylon body bags. Like the Albanian countryside, cleared of its former oppressors, the general's spirit is stripped clean, both of its once-gallant resolve and -- with spring looming -- of its sense of contrition. Ironically, the general emerges an Albanian hero of sorts, having redeemed himself through his renunciation of militarism and the evils it has imposed cyclically on the badgered Balkan state.
In this sense, Kadare's use of archetypal elements give The General a universality, a particularly unique quality for a work by an artist living in a recluse nation. Albanians, therefore, could appreciate The General not only for its nationalism, but also for its recognizable characters who, in reality, were utterly unknowable to them (at least to members of Kadare's generation and younger). Meanwhile, Westerners reading the work in the 1970s, two decades before the velvet curtain rose, got a glimpse at a partitioned people, and a long look (via Kadare) at their embodiments of good and bad, right and wrong, etc. -- which, fascinatingly, weren't drastically askew to their own.
By enabling both "us" and "them" to recognize and understand the nuances of the general and his journey, Kadare's use of archetypes cleverly undermines the novel's ostensible claim at an inherently opposed "we" and "they."
Lodge, David, Twentieth Century Literary Criticism, "The Archetypes of Literature" by Northrop Frye, Longman House, 1972
The living dead, February 6, 2005
This was an incredible experience, a short but powerful novel, Kadare descriptions of landscapes are so vivid you cant help but have those images in your head for a long time, the main character, The General, has a great motivation for fulfilling this mission, he thinks he will be hailed as a hero in his country, but soon he realizes his mission is more complicated than it seems at first, he finds himself in the middle of a strenge country surronded by people he does not understand, he imagines himself as a General comanding a dead army. This is a great novel, you wont be disapointed.
Kadare's masterpice, February 6, 2004
This is the first novel written by Kadare and is considered
by many as his masterpice.
The living dead, September 26, 2003
An Italian general negotiates the repatriation of the corpses
of fallen Italian soldiers during World War II in Albania.