I have to say that I found this book more than a little frustrating and I think it must have been my own fault. I was having such a hard time staying on top of the story that I began to wonder if maybe I was reading too quickly, not paying close attention or just generally slow on the uptake. In truth, it could have been any of those things, I wouldn’t be surprised.
“I’m not Albania, just as you’re not Germany, Fritz. We’re something else.”
The Fall of the Stone City is set in September 1943, as German tanks are rolling across the Albanian border towards the ancient city of Gjirokaster. At the head of the invading forces is Nazi Colonel Fritz von Schwabe and, as chance would have it, his dear old friend Dr Gurameto happens to be a respected surgeon in the city he’s about to occupy. The two haven’t met since their university days but on his first night in Gjirokaster the Colonel is invited to a dinner party at Gurameto’s home, a dinner party that becomes a local legend, the subject of wild rumour and speculation for years to come. Ten years later, when Albania is in the grip of a Communist dictatorship, the events of that infamous night spell life or death for Dr Gurameto.
It’s been two days since I finished this and I’m still not sure I quite get it. Perhaps Kadare was keeping the story deliberately open ended. Or maybe I missed one small, key detail that would have made sense of everything for me. I’m really not sure. None of this is to suggest that I didn’t like this book, although it did mean my feelings were pretty mixed. Thankfully there were enough likeable things to prevent it putting me off Kadare for good. The writing is beautifully lyrical and I loved the way he weaves together Albanian folklore and real events until even the Nazi invasion begins to feel like a legend. I guess the point is that the lines between fact and fiction are blurred and you can never really trust what you’re told, either by your dearest friend or by the government blaring out propaganda through a tannoy. Maybe this also says something about Albania, as she’s tossed about from one occupier to the other. I don’t know. As I said, I’m confused.
As this was one of my first reads for the Around the World in 80 Books challenge I was pleased to note that Kadare’s descripton of Gjirokaster really brings it to life, much more so than any of the characters in fact. I’m not sure how he does it but I always really like books that have a strong sense of place. After it was over I spent a merry half hour looking at photographs of the city on Google Images, just to see if it looked as I’d imagined. Incidentally, at the end I also went back and reread the dinner party chapter and was amazed to see it in a whole new light. The events of the final chapters give some of the smaller details new meaning. If I’d had more time I’d have liked to read the whole thing again to work out where I went wrong. But alas, it was due back at the library too soon.
Can anyone recommend other works by Kadare?