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ReadySteadyBlog

One of the Guardian Unlimited Books' top 10 literary blogs: "A home-grown treasure ... smart, serious analysis"

The Bookaholics' Guide to Book Blogs: "Mark Thwaite ... has a maverick, independent mind"

Monday 18 July 2005

Kadaré backlash?

The Literary Saloon discusses the (perhaps inevitable) Kadaré backlash. I've been in touch with Professor Barry Baldwin, whose letter in the TLS this week, How dissident was Ismail Kadaré?, moved Michael of the Literary Saloon to write.

Professor Baldwin argues in his letter "there is absolutely no question about what kind of animal he was and what pack he ran with; in fact, his resume screams careerism and conformity". Michael asks, "what does it matter? ... It is an interesting issue, but it also deserves a considerably broader examination than Dumitrascu or Baldwin allow for."

Professor Baldwin, I hope, will be able to respond here on ReadySteadyBook to Michael's concerns. I do know that the letter in the TLS was edited and that a longer article may well soon appear in The American Scholar. I do think we must be careful here: firstly, we shouldn't lionise Kadaré as a daring dissident, but we must be cautious of judgement too; secondly, we should attend to the quality - or not - of his writing.

Kadaré, winner of the inaugural 2005 Man Booker International Prize, is not a writer I know well. About his The General of the Dead Army I wrote:

The General of the Dead Army, Ismail Kadaré's meditation on the consequences of war, is a hugely moving account of duty and loss. It is 20 years since the end of the Second World War and an Italian army general is sent to Albania to search again for the bodies of those who lost their lives in the campaign. He is armed with maps, lists, measurements, dental and other records. He tours the countryside organising digs and disinternments and, as he tries to find the dead sons of forgotten families, he wonders at the sense, and scale, of his task. He discusses and argues with the curt Italian priest who is accompanying him. He finds his footsteps followed, sometimes anticipated, by a fellow general who is also looking for bodies; the bodies of his German countrymen. He struggles with the Albanian countryside, weather, labourers who work for him and peasants who watch their work. And he fights the despair that grows as the size, scope and, ultimately, the hopelessness of his task becomes ever more apparent.

Kadaré's plaintive novel is a consistently heartfelt lament to all those who have died and been effected by war but it is also a beautiful work displaying the skills that make him one of the great modern European writers.

Posted by Mark Thwaite

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