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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Fall of the Stone City

Ismail Kadare

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To purchase The Fall of the Stone City

Title: The Fall of the Stone City
Author: Ismail Kadare
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 168 pages
Original in: Albanian
Availability: The Fall of the Stone City - US
The Fall of the Stone City - UK
The Fall of the Stone City - Canada
The Fall of the Stone City - India
Le dîner de trop - France
Ein folgenschwerer Abend - Deutschland
Un invito a cena di troppo - Italia
La cena equivocada - España
  • Albanian title: Darka e gabuar
  • Translated by John Hodgson

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Our Assessment:

B+ : effectively oblique in its parts; a bit too much so as a whole

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 21/9/2012 Alberto Manguel
The Independent . 15/12/2012 Brian Morton
Independent on Sunday . 26/8/2012 Peter Carty
The NY Times Book Rev. . 5/5/2013 Christopher Byrd
The Times . 8/9/2012 Kate Saunders
TLS . 11/1/2013 Tadzio Koelb

  From the Reviews:
  • "In telling the story of The Fall of the Stone City, Kadare has perhaps taken as his model the terrible last scene of Don Juan, the dinner that the hero offers the dead Comendador. But what is hubris in the Spanish tragedy is humility here: the resigned acceptance of past ghosts who will not disappear or find rest. As the novel unfolds, the borders between the material and the dream worlds blur even further, the characters and features blend, fact and fiction merge into each other until finally, on the last page" - Alberto Manguel, The Guardian

  • "Actions seem to lack obvious intentionality or purpose. Identity is slippery and random. Rumour has more solidity than fact. It's witty, light and profoundly disturbing. It does also make a profound political point, that ideology is neither tribal, nor "visceral", nor necessarily connected to either self-interest or altruism." - Brian Morton, The Independent

  • "The tale's twists and turns are often conveyed indirectly, by weighing up the rumours which swirl around the city's populace. The prose frequently evokes Albania's rich tradition of folklore, invariably in unsettling fashion (.....) This is classic Postmodern fiction; literature which tells us that we can never be sure about the past. (...) (A)n outstanding feat of imagination delivered in inimitable style, alternating between the darkly elusive and the menacingly playful." - Peter Carty, Independent on Sunday

  • "For a novel that delights in riddles -- is the Nazi an impostor ? what happened during the dinner ? -- what’s most interesting apart from Kadare’s use of folk tales and dreams is its gender politics." - Christopher Byrd, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Ismail Kadare often deploys the language of fable as a kind of code, its presence a sign of oppression. What Kadare does differently in The Fall of the Stone City is to imply that the unnecessary use of this code is a dangerous nostalgia, one that explodes the division between "us" and "them", oppressed and oppressor, that it is designed to uphold." - Tadzio Koelb, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Fall of the Stone City is presented in three parts, dated 1943, 1944, and 1953, though the second part extends to close to the third, and the final part ties up some of the pieces in the near-present. It is set in the Albanian town of Gjirokastër -- the historic stone city that is also (in)famous as the hometown of 'the Leader', longtime Albanian dictator, Enver Hoxha.
       The story begins with Gjirokastër still occupied by Italian forces during World War II. When Italy withdrew after switching sides in the fall of 1943 the Germans quickly took their place. Instead of simply allowing the Germans to take the city, there was a small-scale ambush when they first tried to enter the city; when the Germans then easily did take the city there was a great fear of reprisals. One of the locals, Big Dr Gurameto (called 'Big' to differentiate him from the other Dr Gurameto in town), had studied in Germany and turned out to be an old friend of the office in charge, Colonel Fritz von Schwabe -- who considered him: "A great friend, from university, my closest friend, more than a brother to me". Big Dr Gurameto had his old friend over for dinner -- and afterwards the hostages the Germans had taken, including the local Jew, were released unharmed.
       The dinner immediately became a legendary sort of event, about which many rumors circulated; it also came to haunt Big Dr Gurameto after the Germans were defeated -- and, ultimately, was used as part of the case when he and Little Dr Gurameto were interrogated in a wide-ranging investigation that included the suspicion of their having been involved in the 'Doctor's plot' against Stalin.
       As his interrogators at one point say:

"What you have told us is accurate. But we know these things. We want the rest of the story. What we don't know. The mystery."
       This is, of course, what Kadare is playing with the entire time in his novel (indeed, in many of his novels) -- the truths and facts 'we don't know'. And what Kadare again illustrates is how much is fundamentally unknowable: truths and versions of history can be pieced together, but they are rarely absolute or fixed (especially in a totalitarian regime, where 'official' versions trump any facts). History -- and how we see it, and how we need it -- changes; the present alters the past, and there are many ways of seeing and interpreting events.
       The interrogators, as it turns out, know more about parts of that dinner than Big Dr Gurameto does; and the reader is only let in on some of what happened slowly, over the course of the novel. There are some big surprises, as Kadare effectively unmoors his characters in a time of perverse absolutes and near-absolute uncertainty.
       Among the unusual but effective bits in the novel is how Big Dr Gurameto is tethered to (literally, for a while) Little Dr Gurameto, another local surgeon, Italian trained, without quite as many operations under his belt. Their fates seem to be tied together -- but then again, little here is entirely is at it seems.
       Kadare's presentation mirrors the uncertainty his characters face; the author does not give the reader stable ground to stand on. At times this is devastatingly effective, as when he reaches a point where he has time turn back on itself: "Time was not just suspended, as it had been for the anaesthetised hospital patients nine years before; it was going backwards at great speed". The locale, too, is an ideal setting for such a story, as:
     It now became clear that the city was unsuited not just to the new era but to any era.
       In presenting how the post-war Stalinist era took hold Kadare explicitly points to what his story can reveal, and why so much remains vague:
     Farewell to wandering thoughts, to whatever crossed your mind -- ancient decrees, women's private parts -- to any thought either elevated or shameful. It became clearer every day that you had to think about some things a lot less and others much less, if at all.
       In describing such a world, and suggesting its consequence, Kadare fashions an interesting, often surprising work of fiction. The Fall of the Stone City is an effective mix of the playful and the horribly, deadly serious.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 March 2013

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The Fall of the Stone City: Reviews: Ismail Kadare: Other books by Ismail Kadare under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Albanian author Ismail Kadare was born in 1936. He was the first winner of the Man Booker International Prize (2005).

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