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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Girl in Exile

Ismail Kadare

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To purchase A Girl in Exile

Title: A Girl in Exile
Author: Ismail Kadare
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 185 pages
Original in: Albanian
Availability: A Girl in Exile - US
A Girl in Exile - UK
A Girl in Exile - Canada
L'Entravée - France
Die Verbannte - Deutschland
Requiem por Linda B - España
  • Requiem For Linda B.
  • Albanian title: E penguara
  • Translated by John Hodgson

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid tale of personal toll of living in a totalitarian state

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 11/3/2016 John Banville
The Guardian . 19/3/2016 Ian Sansom
The Independent A- 21/3/2016 Matthew Adams
New Statesman . 8/4/2016 Adam Kirsch
The NY Times Book Rev. . 25/2/2018 Cynthia Haven
The Spectator . 26/3/2016 Caroline Moore
Sunday Times . 27/3/2016 Theo Tait
The Telegraph . 25/4/2016 Francesca Wade
The Times . 19/3/2016 John Sutherland
TLS . 18/5/2016 Alberto Manguel
Wall St. Journal . 15/6/2018 Sam Sacks
The Washington Post . 8/1/2018 William Giraldi
World Lit. Today . 1-2/2018 S.Guynes-Vishniac

  Review Consensus:

  Some issues with the style, but most find work as a whole powerful and effective

  From the Reviews:
  • "A Girl in Exile is a compelling amalgam of realism, dreaminess and elegiac, white-hot fury. Kadare communicates with awful immediacy the nature of tyranny and the accommodations that those subject to it must make " - John Banville, Financial Times

  • "(T)he prose is pleasingly odd, the locutions and idioms strained and startling. In English, Kadare sounds ponderous and precise, like someone continually reaching -- and overreaching -- for the right words. (...) A Girl in Exile is a book about learning to live with the dead, and with death, with shadows and with loss. Itís about ghosts -- about spectres haunting people, places, states and psyches." - Ian Sansom, The Guardian

  • "Kadare has a weakness for cliché that divests his characters of particularity and which means the book can lack resonance. But at its best it is a chilling, humane and strangely beautiful work that will leave you with a lingering sense of discomfort." - Matthew Adams, The Independent

  • "Rudian, and the novel, seem to live on two planes; the bodyís, constrained by politics and violence, and the soulís, where anything is possible. If this is a kind of freedom, Kadare shows that it comes at a terrible price." - Adam Kirsch, New Statesman

  • "Kadare has commented on his native tongueís unique affinities with classical Greek, and in the past he used allegory and myth to veil meaning and evade censorship. Western readers may find the allusions frustratingly indirect, but Kadare has accustomed himself to telling his tales slantwise, even in a post-totalitarian era where anything goes." - Cynthia Haven, The New York Times Book Review

  • "I suspect that a great many readers will be frustrated by this book, since it revolves around a relationship that barely exists, a mystery that is not a murder, and a description of a repressive regime that barely glances at the depth of its horrors. But even if it does not satisfy our expectations, it is profoundly intriguing -- not least in the suggestion of the deep imaginative complicity with oneís subject matter that is needed by every true writer." - Caroline Moore, The Spectator

  • "A Girl in Exile treats directly the impossibility of making art, being in love, or living an ordinary life in the conditions imposed in Albania in the second half of the 20th century." - Francesca Wade, The Telegraph

  • "Kadare is a master at braiding narrative strands: the incipient relationship between Stefa and his interrogator, the physical affair with Migena, Stefaís increasingly obsessive pursuit of the mysterious Linda B., the revealed love between the two women, even the argument at the heart of Stefaís play -- all coalesce into a flawless plot. (...) Stefaís quest for the lost Linda B. mirrors not just that of Orpheus but of the greater quest of an artist for his art, and of a citizen for justice." - Alberto Manguel, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Mr. Kadare gradually unravels a parable about the temptations of power. (...) A Girl in Exile is erotic, paranoiac and lightly fantastical (...) but its lasting feeling is of shame." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

  • "With nuanced accuracy, Kadare shows how communism is herdthink, the utter nullity of the individual, the pervasive negation of soul and will and mind, added to the burden of labor in service only to the state." - William Giraldi, The Washington Post

  • "This undercutting of the tale of the genius artist, of the tragic Lermontovian hero revivified after communism, hardly makes up for the novelís failures to relate the pain and experiences of Linda or Migena except through Rudian. But the narrative focus on Rudian exposes the role men too often assume in telling womenís stories -- under Hoxha, after Hoxha." - Sean Guynes-Vishniac, World Literature Today

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 girl in exile of the title is Linda B., a teenager living with her family in internal exile in Albania in the last years of the Enver Hoxha regime. Their crime is simply that they are suspect because of their bourgeois roots, and connections to the old royal court. They are not formally imprisoned, but must report to the local authorities and are not permitted to travel without permission -- almost impossible to obtain to go to, for example, the capital, Tirana. Every five years their situation is reëvaluated, but their internment is not lifted until the fall of the regime.
       The novel focuses, however, on successful playwright Rudian Stefa, tolerated by the regime -- though his latest play is being held up by the authorities, who have not yet given permission for it to be performed. Stefa included the ghost of a dead man in the play, and he assumes that is the sticking point, an element the powers that be have trouble with. When Stefa is summoned to the Party Committee for a formal meeting, he sees cause for concern: either the problems with the play are worse than he thought -- or maybe it's that matter with the young art student, Migena, he's been seeing. In fact, it's neither of these; instead, they want to know about one of his books, a copy personally inscribed for Linda B.
       Stefa has no recollection of the girl, and it turns out he never met her: it was Migena who came to the book-signing and asked him to dedicate it to her close friend from her hometown. But Linda B. has now committed suicide, and between the personally signed book and how much Linda B. obsessed about Stefa in her diary they have to ask about a possible closer connection.
       Eventually Stefa learns more about Linda B. from Migena, including how desperate she was for any excuse to get to Tirana. And as Migena explains to the playwright, while Linda B. dreamed of Tirana, "her vision of Tirana needed a human being in it. You filled that gap." She also conveys just how desperate Linda B. must have been:

I would have done the same. In Linda's place, I would have also traded endless years of internment for six months of life.
       One of the subjects of A Girl in Exile is the inequitable treatment of people by the (all-powerful) regime. Stefa is aware he is privileged -- and allowed to get away with a great deal more than others would be. He understands that many wonder: "Why were some so cossetted, while others got it in the neck ?" Meanwhile, Linda B. was treated as an outcast despite never having transgressed in any way, her guilt solely by association -- while Migena was -- and could afford to be -- her friend only because her father was a hero, earning a certain deference; no one else dared befriend Linda, despite, for example, her great beauty.
       Stefa is fascinated by the case, and this girl he never knew; her obsession with him is flipped, after her death, into his obsession for her -- a deep, haunting, and of course tragic one, since there's nothing to be done, now that she is dead. The Orpheus-myth naturally comes to his mind -- as it was: "as if this old myth had collided with the planet and sprinkled everything with its glittering dust" -- but, of course, there's no happy outcome to that story: watching it played out before him on stage, "Rudian Stefa closed his eyes so as not to see what happened" -- as, arguably, he has done all his life and career, in making the necessary compromises while turning an ultimately blind eye to the sins of the regime.
       Engaging also with his play, the inspector looking into Linda B.'s death, and especially Migena, who slowly reveals her friend's sad story, Stefa is led to reflect on his life, work, and choices made. (There's also that practically-a-fiancée (a doctor "whom he certainly would have married that summer if she had not gone to Austria"), conveniently abroad on an extended internship for the duration.)
       If Kadare is sometimes heavy-handed -- yes, even Stefa notes: "shuffle the letters of Migena and you got enigma", for example -- he still manages to paint an evocative portrait of lives under totalitarianism, and its many layers of oppression and their effects.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 February 2018

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A Girl in Exile: 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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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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