Chronicle in stone, p.1
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       Chronicle in Stone, p.1

           Ismail Kadare
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Chronicle in Stone

  Chronicle in Stone

  Also by Ismail Kadare

  The General of the Dead Army

  The Wedding


  The Concert The Palace of Dreams

  Three Elegies for Kosovo

  Broken April

  The File on H.

  Albanian Spring

  The Pyramid

  The Three-Arched Bridge

  Spring Flowers, Spring Frost

  The Successor

  Agamemnon’s Daughter

  Chronicle in Stone


  Translated from the Albanian by Arshi Pipa

  Edited and introduced by David Bellos


  The Text Publishing Company

  Swann House

  22 William Street

  Melbourne Victoria 3000


  This edition first published in Great Britain in 2007 by Canongate Books.

  This edition published by the Text Publishing Company 2008.

  First published in Albanian in 1971 as Kronikë në gur by Naim Frashëri

  Publishers, Tirana.

  First published in Great Britain in 1987 by Serpent’s Tail Publishing.

  This translation has been revised in light of the definitive edition of the text

  as published in Ismail Kadare, Oeuvres complètes, volume V. Paris: Fayard,


  Copyright © Ismail Kadare, 1971

  English-language translation copyright © Arshi Pipa, 1987

  Edition and introduction copyright © David Bellos, 2007

  The moral rights of the author, translator and editor have been asserted.

  All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

  ISBN 978 1 921351 28 0

  Typeset by Palimpsest Book Production Ltd, Grangemouth, Stirlingshire

  Printed and bound in Australia by Griffin Press

  The paper used in this book is manufactured only from wood grown in

  sustainable regrowth forests.






































  Ismail Kadare was born in 1936 in Gjirokastër, an ancient, stone-built city in southern Albania clinging to the steep sides of a hill topped by a huge fortress, part of which has been used for centuries as a prison.

  Close to the Greek border, Gjirokastër was badly mauled by several armies during the Second World War. In April 1939, Mussolini occupied Albania and annexed it to the short-lived Italian Empire. In 1940, the Italian Army stationed in Albania invaded Greece, but was repulsed and routed by the Greek Army supported by the RAF, which carried out heavy bombing raids over many parts of Albania between 28 October 1940 and 30 April 1941. In a counter-attack, the Italians retook the southern part of Albania: Gjirokastër then changed hands several times over. When Italy capitulated to the Allies in September 1943, the German Army, which had meanwhile invaded and occupied Yugoslavia and Greece, took over the whole of Albania, and occupied strategic points like Gjirokastër.

  Chronicle in Stone narrates these traumatic events in the life of the city through the eyes of a dreamy, short-sighted, and highly imaginative child, whose thoughts and interests (in girls, murders, hermaphrodites and homosexuals) seem to make him a little older than Kadare actually was at the time. But the chronicle stops short of the war’s real ending. The German Army collapsed and withdrew from the Balkans in the summer and autumn of 1944. With Yugoslavia, Albania was the only country in Europe to be liberated without the help of significant Allied forces. The Communist partisans led by Enver Hoxha entered Tirana in November 1944, and established a People’s Republic which turned into Europe’s most long-lived, most bizarre and probably cruellest Stalinist regime. It crumbled only after the fall of Gorbachev and the failure of the Soviet “generals’ putsch” in August 1991. The omission from this memoir of a war-time childhood of the conventional narrative of national liberation by Communist partisans must be counted as a sly but perfectly visible act of literary resistance.

  There were three separate national resistance movements in wartime Albania. The least significant was Legaliteti, a movement formed by supporters of the exiled King Zog (who ruled from 1924 until 1939), and which operated primarily in the northern parts of Albania. It barely figures in Kadare’s narrative, save as a rowdy gang referred to as “Isa Toska’s men”. The second main non-Communist group was called Balli Kombëtar (“National Front”), whose members were called Ballists. They figure more substantially in Chronicle in Stone, both as the perpetrators and as the victims of irrational violence. The third and by far the most effective resistance group were the partisans, organised and quickly dominated by the Albanian Communist Party. Isa and Javer, the two young men admired by the child narrator of this book, are members of this movement and share its political aspirations. Although Kadare does not deal with the liberation itself in this novel, his picture of a city divided between Ballists, Partisans and “Isa Toska’s men” carries the clear implication that the struggle for freedom was something close to a civil war. Once again, this was significantly different from the official version of the birth of the socialist state.

  Chronicle in Stone was not written all at once. It first emerged as an anecdote about “The Big Plane”, which was among Kadare’s earliest publications in prose, appearing in the literary review Nëntori in 1962. (The child’s fascination with aircraft is strangely similar to J. G. Ballard’s account of his own early years in Japanese captivity in Empire of the Sun.) Together with more anecdotes about his childhood and his early misapprehensions of the world and of words, Kadare reworked “The Big Plane” into a longer story of Gjirokastër, “City of the South”, which similarly appeared in a periodical in 1967. It was not until 1971 that an expanded, reworked and re-ordered novel entitled Chronicle in Stone appeared as a book. But that was only the beginning — for Kadare is an obsessive rewriter of himself. Chronicle in Stone went through several editions in Albania, each incorporating larger or smaller developments, until it was finally brought into Kadare’s multi-volume Complete Works series published by Fayard in Paris in 1997, in strictly parallel French and Albanian versions. For this definitive text Kadare made many changes. Some dialogue passages were tightened up, others expanded; some historical and political passages were cut, a
nd other passages — whole pages of conversation between some of the stranger old ladies of the town, for example — were added. But even this definitive version may not be quite the end of the story. In 2004, while spending a month as Writer in Residence at Bard College, New York, Kadare wrote an entirely new short story, “A Climate of Lunacy”, set in Gjirokastër during the author’s childhood, and introducing more of the curious and entertaining characters in the family circle that we meet in Chronicle in Stone, written forty years before.

  Chronicle in Stone, like most of Kadare’s fiction, was translated into French before appearing in other languages. For hazy editorial reasons that seem to have been lost, the French translation by Jusuf Vrioni was entitled Chronique de la ville de pierre, “Chronicle of the City of Stone”, and it is by that title that the book is still widely remembered in France. However, its real title is simply Chronicle in Stone (Kronikë në gur in Albanian), and in Kadare’s Complete Works in French it has been retitled to conform, as Chronique de pierre. Like the monument built by Kheops in Kadare’s later parable, The Pyramid, the real message or mystery of Gjirokastër is not written on stone: it is stone.

  One of the central characters in the life of Kadare’s child narrator is his maternal grandfather. In Albanian, the mother’s father (“the line of milk”) is named and treated somewhat differently from the father’s father (“the line of blood”). The familiar term used by the child, babazoti, literally means “father-lord”, the second half of the word also serving to refer to God (just like “the Lord” in English). In this translation, I have for the most part translated babazoti by “grandfather” or “grandpa”, but left the original term here and there so as to communicate the flavour of a now vanished form of family life.

  Babazoti lies on a divan all day reading books in Turkish, for he is old enough (in 1941–3) to have spent his youth and manhood as a citizen and official of the Ottoman Empire, which only relinquished its control of Albania in 1913. The old women who particularly fascinate the child are all the daughters, widows or wives of Albanian Muslim landowners, or of officials of the former empire, and it is to the Ottoman past that they owe the relative prosperity that allowed them to construct the large and mysterious houses that provide the child with such a rich source of imaginative life. Among them is a group of centenarian women, the “old crones”, and a fearsome group of somewhat less aged old ladies known as “the mothers-in-law”, called katenxhikas in the dialect of Gjirokastër. Ottoman influence is also responsible for the hashure (a kind of halva) and hot saleep (orchid-root tea) hawked on the streets and even in the citadel when it is used as an air-raid shelter.

  For the society depicted in this novel, the words “Greek”, “Christian” and “peasant” are virtually interchangeable. Only a few words of Greek are known to the child, and this despite the fact that Greece itself is only a few miles from Gjirokastër. When the young revolutionaries Isa and Javer speak in a “foreign tongue” so as not to be understood by the little ones, the language they use is the Latin they learned in school. This is never stated explicitly in the novel because for Albanian readers of Kadare’s generation it goes without saying.

  Kadare was a city boy, with no experience of the land, and, as will be seen, without any inclination to discover the countryside at all. In the People’s Republic, and in its official literature imitated from Soviet models, the life of agricultural workers was a conventional object of praise. The refusal of the little boys in this novel to entertain even the idea that “peasants’ work” might be purposeful or comprehensible or anything other than a sham may strike us now as comical, but in Hoxha’s Albania it must have felt like a daring provocation.

  One of the most important events in the life of the narrator as told in Chronicle in Stone is the encounter with Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The underlying material of that play — not just ghosts, witches and murder, but the dynamics of the struggle for power, the ineradicable nature of a crime committed, and the inexcusable flouting of the rules of hospitality — run through Kadare’s entire work. In The Concert, one of Kadare’s masterpieces, there is even a full proposal for a new version of Macbeth, the better to account for the death of Lin Biao, Mao Tse-Tung’s designated successor. Kadare’s explorations of the ancient Albanian rule of the blood-feud in novels like Broken April are also implicit meditations on Macbeth’s true crime, the breaking of the besa which grants guests protection from harm.

  Chronicle in Stone is full of other plot-lines and story-fragments that will grow into a whole range of works set in varied times and locations. The legend of Ali Pasha of Tepelena, a local potentate (in whose court Lord Byron stayed for a time) whose severed head was exhibited in Istanbul, is recounted indirectly in Chronicle in Stone, but forms the explicit subject of Kadare’s later novella, The Nook of Shame. The brief mention of the prostitute killed by Ramiz Kurti sends the reader back to The General of the Dead Army, where a fuller account of this honour killing is given. In other places we come across the fear of blindness, suggesting the matter of a later story, The Blinding Order; a book of dream interpretation, hinting at the magnificent fantasy of The Palace of Dreams; and pyramids of skulls — be they ascribed to Genghis Khan or to Timur the Lame — recur in stories as varied as The Pyramid (set in Ancient Egypt) and The Great Wall, set in China of the late medieval period. Even the outline of the bridge that requires a sacrifice to stay above the water — the subject of The Three-Arched Bridge — can be found in an aside in the thoughts of one of the characters in Chronicle in Stone. Not quite all of Kadare’s work is inscribed in the stone city of Gjirokastër, but the strong images of his childhood — Macbeth, slaughter, severed heads, propitiatory sacrifice, the instability of words and sounds, and the battle of wind and rain — are the stuff out of which much of his later works are made.

  Chronicle in Stone was translated into English by Arshi Pipa, an Albanian intellectual who was imprisoned in the early years of the Hoxha regime. He escaped, fled to Yugoslavia, then to Italy, and finally to the United States. A distinguished scholar of medieval Italian literature, Pipa was for many years Professor of Romance Languages at the University of Minnesota, but he also remained passionately committed to the fate of his homeland, and wrote many articles and books about Albanian literature in the Communist era. Initially, he was an ardent supporter of Kadare, in whom he saw not only a remarkable writer, but a cunning critic of the Hoxha regime. He undertook the translation of Chronicle in Stone in order to make Kadare better known in the West. Pipa’s English was naturally Americanised, given his long residence in the USA, but he found a publisher for his work in the UK. The publisher’s editor made numerous changes to Pipa’s text, not only in order to impose British conventions on the text, but also to improve its fluency. Unfortunately Pipa took exception to the editing done to his work, and an increasingly acrimonious correspondence ended with the translator disowning his own work and requesting his name to be removed from the published book.

  Pipa was also very angry that his own long introduction to the book was cancelled. Later published in an American journal, Pipa’s essay is both hugely informative and more than slightly paranoid. He notes that the Gjirokastër that Kadare recalls is a city peopled by a curiously large number of sexual deviants, including a “woman with a beard” (which he takes to mean a lesbian), a homosexual husband and a hermaphrodite, and it is also a city in which many crimes are committed in connection with sex — a girl probably drowned in a well for kissing a boy she was not engaged to, a half-man, half-woman murdered in his bed for daring to get married, a prostitute murdered by the father of one of her clients for bringing dishonour on the family. Gjirokastër is also, famously, the home town of Enver Hoxha, the country’s dictator, and this is made quite explicit in the text. Pipa argues that the depiction of the city is intended “by distant reflection” to raise the question of Hoxha’s sexuality. Like most members of the Albanian elite, Pipa and Kadare both knew that in his youth (and in particular during his many years a
s a student in France) Hoxha had had homosexual encounters, but this was not something that could be written or spoken aloud in Communist Albania. Kadare was horrified when he heard that Pipa planned to assert that Chronicle in Stone contained a coded message about the sexual preference of the country’s Guide. He honestly thought that Pipa wanted to get him arrested and shot. A long drawn-out polemic ensued, with attack bringing counterattack, until the whole murky business became known as the “Pipi–Kaka Affair”. It is no longer remotely dangerous to mention the probable sexual proclivities of a long-dead Stalinist — but it also now seems crazy to believe that this fine and complex novel contains any coded message on that subject.

  Pipa’s translation is the basic text of this edition of Chronicle in Stone. To Pipa’s work I have added the passages included by Kadare in Volume V of his Complete Works in French, and deleted the passages that Kadare dropped. I have nonetheless retained the Albanian forms of the names of people and places (in the French edition, names are spelled in French transliteration) and I have not adopted the transpositions made by the French text of some of the historical and political references (turning “Ballists” into collabos, for example). I have also made stylistic amendments here and there where they seemed called for. For the most part, however, this English version of Chronicle in Stone is Arshi Pipa’s, and to him the main credit is due.

  Gjirokastër really is quite as spectacular as the description of it given in this novel. It has been in decline as an administrative and commercial centre throughout the twentieth century, and many of its large stone houses have been uninhabited for decades. In 1967, all religion was abolished in Albania, and most of the country’s churches, monasteries and mosques were destroyed or put to other uses. At the same time, the regime sought to create and fortify the “national spirit”, and to celebrate the country’s more or less ancient traditions. Despite Hoxha’s ambivalent feelings about the Ottoman heritage of his home town, he saved the city’s mosque, and also had Gjirokastër officially designated as a “Museum City”. It became an important centre of folk culture in socialist Albania, and was chosen to host the National Folk Festival, which was held there every five years. In 2005, after several failed bids, Gjirokastër finally became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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