October Books 7) The File on H

7) The File on H, by Ismail Kadarë

I’ve read a few Kadarë books – most recently, The General of the Dead Army – and happened to see this one at Vienna Airport on my way through to Moldova on Thursday. It is short but very deep: the tale of two ethnographers visiting Albania in the 1930s during the rule of King Zog, to record ancient epic poetry (the H in the title stands for Homer). The two ethnographers are supposed to be Irish, but might as well be Japanese for the purposes of the story: the novel is about Albania, not about Ireland. (Perhaps it was in part a response to Andrić’s foreigners encountering Bosnia in The Days of the Consuls?)

But it’s also about the construction of truth, how stories are told, especially when the state tries to regulate knowledge and information. Although the patriotic version of Albanian history – 1878, 1913 – is the only one told here, one senses that Kadarë himself doesn’t completely buy it, and subverts it in the way he tells the story. In the meantime people escape as best they can, the rather ethereal epic poetry souight by the Irishmen in contrast with the erotic dreams of the governor’s wife. A really good book, strongly recommended.

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1 Response to October Books 7) The File on H

  1. coth says:

    Quantum Thief was pretty good too – very Zelazny-ish.

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