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The Palace of Dreams, by Ismail Kadare

Second paragraph of third chapter:
As he went along the corridor he was assailed by all sorts of doubts and surmises. Could he have made some mistake in his work? Could someone have appeared from the depths of the Empire and come knocking at every door, going from office to office and vizier to vizier, claiming that his valuable dream had been thrown in the wastepaper-basket? Mark-Alem tried to remember the dreams he'd rejected recently, but couldn't recall any of them. Perhaps that wasn't it, though. Perhaps he'd been summoned because of something else. It was nearly always like that: when you were sent for, it was almost invariably for some reason you could never have dreamed of. Was it something to do with breaking the secrecy rule? But he hadn't seen any of his friends since he'd started working here. As he asked his way through the corridors he felt more and more strongly that he'd been in this part of the Palace before. He thought for a while this might be because all the corridors were identical, but when he finally found himself in the room with the brazier, where the square-faced man sat with his eyes glued to the door, he realised it had been the Director-General's office he had knocked on his very first day in the Tabur Sarrail. He'd been so absorbed in his work since then that he'd forgotten it even existed, and even now he had no idea what the square-faced man's job was in the Palace of Dreams. Was he one of the many assistant directors, or the Director-General himself?
This was the novel that got Albania's greatest writer, Ismail Kadare, into trouble with the Communist authorities when it was written and sneakily published in 1980 and 1981. Our protagonist, Mark-Alem of the ancient Quprili family, is recruited to the Palace of Dreams in the capital of the Empire, where feuding bureaucrats together analyse and report on the portents opened up to the Imperial rulers through the dreams of the populace. You don't have to be very smart to see this as a rather clear analogy of the Sigurimi under the Hoxha regime, gathering information neurotically and monitoring the loyalty of the population closely, yet also vulnerable at the top to the whims of the man at the very centre of the state.

The Writers' Plenum which condemned the book showed only that they could not appreciate the talent they had amongst them. As well as being rather like a Kafka story told by an insider, Kadare adopts a lot of Latin American-style magical realism in the story (there is a particularly bizarre and vivid police raid on a dinner party). My linguistic instincts are sharp enough also to spot that there is something going on with the protagonist's name: Qubrili, we are told, is linked with the word for "bridge", in modern Turkish "köprü"; but of course the standard Albania word for bridge these days is "urë", and what it anyway made me think of was the novel by Ivo Andrić of the old Yugoslavia, Na Drini ćuprija, The Bridge on the Drina (the modern word is "most" rather than "ćuprija"). It would be interesting for someone to do an annotated edition of this some time.

Edited to add: I was over-analysing here. The Albanian Köprülü / Qubrili family were indeed a perfectly real powerful political family in the Ottoman empire, so there is no explicit reference by Kadare to Andrić.

This was the most popular book on my shelves acquired in 2010. Next in that ranking is a Dutch translation of an Italian children's book, De piraten van de Zilveren Kattenklauw, supposedly by the heroic mouse protagonist Geronimo Stilton, which has already popped up this month.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
del_c
Jan. 22nd, 2017 08:33 pm (UTC)
As in Stari Most, in Mostar? If Stari Most means Old Bridge, does Mostar mean "Oldbridge"?
nwhyte
Jan. 22nd, 2017 09:01 pm (UTC)
Yep. Though I have since discovered that I was over-analysing; there really was a prominent Albanian family of that name in the Ottoman Empire, so there is no particular reference here to Bosnia.
evilshrubbery
Jan. 25th, 2017 12:44 pm (UTC)
I just started reading this book, too. Really enjoying it so far.
duck2ducks
Mar. 2nd, 2017 06:42 pm (UTC)
Nicholas - thank you for this review! It immediately made me go and pick this up, and I just finished it yesterday.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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