The Fall of the Stone City
It is 1943, and the Second World War is ravaging Europe. Mussolini decides to pull out of his alliance with the Nazis, and withdraws the Italian troops occupying Albania. Soon after, Nazi forces invade Albania from occupied Greece. The first settlement in their path is the ancient stone city of Gjirokastër, an Albanian stronghold since the fourteenth century. The townsfolk have no choice but to surrender to the Nazis, but are confused when they see that one of the town’s residents, a certain Dr. Gurameto, seems to be showing the invading Nazi Colonel great hospitality. That evening, strains of Schubert from the doctor’s gramophone waft out into the cobbled streets of the city, and the sounds of a dinner party are heard. The sudden disappearance of the Nazis the next morning leaves the town wondering if they might have dreamt the events of the previous night. But as Albania moves into a period of occupation by the Nazis, and then is taken over by the communists, Dr. Gurameto is forced to answer for what happened on the evening of the Nazi’s invasion, and finally explain the events of that long, strange night.
Dealing with themes of resistance in a dictatorship, and steeped in Albanian folklore and legend, The Fall of the Stone City shows Kadare at the height of his powers.
In his latest novel, Kadare (The Ghost Rider) features many of his motifs bloody Balkan histories; bleak totalitarianism lives under silky threads of magical realism that have made him a perpetual shortlister for Noble Prize laureate. This novel, set in the isolated Albanian city of Gjirokast r, covers roughly 10 tumultuous years, encompassing the Italian withdrawal and subsequent German invasion during WWII. Always aware of this historical backdrop, Kadare considers its impact on private lives. The mystery preoccupying both the city and novel centers around events of September 16, 1943, a night when "Big Dr Gurameto" hosted a dinner for Col. Fritz von Schwabe, commander of the first German division to enter Albania and old friend of Gurameto's from their college days. That party, resulting in the unexpected release of hostages held by the Germans, remains shrouded in inscrutability until Gurameto is made to account for his actions when the country's new Communist leaders force a reckoning after the war. The answer doesn't explain the circumstances of September 16 so much as shine a light on the impossibilities of negotiating the relentless press of history. A thoughtful exploration of the colluding forces of fascism and communism and a country caught between them that is at once obscure and enigmatic, lucid and insistent.