My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Some people feel the rain, others just get wet.
– 2017 Nobel Literature Laureate Bob Dylan
I have always been a romantic, despite the cruel human stupidity deteriorating this world.
I have seen and read and loved a lot and come to know the pain of it and of cynicism. I have come to appreciate Dorothy Parker and Bob Dylan. I have fought to resist the patina of the produced and to stare long in pursuit of a realistic understanding. Yet, I have always believed and fight still to believe in beauty, nature, goodness, harmony and love. I am not yet completely jaded. Hence I remain a romantic.
Even now, despite my age, I look upon a woman I find attractive from a distance and, knowing nothing about her, still think, “what if we are perfect for each other, in some way.” 50 years of living on this earth has dampened my spirits and broken my heart, but not ultimately my belief in the possibility of love.
But when people ask me what I want to write about, I’ve given the same response for decades: my interest is literary fiction about real relationships and people. I like the ability of a great writer to honestly capture what goes on between people in states of profound intimacy as effectively as the interior dialogue within them.
And the truth is, little of the best of this writing is romantic. The best is at turns cynical, petty, harsh and loving in ways that seem impossible to describe … until someone does.
I would give Kawabata as my first and greatest example. Then perhaps Kundera. You could add Hanif Kureishi to that list and now yet another K – Ismail Kadare.
Aksidenti, by Ismail Kadare was written in Tirana, Albania in 2008 and translated into English as The Accident in 2010. It is a haunting exploration of love, lust and desire wrapped into the puzzling investigation of a car crash.
From this seemingly simple conceit, Kadare weaves the pieced-together tale of two lovers, composed of the evidence and actualities that surrounded them. Untrustworthy depositions mingle with contradictory ones and the use of language amazes and delights as the story tumbles along, revealing unrequitedness, jealousy and the power game of love.
The first time I ever heard of Kadare was on a flight returning from Maine to New York City in August of 1999. I had taken a sailing trip up the coast of Maine for nine days with two close friends and I used the opportunity to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace the first time.
On the flight home, I had my tray table down and my journal out as I was making notes on the text. I pulled out the Tolstoy to copy some quotes from it and the man seated next to me noticed it. “Ah, Tolstoy!” he said, and as I turned to him he covered one of his eyes with one palm, stared at me through the other, and exclaimed, “Kutozov!”
It was an instantaneous connection over the scene in War and Peace in which the one-eyed general Kutozov is approached by a foot soldier who has come to ask for orders only to hear from the wizened general that it doesn’t matter what they do, that the orders, like the battle itself, are irrelevant.
The man seated next to me had a bushy mustache, thick black hair, and a slight Eastern European accent. He could have been Russian, but was more likely Czech or Hungarian or perhaps from one of the former Yugoslav Republics, which were then in the throes of separation and even dissolution.
The man put his hand down, looked at me and then asked, seriously, “Have you read Kadare?” When I shook my head no, he continued, “You must. He is the greatest living writer.” Which is how I began my exploration of this Albanian who has since won the inaugural International Man Booker Prize and is perennially a candidate for the Literature Nobel.
The Accident is first and foremost a puzzle of an investigation, but the story is about retroactively composing the last weeks of the lovers, Mr. Besfort Y. and Rovena, tossed from a taxi that “veered off the airport autobahn at kilometre marker 17.”
Kadare effortlessly moves between third and first person accounts in chapters that take off in different directions, leaving the reader to catch up. But once you do, he delivers a deep understanding of human emotions expressed directly. He is clever and precise in his method of setting you up to grasp what he is trying to say about us and the way we love or treat one another.
I had to flip back several times to remember things and put things together, but rather than being a nuisance or distracting, it became charming – as though I, too, were involved in this elaborate investigation and as if I might be the one who ultimately sees the truth.
Kadare doesn’t insult the reader. It is so great. He ‘hup-hups’ the reader to stay abreast, hiding important facts of the case in everyday accounts only to have them remembered later and tossed and turned all about. The puzzling elements are crisp and Borgesian, while the emotional landscape of this relationship and its satellites of love are raw, detailed and exceptionally written.
There is so much feeling in the human relationships, described nakedly and with stark eloquence, that I found myself thinking once again how much is lost to me by being in the United States. The relationships in our books are so narrow and empty of emotional range.
More and more it is because we are becoming flat and superficial. Americans on dates talk about tv shows, movies, stuff and money. We are fast becoming the kingdom of porn stars and prudes working in concert to confuse a society increasingly incapable of understanding true love or what meaning is.
Ismail Kadare’s love story or lust story or death story or whatever this is, is much more full than even real everyday loves in the United States, an incredible book.
I am glad Bob Dylan won the 2017 Nobel, but I must say, I am increasingly with the crowd favoring Kadare to win it soon.