Ismail Kadare


(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

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Ismail Kadare

Chronicle in Stone is a sequence of vignettes that tracks ordinary life during World War II in an Albanian city as viewed through the eyes of a child.

The public events are distorted through the double lenses of gossiping townfolks and the way a child hears that gossiping. The two levels of filtering turn the war events into magical happenings. Albania is initially under Italian occupation. The construction of a new airfield and the establishment of a brothel for the soldiers are the talks of the town, following a brief hysteria for witches. Then the bombings start and a gruesome event seems to mark the city's history: the arm of a British pilot is recovered from the wreckage of his plane. Then the Italian soldiers leave, defeated; then they come back, with the nuns and the prostitutes. The family has to leave, while granma stays behind. Throughout the war calamities, a sad love story takes place: a girl who got pregnant has disappeared, probably killed by her family. The boy looks for her corpse in the wells, and is mistaken for a ghost. But the girl, Susan, had been hiding in the caves during the bombings and eventually comes out. She is then sent away to visit some family. The war changes shape when the communists become the main enemy of the Italians.The garrison's commander is assassinated by the partisans, who eventually take the city. Some people sided with the Italians and are executed. One communist soldier kills a girl by accident while executing a renegade, and is in turn executed by the other communists. A girl with the beard leaves with the Italian troops and the town hopes that she brings the town's bad luck with her. The Germans come next, setting fire to the houses that belong to partisans. The townfolks have to leave the city again. Eventually the communists take over and install a communist dictatorship.
The Gneral of the Dead Army might be a parable about how senseless war is or a parable about how meaningless life is. The task of recovering an army of dead bodies is the supreme pointless job but at the same time the gravity of war makes it an important and essential job. The general in charge has to defend the honor of his country while ridiculing that country with this pointless task. The general makes no moral judgment on the war itself until he insults the bones of an evil colonel who deserved to be killed, indirectly admitting that the honor he is trying to defend is standing on weak foundations. Many years after the end of World War II an Italian general and a Catholic priest are sent by their government to Albania to recover the dead soldiers who are still buried there. Italy tried to invade Albania was eventually was kicked out by the partisans and the British. They begin roaming the countryside, following a map that should help them locate the places where battles occurred. From the beginning they are surrounded by the enigmatic peasants, some of which are hired to help in the digging. Every now and then we hear the voices of the dead explaining how they died. The general senses that they probably would not approve of this pointless search. One particular corpse interests the priest, the remains of colonel Z, whose attractive widow the priest seems to know well, and this intrigues the general. What happened to this colonel is still a mystery. A further element of discomfort is that the country, Albania, is one of the most isolated places in the world, being a communist country but also hostile to the Soviet Union. The general has to straddle a thin line between defending the honor of his country, and of its dead soldiers, and not offending the Albanians, who were invaded and killed by the fascist army of Italy. The general is offended when he reads that someone has scribbled a nationalist slogan on a wall, but the interpreter reminds him that the Italian soldiers had scribbled fascist slogans on the Albanian partisans before hanging them. One day they meet the one-armed general of another country who is there for the same mission: recover the remains of their dead soldiers. They seem to have less reliable information than the Italians.
The local people still tell the story of the Italian prostitute, brough there to serve in the brothel opened by the fascists for their troops, who was killed for seducing the son of a local notable and was buried by the Italian soldiers as a national heroine. The general and the priest arrive at the village where colonel Z's batallion had massacred men, women and children. This reminds the general of his encounter with the sexy Betty, the widow of the colonel and apparently close friend of the priest. Then they run into an old man who delivers the body of an Italian deserter who worked at his mill for several years: his size fits the size of the lost colonel Z. The old man also recovered the diary that this nameless soldier had kept all those years. The general reads of this soldier's secret love for his employer's daughter, Christine. His wedding gift to her was his identification medallion, which is why it is now impossible to determine his identity: this is the rare skeleton with no identification medallion. The general is humiliated when he learns that many Italian soldiers simply sold their weapons and hid in the farms rather than fight the partisans. The diary ends when the Italian troops are again advancing towards the village and airplanes are bombing the partisans.
The general is having nightmares almost every night and drinks too much. He has an entire army under his command, except that they are dead people. His pride is rapidly fading, recognizing that the natives are simply making fun of his mission.
The general and the priest run into a number of graves that have already been dug up and the skeletons stolen. Initially they suspect the local people did it but then they understand that the other foreign general, not finding his own dead, has simply taken some of the Italian ones: bones are bones.
The mission is taking longer than expected: some bodies cannot be found. The general is getting more and more depressed. The locals are not friendly, one of the workers dies of an infection caused by the decomposing bodies (as if the soldiers had taken revenge on the old man who used to be a partisan) and the general keeps imagining the voices of the dead telling the story of how they died.
On the last day of the mission, the general is still missing colonel Z and by coincidence they are staying at the village where most likely colonel Z was killed. The general, feeling lonely and depressed, has the awful idea of joining a wedding party. In the middle of the festivities he is confronted by an old woman whose family was killed by the invading army. The leader of the batalion was colonel Z. He had forced the woman's teenage daughter to have sex with him in his tent. Later the girl had committed suicide. The woman had killed the colonel and buried him where nobody could find him: under her doorstep. After sobbing and shouting in front of everybody, she walks to her house, digs up the skeleton, puts it in a sack and carries the sack to the general, an embarrassing and humiliating scene. The general suddenly realizes that nobody welcomes him at their party and leaves. On the way back he kicks the sack with colonel Z's bones into the river. The priest, friend of the family of colonel Z, is mad at him and stops talking to him.
The day before their departure from Albania the general meets again the one-armed general of the other country. This man apologizes to the Italian general for the theft of some Italian remains by a corrupt major who has already been punished. The two generals, both depressed, get drunk together into the night telling each other stories about their graveyards while telegrams keep being delivered sent by the family of colonel Z asking for news. The generals can hear the Albanian army rehearsing for the great parade of the following day, that commemorates the Albanian victory in the war.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )