Chronicle in Stone by Ismail Kadare

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Chronicle in Stone is a charming and humorous novel told from the fanciful viewpoint of a child who sees what people do but is not old enough to understand the context of their actions. The steep and ancient city of stone where he lives is not named, but it is surely Kadare’s birthplace, Gjirokastër. In the last scene, the narrator returns to the city as an adult, realizes he has been figuratively stumbling over its stones ever since he left, and strongly senses the invisible presence of the people he loved.

Kadare makes extensive use of images of sight, and, by extension, insight. The ladies of the neighborhood are shocked when Isa Voco starts wearing glasses. They look through his lenses and see only a distorted world. Isa, however, goes on to join the Resistance. He assassinates the Italian garrison commander and is captured and tortured. By the time he is brought out to be hanged, he is missing one leg but still wearing his glasses, which are the only thing that seem alive on his battered face. In other words, the viewpoint held by the Resistance remains intact. Isa’s friend and accomplice, Javer, avenges his death without getting caught and successfully carries out numerous guerrilla attacks.

Ironically, the first-person narrator also needs glasses, but none of the adults thinks of having his eyes tested. He takes a single lens from his grandmother’s trunk and holds it to one eye when he goes to a film or otherwise needs to see. His lens stands for the viewpoint of the writer, which brings everything into focus.

Kadare captures the essence of each character with deft descriptions, and most characters are portrayed with affection, such as Kako Pino. Kako has skillfully applied brides’ makeup for more than sixty years. She is a thin lady who dresses in black and carries her implements in a red bag. In conversation, Kako repeats hypnotically, “It’s the end of the world.” That is Kako’s leitmotif, and she says it countless times in the course of the novel. At the end of the novel, the Germans are suspicious of the contents of her red bag and hang her, thinking she is a saboteur. In a touching stylistic tribute to Kako, the narrator continues her voice,...

(The entire section is 588 words.)