Kadare worked on The Concert from 1978 to 1988. It is his longest novel, and it conveys the apprehension felt by the Albanian citizens under Enver Hoxha’s strict Communist regime, where anyone could quickly fall out of favor. The novel deals with the last years of Albania’s political alliance with China, from Chairman Mao Zedong’s eightieth year to his death in 1976. During those years, Mao was determined to humiliate the Albanians for having dared to question his decision to entertain the president of the United States. The title refers to a rare concert given by the Chinese for their foreign visitors on the Day of the Birds, a concert that filled everyone with dread. Its meaning became clear when China subsequently withdrew all support for Albania.
The main plot line illustrates the difference between Albanian and Chinese communism. Arian Krasniqi is an Albanian officer who refuses to obey Minister D’s order, suggested to him by the Chinese, to encircle the Communist Party committee with tanks. For his disobedience, Krasniqi is expelled from the party and imprisoned. However, Krasniqi is vindicated by Enver Hoxha himself, who states in a public address that to encircle a party committee with tanks is tantamount to rehearsing for a military putsch and that such orders will never be carried out in Albania, no matter who issues them. Minister D then has no option but to release the tank officer and prepare his auto-critique for the party.
One of the most interesting aspects of The Concert is Kadare’s extended treatment of the mysterious murder of Lin Biao, Mao’s second in command. Whether because of Mao’s senility or because of conflicting plans that were then combined, Lin Biao’s murder emerges as an unparalleled case of overkill. Clues are scattered throughout the novel. In chapter 15, one of the Albanian authors, Skënder Bermema, compiles the theories into a nine-part synopsis entitled “The Truth About the Death of Lin Biao” before setting up the truly enlightening comparison to William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Mao took draconian measures to stamp out intellectualism and individualism in China and intended to weaken Western minds through the mass export of Chinese marijuana. A Chinese committee designs the model new man, Lei Fen, who is twenty-five years old, a soldier peasant who remains a bachelor and loves only his mother, and who dies by accident. Although a token leftist militant Albanian, Juan Maria Krams, embraces the idea of the new man and the abolishment of history, culture, and religion, Europe remains the greatest threat to Mao’s China because of its freethinking people. The extreme repression in Communist China is illustrated early in the novel. Gjergj Dibra, an Albanian diplomatic envoy, finds it impossible to carry on a normal conversation in China because there are empty words and tedious slogans for every occasion.
By comparing the European and the Chinese communist systems, Kadare manages to make a strong case for free thought, justice, and human rights. He had difficulty getting the novel published in...
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