Friday, August 21, 2015

Reading the World: 5. Albania

Adrian Limani, flourished bulb
What happens when you read a novel by an author "hailed as one of the world's greatest living writers" (according to the bookjacket) and you struggle finding any way "in" to the book?

You don't put it down even though the little voice inside your head is telling you, "just put it isn't going to work out for you...put it down..."

I did not put it down. And the little voice did not go away.

So, I took notes on an envelope doubling as my bookmark as I read--not because it was difficult or to keep track of a tangled plot--but because I could not connect with the book. I kept looking for a thread to latch onto.

Part Orwell, part Kafka, part Beckett, The Palace of Dreams is Ismail Kadare's attempt at creating his version of hell. And for much of the first half of the book I engaged (a bit) even though the little voice inside my head kept murmuring, "weird..."

Wishing I knew more about Kadare's homeland, Albania, I jotted down thoughts which seemed like metaphors worth digging into later:

--the influence of dreams
--outside influences on dreams
--the value of dreams from the peasant to the king
--what kinds of information needs secrecy?
--when do dreams need to be kept secret?

And then I felt myself grasping to use anything--any shard of an historical context of the relationship(s) between the Albanians and the Turks. Kadare threaded a theme of "shared power" (and shared knowledge) and it made me curious about how historically oppositional cultures find common ground. This interesting line on page 68 kept the little voice inside my head quiet and hopeful for a beat:

"Sharing power doesn't just mean dividing up carpets and the gold braid. That comes afterward. Above all, sharing power means sharing crimes!"

But, like much of what I found interesting, this theme fell flat for me and the little voice inside my head railed on and on, "told you...if you are not enjoying a book just put it down...Kadare won't be offended because he did not write it for you anyway."

Unfortunately, the book did not work for me. I lost track of any slight scent of engagement once I reached the last 1/4 of the story as the plot just unravelled like old, cheap yarn--leaving me with little to want to discuss with other readers. For me,  The Palace of Dreams went from weird and interesting to dull and disconnected.

The reality is we are all not going to connect with every book...irrespective of author or reader, culture, or era. I believe the hype about Kadare and maybe I should give something else of his a shot.

But for now, it is on to another country...

No comments:

Post a Comment