Chronicle in Stone: A Novel

Chronicle in Stone: A Novel - Ismail Kadare REVISED REVIEW! I was tired last night......

I loved this book. Why? Well, what I loved most was the writing style. I scarcely realized I was learning about the events occurring in Albania 1941-43!

The book description here at GR is practically nonexistent so I will explain a bit. Although fiction,this book is in fact about the author’s own experiences during the Second World War, when he was a child growing up in Gjirokastër, Albania. This is an ancient city near the Albanian Greek border. In 1939 Mussolini occupied Albania, but thereafter control switched several times between the Italians and the Greeks. Finally near the end of the war and until the summer of 1944, the Germans occupied Albania, The book does not continue through to the war’s end. Gjirokastër was extensively bombed. There were also fighting going on between the three dominant resistance movements: Isa Toska”s men (representing the Legaliteti, backing the exiled King Zog), the Ballists and finally the Partisans, who were Communists. This civil war led finally to the Communist takeover by Envor Hoxha. He too was from Gjirokastër. The city is made of stone houses, topped with slate rooves. When you leave your front door you are at the edge of your neighbor's roof - the slope is steep! This gray city has a strong presence in the novel. Trees and foliage, lawns and bushes are not what you find here. Such a world is far away only imagined at the markets where the peasants bring in their produce. The city has arisen from the earlier Turkish landowning people. It is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the book, the city itself, has an identity! This is the setting for the young boy’s experiences. Violent times, to say the least.

Culturally the city has a Muslim Turkish heritage. This contrasts against the Greek/Christian/peasant culture. All of this is woven into the story. Different cultures, strange beliefs, bizarre people and shocking events – they are all part of this novel. At the center is a young boy trying to understand it all.

One might think that such a time and place would not be the setting for a book filled with humor. This book IS filled with humor and irony. The boy is so imaginative, the words and thoughts will delight you. Sometimes you laugh at the kids’ lack of understanding, their attempts to understand an adult world that logically cannot be understood. Words and events are misunderstood, and we who read can chuckle at the search for knowledge and the irony of the crazy world that engulfs the city Diverse themes, from magic to girls to war to Shakespeare to sexual deviants, are all present. The author plays with words.

And yet this is about war and when the tone suddenly switches you are struck by the huge contrast. Only by first laughing do you come to feel totally devastated when things go wrong. All of a sudden I realized how invested I had become in these people.

There is a pronunciation guide and an exemplary introduction written by David Bellos. I read the introduction after finishing the book. I advise doing this. Often I dislike introductions. I hate it when they tell you how to interpret lines or tell us what we should be thinking/feeling! This introduction does not do that. It adds historical fact so you better understand the story itself. It tells of how Kadare rewrote this story repetitively. It explains what version we have in our hands. It speaks of the translator Arshi Pipa. Don't skip the introduction! It is very interesting, but first read the novel and let yourself be carried away by the play on words and imagination.

I absolutely adored the literary style! I was emotionally captivated by these characters. Perhaps, as the introduction points out, there is even more said between the lines, but first just sit back and enjoy the story. Remember it is fiction. Don’t demand that it fulfills the criteria of logical sense, just enjoy it. Well that is what I think. I would not consider giving this book anything but five stars. I loved it. Every bit of it. It drew a picture of a difficult time and place. First it was very amusing and then it socked me in the stomach. .

Here follows just one example of the humor found in this book:

The last Italians left during the first week of November, four days after the evacuation of the aerodrome. For forty hours there was no government in the city. The Greeks arrived at two in the morning. They stayed for about seventy hours and hardly anyone even saw them. The shutters stayed closed. No one went out in the street. The Greeks themselves seemed to move only at night. At ten in the morning on Thursday the Italians came back, marching in under freezing rain. They stayed only thirty hours. Six hours later the Greeks were back. The same thing happened all over again in the second week of November. The Italians came back. This time they stayed about sixty hours. The Greeks rushed back in as soon as the Italians had gone. They spent all day Friday and Friday night in the city, but when dawn broke on Saturday, the city awoke to find itself completely deserted. Everyone had gone. Who knows why the Italians didn't come back? Or the Greeks? Saturday and Sunday went by. On Monday morning footsteps echoed in the street where none had been heard for several days. On either side of the street women opened their shutters gingerly and looked out. It was Llukan the jailbird, with his old brown blanket slung over his right shoulder. In his kerchief je was carrying bread and cheese, and was apparently on his way home.

"Llukan!" Bido Sherofi's wife called from a window.

"I was up there," said Llukan , pointing to the prison. "I went there to report, but guess what? The prison is closed."

There was almost a touch of sadness in his voice. The frequent changes of rulers had made mincemeat of his sentence, and this put him out of SORTS.

"No more Greeks or Italians, you mean?"

"Greeks, Italians, it makes no difference to me," Llukan answered in exasperation. "All I know is the prison isn't working. The doors are wide open.Not a soul around. It's enough to break your heart."
(beginning of chapter 9)

This is just one example of the humor. Please read the book so you can experience yourself the imagination of the main protagonist.


I have read a bit more than half of this book. I absolutely adore it!!!!!

I keep thinking I should stop and tell my GR friends. I think I simply must copy a bit so you get to see what I am reading. But then I simply can't. I have to keep reading, and I cannot copy the whole book as examples of why I am loving how this author expresses himself. What I love about this book are the lines. They are funny! How can war be funny? Well, what happens is so absurd you do laugh!

Some lines are funny, others conjure a picture of gloom, others the delight of women in the eyes of an adolescent boy and then there is magic too. I don't really care what this author is talking about; it is how he says whatever he wants to say that is so wonderful.

This book is much, much, much better than the author's The Three-Arched Bridge. Don't read that! Read this!