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Books

book review

‘The Fall of the Stone City’ by Ismail Kadare

“Chronicle in Stone,’’ one of Ismail Kadare’s early books, is a boyhood memory of growing up in the provincial Albanian town of Gjirokaster. The boy is largely Kadare himself, though with a dose of invention. The town’s quirks, destiny, and characters — comic, extravagant, and all but floating an inch or two off the ground — are in some ways reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, though as invaded by history as Macondo in “One Hundred Years of Solitude’’ was removed from it. The boy could be Huck Finn exploring his Mississippi.

In “The Fall of the Stone City,” a dark sequel, the Mississippi is filled with crocodiles. After a first part centering around a cheerfully extravagant wartime story, cracks develop; a hallucinatory crumbling ensues and descends into tightening nightmare. The Albanian Communists rule, with Moscow their overlord — this was before the post-Stalin break — and the nexus between totalitarianism and madness is twisted tight. It is the motif in some of Kadare’s greatest books, such as “The Palace of Dreams,” and here it is set out with greater brutality, and less subtlety and perhaps artistic power.

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