Category Archives: Reviews

This section contains reviews of Albanian books and music.

Kadare’s famous poem

In the Valentine spirit of this year 2014, Frosina brings to the attention of our distinguished readers one of the most precious poems by Ismail Kadare.

Its true title is “Mall” – Longing – but often it is referred by its first line: Ca pika shiu ranë mbi qelq – Some Raindrops Came to my Window.

It is in four verses the story of two lovers who live in the same city but rarely see each other. It is the beginning of the Autumn, and the poem’s deep sensuality brings us back the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, with his famous call to reality and time, which flows inexorably away from us.

Everything in this rainy Autumn morning is like a dream, according to Kadare and, as the raindrops come down to the window glasses, the lonely character cannot escape the deep longing for the sweetheart living, maybe, a few blocks away.

The full version in standard Albanian is here:

Mall

Ca pika shiu ranë mbi qelq.
Për ty unë befas ndjeva mall.
Jetojmë të dy në një qytet,
Dhe rrallë shihemi sa rrallë.

Edhe m’u duk pak e çuditshme
Si erdh kjo vjeshtë, ky mëngjes.
Qiejt e ngrysur pa lejlekë
Dhe shirat pa ylber në mes.

Dhe thënia e vjetër e Heraklitit
Seç m’u kujtua sot për dreq:
“Të zgjuarit janë bashkë në botë,
Kurse të fjeturit janë veç”.

Në ç’ënderr kemi rënë kaq keq,
Që dot s’po zgjohemi vallë?…
Ca pika shiu ranë mbi qelq
Dhe unë për ty seç ndjeva mall

BOOK REVIEW: Ismail Kadare’s “The Accident”

My word! This is really the first time I’ve read an unfavorable review of one of Ismail Kadare’s books! I read it twice since this book review in The Financial Times is that rare!

My favorite Kadare novel remains “The Citadel” followed by “The General of the Dead Army.”

I’m posting Fischer’s Review below to stimulate comments…

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Review by Tibor Fischer
The Financial Times Limited
Published: August 7 2010 00:30

The Accident, by Ismail Kadare, translated by John Hodgson, Canongate, RRP£16.99, 263pages

I feel privileged to know what the 19th century was like. Not to have a good idea through research or imagination, but to have actually seen it. In 1987 I took a trip to Albania and while the capital Tirana, was dreary and grey and the main exhibit in the Museum of National Achievement was a light bulb, it was still recognisably a city. But when you reached the countryside you went back 100 years and saw peasants without shoes.

Living in Albania was truly the short straw of the Iron Curtain experience. However bad it was in Hungary or Poland, you could occasionally leave. Albania was literally the bunker, and a very uncomfortable one.

Ismail Kadare (born in 1936) was virtually the only writer from Albania to achieve international recognition. His 17th novel, The Accident, is an account of the Balkans after the fall of the Wall, but it is hard for those who didn’t witness the lunacy of the dictator Enver Hoxha to appreciate, for instance, a paragraph where his protagonists go home to visit: “‘Incredible,’ she said after a pause … The restaurants along the road with their Hollywood names were incredible, and so were the villas with their private swimming pools, the former communists turning into oligarchs, the former middle classes turning into God knows what and the glimmering lights of the Royal Court with their tug of nostalgia.”

John Hodgson’s translation from the Albanian reads very well and The Accident starts off promisingly with the death of an Albanian couple, one of whom works for the Council of Europe, in a car accident in Austria, an accident so unsuspicious that various Balkan intelligence agencies find it suspicious and, à la Princess Diana, dig up all sorts of conspiracy theories.

As a veteran of Stalinist Albania, Kadare is highly adept at depicting paranoia and gratuitous suspicion, and The Accident has several acerbic and witty reflections on the messy history of the Balkans over the last 20 years: “both the Serbs’ gratitude to their defenders and their hatred for their destroyers, which Balkan custom suggested would persist for centuries, had unexpectedly begun to fade. Their vows of revenge, their rage and whining of the past were now recalled with more curiosity than pain.”

However, as a novel, it is dull and the characters have all the depth of a sheet of a paper. The Accident comes with a “recommended by [writers’ organisation] PEN” rubric. They should be ashamed of themselves for giving such an endorsement, as this book could put its readers off literature for life. Ismail Kadare has, however, become a totem figure in literary circles, mostly because he has seen the inside of totalitarianism.

It should be remembered that many of the great champions of democracy and free speech who emerged from under the juggernaut of communism, many of the East European writers you’ve heard of, either started off supporting the system, or doing nothing to oppose it until they were established and it was cramping their style.

Kadare is in his seventies and his recent output has been rather thin (although he won the first International Man Booker Prize in 2005). Like Kundera, Kadare has been living in Paris and it seems that the adulation of French intellectuals is deleterious to your prose (most of the enthusiasm you find on Kadare’s bookjackets are snipped from French journals).

The Pyramid (1993), about the building of Cheops’ pyramid, is an allegory of Hoxha’s Albania that probably would have made for fascinating reading in Hoxha’s Albania, but provides poor fare for the rest of us. You have to go back to something like The File on H (1981) to get something that amounts to a proper novel; an amusing story of two scholars visiting Albania in the 1930s to study Albanian epic poetry and its reciters in order to understand better the transmission of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.
If you feel tempted to try Kadare – and he does have considerable talent – choose one of his earlier novels. Broken April (1978) for example, or my favourite, The General of the Dead Army (1963). An eerie story about a German general coming to Albania after the second world war to repatriate the remains of dead German soldiers, it will make you understand why many people rate Kadare as a novelist. The Accident, unfortunately, is a waste of paper and the time of anyone who starts reading it.

Tibor Fischer is the author of ‘Good to be God’ (Alma Books)

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010. You may share using our article tools. Please don’t cut articles fro

Kosovo Press Review – August 6

I find that the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) is a great source of up-to-date news about Kosova and Albania so to introduce BIRN to those who aren’t familiar with it, check out BalkanInsight.com and note, especially, its “In Brief” column.

Below is a sampling of BIRN’s news about Kosova:

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Kosovo Press Review – August 6
Pristina | 06 August 2009 |

Kosovo NewspapersHere are the top stories in Kosovo’s main newspapers. Balkan Insight has not verified the reports and cannot vouch for their accuracy.

KOHA DITORE
Reacting to Serbia’s provision of financial aid to parallel Kosovo Serb institutions, the Pristina government has requested that the coordination of financing be conducted solely through the Kosovo authorities.

EXPRESS
The Council for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedom in Pristina argues that the Kosovo government should file charges against Carla Del Ponte. Del Ponte has accused the Kosovo Liberation Army of kidnappings and organ trafficking during the Kosovo conflict.

LAJM
Interior Minister Zenun Pajaziti does not want to use violence against parallel Serb structures in Kosovo. Instead, the minister stressed that he intends to strengthen Kosovo institutions.

ZERI
Kosovo’s President Fatmir Sejdiu has met the residents of three villages in the municipality of Leposavic, inhabited by ethnic Albanians. Replying to their questions, he stressed that any change in regional borders would be very dangerous. “Therefore the stance of Republic of Kosovo institutions is unchangeable, every one in their house, every country within its borders,” he said.

INFOPRESS
A teacher at a school in Medrese has accused one of his colleagues of sexual harassment and abuse against female students. The secretary of the Islamic Community of Kosovo, Resul Rexhepi, has confirmed that he has received a letter of complaint.

Albanian classical music composers on CDs

It is a little-known fact that Albania has produced a wealth of interesting and impressive classical music by Albanian composers,* and a sampling is now available on CD.

When Jane and I entertain guests at our home, I invariably play the CD “KENGE” (listed below) as background music.

I urge visitors to the Frosina Blog to add the 2 CDs described below to their classical music collections!

The compositions of Çesk Sadija, Tonin Harapi, Ramadam Sokoli, Kozma Lara, and other well-known Albanian composers can be heard on two CD Discs titled:

“KENGE – Albanian Piano Music ”, KIRSTEN JOHNSON piano, Guild GMCD 7257 and
“RAPSODI – Albanian Piano Music Vol. 2,” KIRSTEN JOHNSON piano, Guild GMCD 7300.

*Also see “Classical Music in Albania” under INFOBITS at www.frosina.org

“Rescue in Albania” Published in Croatia

Photograph of the front cover of “Spas U Albaniji” (Rescue in Albania).

As co-publisher of the book “Rescue in Albania” by Harvey Sarner that depicted Albania’s heroic salvation of Jews during the Holocaust, I authorized its translation into the Croatian language as “Spas U Albaniji” by Forumi i Intelektualeve Shqiptar ne Kroaci(Forum of Albanian Intellectuals in Croatia) in Zagreb, Croatia, in 2008. At the request of Harvey Sarner, I was privileged to write the FOREWORD in his new book.

If you would like a copy of this book, please send me an email: vanchristo@frosina.org and I will forward your request to the publisher.

DVD Albanian Church Documentary

I frequently receive many requests to cross link on Frosina’s website www.frosina.org that I invariably refuse simply because there have been so many of them. However, I will make a one-time exception because it’s about an event that happens once in a hundred years. Metropolitan Fan S. Noli was for a short time in 1924, the Prime Minister of Albania, but, perhaps, more important, he founded the Albanian Orthodox church in America. Saint George Cathedral, the seat of the Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America, in South Boston, recently celebrated its Centennial. In honor of this 100-year milestone, a DVD has been produced documenting the history of the Cathedral and the immigration of Albanians to America.

The title of the English language DVD is “In Their Own Tongue,” reflecting the fact that Albanians were finally able to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in their own native tongue after almost 500 years of Turkish subjugation. I purchased the CD soon after it came out and have been pleased to show it non-Albanian friends.

Copies of the DVD are being offered for sale at Saint George Cathedral in South Boston following Sunday Liturgy and through the Cathedral’s Web site (www.saintgeorgecathedral.com).

New Book : Kosovo – What everyone Needs to Know

Kosovo: What Everyone Needs To Know

TIM JUDAH, formerly Balkans correspondent for The Economist, The Times, and the BBC. Prize-winning author of The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia.

A concise guide to complex issues surrounding the emerging nation-state

Key features

  • A highly informed short guide to the political hot-spot
  • Unravels the complex events (stretching back centuries) that led to its declaration of independence in February 2008
  • Examines the likely future developments

About this Book:
On February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared its independence, becoming the seventh state to emerge from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. A tiny country of just two million people, 90% of whom are ethnic Albanians, Kosovo is central – geographically, historically, and politically – to the future of the Western Balkans and, in turn, its potential future within the European Union. But the fate of both Kosovo, condemned by Serbian leaders as a ‘fake state’ and the region as a whole, remains hugely uncertain.

About the Author:
Tim Judah who has spent years covering the region, offers succinct, penetrating answers to a wide range of questions: Why is Kosovo important? Who are the Albanians? Who are the Serbs? Why is Kosovo so important to Serbs? What role does Kosovo play in the region and in the world? Judah reveals how things stand now and presents the history and geopolitical dynamics that have led to it.

Festival stages still dazzling in Newport — it’s a tradition

Author: Channing Gray

Journal Arts Writer

More importantly, the festival managed to deliver when it came to the musical offering. That was Tedi Papavrami, a young Albanian-born fiddler now living in Paris. Papavrami, slight and rather dour, may not have had a lot of stage presence, but, boy, could he play the violin.

Papavrami, who brought his own accompanist, French pianist Christophe Larrieu, roared impressively through the recital’s two big show pieces: Sarasate’s soupy Zigeunerweisen and Saint-Saen’s Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. But it was during Cesar Franck’s A. Major Sonata especially the score’s shimmering slow movement, that he proved he had more to offer than miraculous fingers. That was the kind of suave, reflective performance you might expect from a 60-year-old, not someone in his 20s.

It was also the kind of performance audiences have come to expect in Newport, which has become a show-case for brilliant, if unknown talent. Malkovich told listeners he tracked Papavrami down after hearing him on the radio while vacationing in St. Barts. The young fiddler was born in Albania, “discovered” when he was 10 and shipped off to Paris to study.

In a nod to his homeland, Papavrami slipped a set of dances by Albanian composer Aleksander Peci into the second half of his program: tuneful pieces with an exotic gypsy cast.

In Newport, a fresh look at ‘Knoxville’

Author: Richard Buell

That was the food-for-thought part of the evening, a virtual recital within a recital. Surrounding it was a quite startling appearance by the young (b. 1970) Albanian-French violinist Tedi Papavrami, most of whose program, however, was a reminder that, repertory-wise, at Newport it always seems to be turning into dessert time and here comes that trolley again.

Suffice it to say that not for a nanosecond did Papavrami come close to being technically embarrassed. Fingering and howing were phenomenal, the tone not only sweet and unforced but full of meaning, it sang, it was human. And goodness, he believes – fervently – in the Cesar Frank Violin Sonata. This was the kind of performance itís been needing for ages. It was also the only real stuff on the program. When a Gypsy makes his violin cry some people would rather be somewhere else. Your reviewer was among them. But we will be hearing more from Tedi Papavrami, no doubt of that.

Rescue in Albania: One hundred percent of Jews in Albania Rescued from Holocaust

Author: Harvey Sarner

Reviewed by Antonia Young

Sarner’s hardback book is a revision of his pamphlet, The Jews of Albania (Brunswick Press, l992. 44p. plus photographic plates) which he wrote with Joseph Jakoel and Felicita Jakoel. Both publications give a brief history of Jews in Albania and emphasize their exodus in l99l. The later work concentrates on possible reasons for the exceptional situation of Jews in Albania during the Second World War in that not a single Jew was taken to any of the Nazi concentration camps. This accounts for the extraordinary fact that by War’s end there were more Jews in Albania than before, due to an influx of Jews fleeing from other countries c not only surrounding countries, Yugoslavia and Greece, but also from further afield, Germany and Austria for example (p. 32c3). Initially Albania was seen (as, more recently, it has been seen by Asians) as a loophole into other parts of Europe. However, as the Nazi stranglehold over each European country tightened it became harder for Jews in transit through Albania to find another destination.

Sarner discusses the extremely tolerant situation between all religions of pre-War Albania, one which has brought frequent comment and citation of the phrase of the publicist and writer Pashko Vasa (l825c92) “The religion of Albanians is Albanianism”. This phrase was also used by Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha to disclaim Albanians’ need for any religion and the justification for his proclamation of Albania as the world’s first atheist state, implemented l967c90. Hoxha’s atheist stance placed people practicing any religion as equally culpable. Hence anti-Semitism did not exist in Albania.

Central to Sarner’s history is Josef Jakoel (l922c9l), spiritual head of the Jewish community in Albania, whose perseverance in his faith managed to prevent the very small Jewish community in Albania from completely losing touch with their roots and with each other although travel even within Albania during the Communist period was extremely limited, and the few Jews were scattered between Tirana, Durres, Vlora and Shkodra.

In l990 it was possible for the first time since the War for Albanians to leave their country even for short periods. By this time Jakoel was too sick to undertake investigations abroad on behalf of Albania’s Jewish community. His daughter Felicita was chosen and left for Greece to make contact with the Jewish Agency and continue on to Israel, despite this entailing her visiting a country with no diplomatic relations with Albania. She was able to set in motion the exodus of Albanian Jewry to Israel which came about in l99l when 300 “Jews” left for Israel (some were gentiles married to Jews c a situation which the small isolated Jewish community had come to accept).

A second important theme of Sarner’s account is the story of Albania’s “Righteous” (those non-Jews identified and honored by the State of Israel as people who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust). Sarner gives details of some of these people and families (Moslems and Christians) who housed and hid Jews, some for years; he remarks on the extraordinary generosity of those hosts, their refusal to accept recompense and their ungrudging giving even in situations of extreme danger. Not only were Jews offered hospitality by individuals and families; the Albanian government also heeded the code of honor for guests and refused to obey the command of the Italian occupies to expel all foreign Jews, and even provided a small stipend for needy refugee families (p. 40). Sarner himself was impressed by the indelibility of the Albanian code of honor when interviewing members of a family who each confirmed the importance of a guest’s life before their own (p. 50); “there are no foreigners in Albania, there are only guests”, he was told (p. 63). The author finds the key to this universal care and protection for the Jews in the roots of Albanian civilization: the priority given to The Guest.

This has also been observed by Dr. Kazuhiko Yamamoto in his research where he likens Albanian reverence for guests to the Japanese Guest God. In both societies honor is at stake should there be any question that any guest, for any length of visit, is not given the very best care and attention. This is also at the root of the Kanun (the set of laws codified by the l5th Century nobleman Lek Dukagjin, and strictly adhered to this day). These oral laws were finally written at the turn of the twentieth century. Several sections specify the correct conduct of a host. Article XXXI (b) notes that a woman may be shot in the back for betrayal of hospitality.

Legend also has it (p. 8) that 2,000 years earlier a shipload of Jews destined as Roman slaves, but shipwrecked on Albanian shores received traditional hospitality. These would have been the builders of a synagogue whose remains Sarner claims were found at the ancient Illyrian port of Dardania (p. 9).

Sarner’s informative slim volume gives a brief history of Albania, a few current statistics, a short bibliography, a useful map (p. 30) showing the four Albanian vilayets within the Ottoman Empire (until l878) (explaining the strong Albanian links with the Jewish community of Janina), and some interesting photographic illustrations. One can ignore several minor typographical errors, but Sarner cannot claim Miranda Vickers as a Jew by naming her Martha in his bibliography!