Ismail Kadare’s readers are astonished every year when the Nobel committee overlooks him. Albania’s first major author is already winner of the inaugural Man Booker International Prize, the Jerusalem Prize and other honors — the Swedish prize seems long overdue for the 82-year-old maestro. “A Girl in Exile,” published in Albanian in 2009, may rekindle the worldwide hopes.
Kadare’s lifelong theme and the context for much of his work is the four-decade dictatorship of Enver Hoxha, whose grotesque, paranoid, Stalinist regime slaughtered thousands. However, “A Girl in Exile” — set in the 1980s against a backdrop of interrogation, exile and thwarted lives — also offers a more incandescent tale.
The story begins simply: An art student asks a well-known playwright to sign a book for her faraway friend. But his bland inscription opens a door that will lead him to the borderland of love, death, time and a devastating kind of transcendence, leaving Kadare’s unlikable hero, Rudian Stefa, half-mad, mumbling broken phrases of Latin and archaic Albanian.
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