Agamemnon's Daughter By Ismail Kadare
E hene, 19.05.2008, 11:18 PM
By Ismail Kadare translated by David Bellos
Reviewed by Alice Fordham
THESE TALES OF repression linger in the mind for their indictment of dictators and for a tone of bleak bewilderment, that becomes furious comprehension at the depths to which regimes will sink to retain power over people.
The title story transposes the myth of Iphigenia (sacrificed by her father before the Greeks sailed to Troy) to communist Albania. The sacrifice becomes the voluntary rejection by a politician’s daughter of her lover. We follow his thoughts as he wrestles with his sweetheart’s decision.
His conclusion is that the state is sanctioning the death of love and pleasure, to render the populace lifeless and malleable. The politician’s daughter has to be sacrificed so that the politician (like Stalin, who refused to negotiate when his son was a prisoner of war) can make clear that he expects everyone to do likewise.
Kadare conveys the loneliness of independent thought in a regime that prohibits discussion. The prose is spare and forceful, reminiscent of Kafka, at times hinting at insanity in its fervour. The imagery is stark and surreal – a myth of a man carried by an eagle fed on the man’s flesh is a brutal metaphor for the means of succeeding under such regimes.
The second story, The Blinding Order, is a more macabre riff on the same theme. An order is given for all those deemed to have the Evil Eye to be blinded. On such nonsense concepts have dictatorships worldwide maintained a climate of fear. Kadare uses the gruesome variety of ways of blinding and the emergence of more methods to show how the state can maim the soul of a people, reducing them to gratitude for instant blinding.
When he wrote the stories, Kadare was in the dark of Albania. He was denied freedom of expression, movement and association. This book, smuggled page by page to Paris, is a bold call to heed the inhumanity of dictatorship. We would do well to be roused by him.