One of my favorite reading challenges is Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge. While I’m sure the goal of many challenge’s participants is to read as many European themed books as possible, one must keep in mind that according to the rules of her challenge, “each book must be by a different author and set in a different country.” This forces one to maintain a broad focus when it comes to selecting qualifying books. Speaking for myself, those requirements have helped inspire me to read books that deal with nations outside Western Europe, specifically places like Poland, Hungary, Ukraine and Bosnia. Therefore, during one of my recent library visits when I happened to come across the novel The Fall of Stone City by the Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare I eagerly grabbed it. After all, it’s not everyday one gets to read a novel set in the small Balkan nation of Albania.
Believe it or not, this is isn’t the first novel of Kadare’s I’ve read. Last fall on this blog I featured his 2002 novel Spring Flowers, Spring Frost. While I didn’t dislike Spring Flowers, Spring Frost it didn’t wow me either. When I reviewed it on my blog last October, this prompted me to express my mild disappointment with Kadare’s novel.
However, as daring and creative as Kadare was with Spring Flowers, Spring Frost overall I thought the novel lacked cohesion. Sometimes it felt choppy and at times the dialog seemed to suffer. The result is a novel that feels less than the sum of its parts. Fortunately Kadare is a prolific writer with a significant body of work. Perhaps the next novel of his I happen to read I will enjoy a bit more.
Well, it looks like I was wise to be optimistic because I’m happy to report that I liked The Fall of Stone City a lot more than Spring Flowers, Spring Frost. Who knows why. Maybe I liked it because the first part of the novel takes place during WWII when Albania was occupied by Nazi Germany. Maybe I liked it because the second part of the novel is set during last years of Stalin’s reign of terror, specifically the dark days of the “Doctors’ Plot.” On the other hand, maybe I liked it because it seemed better written than Spring Flowers, Spring Frost. Or maybe it seemed better written because it was translated directly from Albanian and not from a French translation of the original Albanian text. (Thank you Stu from Winston’s Dad for astutely pointing this out.) But I’m sure that Kadare’s mixture of history, tragedy, exotic Albanian culture and magical realism (not to mention a few plots twists along the way) helped make this a fairly enjoyable novel for me. (By the way, Jo from Jo V’s Book Pyramid also enjoyed it and wrote a very good review that’s worth checking out.)
Reading The Fall of Stone City taught me a valuable lesson. We’ve all heard the cliché that you can’t judge a book by its cover. In a similar fashion, perhaps I shouldn’t judge an author by just one book.