In 1978, China broke off its trade and other relations with Enver Hoxha's Albania. The 2 countries had been begun to be closely allied in the early 1960s, as was first reported in the West by the West German journalist Harry Hamm in his book Albania first published in English in 1962.
The Concert by Ismail Kadaré is a long novel set both in his native land Albania and also in the People's Republic of China during the final months of the friendship between the 2 distantly separated nations. Not only were they distantly separated geographically, but also culturally as his novel illustrates very clearly.
The reader is plunged into the world and family life of the upper echelons of Albanian bureaucracy. Their attempts to lead 'normal', almost bourgeois lives, are constantly overshadowed by the secretive machinations of Enver Hoxha's repressive regime. Plots are hatched (by whom we can never be sure), people are arrested and then released, consciences are searched (both by their owners and also by the state), people are sent from Tirana to the provinces and also to China, & self-interests compete with state interests. Kadaré's novel reveals both how normal and at the same time how abnormal life was in Albania. Friends visit each other, share meals and drink coffee together, but it only takes a telephone call or a rumour to cause turbulence in cosiness of the social setting.
I will not attempt to summarise the complex plot consisting of a number of sub-plots that gradually mesh together. However, as the story unfolds, so does the knot that had tied together the Chinese and Albanians. The effects that this unravelling has both on the Albanians and their soon-to-be former Chinese allies is beautifully conveyed in this book.
My only criticism of this long story, is that I found that the author's writing was less tight, less economical, and less concise, than in many of the other of his books that I have read. Apart from this, the book is a fascinating account of a peculiar episode in Balkan history written in Tirana (between 1977 & 1988, but first published in France) by someone who experienced it first hand.
Reviewed by the author of ALBANIA ON MY MIND and other books about the Balkans