In the 1930's two American scholars, Parry and Lord, went to Yugoslavia to record local bards' recitations of epic poetry. Their results influenced the way oral compositions in literature were viewed, and in particular Homer's works. This book imagines two similar academics coming to rural Northern Albania around the same time to record the equivalent Albanian epics. They are welcomed by local dignitaries, but also spied on. Their new-tech tape-recorder is considered spooky and dangerous. There is ethnic tension in nearby Kosovo. The bards are in short supply as the tradition is on the point of dying out. And one of the academics seems to be going blind, like Homer.
The novel, written in 1981, contains satire on pretensions among the local bourgeoisie, on the 'backwardness' of Albania in general and on its then-pervasive culture of informers, as well as some heavier humour of the frustrated-wife type. Some of it's written as the elaborately-conceited reports of one of the spies, a joke that got tiresome to me. There are interesting thoughts about orality and epic, despite lots of static scenes with characters thinking the same things they've thought before, and a rather thin plot. It seems to have been translated from Albanian via French, and now and then ('she had had an adventure with one of them') I thought I could detect this. But I liked its unusual setting, and the poignancy of its wider subject - the final, slow death of the earliest kind of European literature - really comes across.