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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ties That Bind,
The French philosopher and scientist Blaise Pascal once suggested that we "imagine a number of men in chains and all condemned to death, where some are killed each day in the sight of the others, and those who remain see their own fate in that of their fellows and wait their turn, looking at each other sorrowfully and without hope. It is an image of the condition of man."
It is also the image of Kosovo and the rest of the Balkans painted so vividly by Albanian poet and writer Ismail Kadare in his masterfully imagined "Three Elegies for Kosovo". As the book's title suggests Three Elegies consists of three inter-related stories centered on a famous battle that took place in Kosovo more than 615 years ago. On June 28, 1389 a combined army of Serbs, Bosnians, Albanians and Romanians waged a fierce battle against an Ottoman-Turkish army in Kosovo on the Field of the Blackbirds. The battle was seen as one in which the combined Balkan armies fought on behalf of Christian Europe to halt the surging westward expansion of the Islamic Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman army, led by Sultan Murad I was victorious. The Sultan was killed on the day of the battle and was buried in Kosovo. Ironically, despite their victory the Turks never followed up on this victory and did not return to the region for another 150 years.
The first story takes us from the night before the June 28, 1389 battle and through the battle itself. In the camp of the combined army on the eve of the battle peoples who have long fought each other prepare to fight a common enemy. Old animosities are forgotten temporarily. The soldiers and officers, drinking perhaps too much, demand that their minstrels sing songs to prepare them for battle. The minstrels (who serve as narrators of the first two stories) sing battle songs but they are songs in which the Serbs speak of the horrid Albanians, and the Albanians sing songs of the hated Serbs. When asked why they rely on these old songs the minstrels respond that songs take long to change than alliances.
The second story begins at the end of the battle. The minstrels, along with the others, are devastated by the loss and begin wandering west. The Balkans were considered the 'fringe' of Europe by Europeans even them. As they wander, some of the old animosities come back. They face hunger, suspicion, persecution and the occasional act of kindness.
The third story, "The Royal Prayer" is the most moving of the three. As noted, the victorious Sultan Murad I was killed at the battle and buried in Kosovo. This story is narrated in the voice of Murad's spirit, locked in his tomb. We read of his watching as the same battles rage around him, unresolved, for six hundred years. He catches snippets of information from newspapers tossed aside near the tomb. "From these I learn what is going on all around. The surprising names of viziers and countries: NATO, R. Cook, Madeline Albright. The slaughter of children in Drenice." The more things change.
Kadare has said, in commenting on the symbolic importance of the 1389 battle that "on the six hundredth anniversary of the battle in 1989, Milosevic launched the first massacre of Kosovars, and started the explosion of Yugoslavia." Kadare says, in the second elegy, that "[t]he Serb's eyes were filled with the same tragic laments. Both men were prisoners, tied to each other by ancient chains, which they could not and did not want to break." As seen through the eyes of Ismail Kadare the chains that bind the people of the Balkans are old, strong, and not easily broken. The beauty of his prose highlights the tragedy of what he describes.
Some may challenge Kadare's viewpoint or suggest he bears, as an Albanian, the prejudices of his ancestors. As an outsider all I saw was an exposition on a tragedy whose beginning cannot be traced and whose ending cannot be seen.
Three Elegies for Kosovo is a beautiful little (87 pages) book and one well worth reading.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Passionate about freedom and its place in our world? read on,
The Balkans and their tattered history formed part of my degree studies twenty years ago. Ten years ago when the most recent Balkan wars hit our conciousness I felt angry at how a complex human issue was degraded and over simplified in the media.
Since then I have read a number of books about the Balkan issues raised by Kadare; none have explained or described them as effectively. This short book can be read as if one of Aesop's fables; much of the language has a dreamy fairy tale magic about it. Or it could be a straight forward history lesson, describing the causes of a complex human conflict. Perhaps one could read it as a philosophical treatise on the essence of freedom and man's response to that freedom. Although the book's most poignant use should possibly be as prayer from the heart of mankind to let understanding become the last resort rather than festering destructive conflict.
However one takes it, the language is sparkling, concentrated and very readable; there are very few untranslated words and no feeling that the translation lets the reader down. While I was reading I found myself contemplating a variety of images of conflict and their effect on my attitudes; I felt profoundly challenged to think more widely. The principles and values Kadare describes are common, almost a currency, to so many human situations and in expressing them so simply and with such beautiful words it is hard not to remember them or be inspired to continue championing them despite current deeply felt fears.
This book should be compulsory reading for anyone, if not all of us, involved in the debate over what constitutes freedom or democracy; especially those who profess to be our leaders. This is a book of great import and should be read more widely!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kadare's most beautiful and intriguing book to date,
By A Customer
I have been a great admirer of Kadare's books for many years and I recommend all of them to anyone who has not read him yet. But this book is without a doubt his most lyrical and beautiful. Here his poetic and lyrical powers are at their peak. It is a short but beautiful novel in three parts that makes clear the undertones of what has made Kosovo the way it is. I was particularly taken by the royal mystery at the beginning and the friendship of the Albanian and the Serb minstrels. I recommend it without hesitation to all wishing to read beautiful prose and to all interested in the sad fate of Kosovo. Helena Czerna
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetry; Mesmerising Poetry,
"Samarkand", and "The Gardens of Light" of the Lebanese born writer Amin Maalouf REALLY ignited my interest to the writings of Arab authors and authors from the Near East especially Turkey. Ismail Kadare of Albania has always eluded my attention.
I finished reading "Palace of Dreams" and "Broken April". Now that I've finished reading "Three Elegies for Kosovo" I can't resist the temptation of letting others know about the book.
The Book reads like poetry, like a ghazal from beginning to end, simply mesmerising. Each chapter is self contained in the sense they speak for themselves on their own, and at the same time fall into pieces like a tapestry when read together.
What do you call this type of writing, fiction, non-fiction, historical? I think the critiques may have to coin a new phrase.
It's really a pity not too many people speak Albanian, and even more pity that a rare gem like Ismail Kadare is not so well known in spite of being the First Recipient of the Man Booker Prize in 2005.
I'm not giving you the story away. Just two comments-- this book deserves more than five stars; and I'll pay money to buy this book again, if not for myself then as gift to introduce and inspire someone else, anyday Each of the 87 pages is worth is weight in gold!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Three Elergies for Kosovo,
By A Customer
"There were times when the peninsula seemed truly large, with enough space for everyone. But times had changed, and there was a feeling of inexplicable tension in the air." Kadare's short but absorbing three-part fictionalisation of one of the defining episodes in Balkan history is simply a gem of a piece, characterised by an almost biblical prose. It is June 1389 and Sultan Murad I decides to move his empire a few hundred miles to the west. The Ottoman army duly meets a Christian force made up of Serbs, Bosnians, Albanians and Rumanians on the 'Field of the Balckbirds', later to become known as Kosovo. After ten hours, the Sultan possesses the field; an outcome that has haunted the vanquished ever since. Kadare has been compared to Kafka and Orwell, and it is easy to see why this piece - an elegantly styled translation from the original Albanian - has been well received on publication in English. Evoking all the tension, horror and excitement of a great historical battle, the book manages to balance this with a sense of the tragedy and loss of peoples the course and content of whose everyday lives are decided by the whims, intrigues and aspirations of the mighty. The third elegy is particularly powerful, taking the form of a prayer from Murad himself, killed in battle and yearning to be released from six hundred years of entombed purgatory. He speaks of the names and acts of the latter-day viziers and princes who continue to wreak havoc on the peninsula; names written on shreds of tattered newspaper, thrown away by travellers: "Milosevic. NATO. R. Cook. Madeleine Albright. The slaughter of the children of Drenice." Possessed by a deep-rooted realism and a poetic earnestness, this book is a must for anyone interested in probing beyond the newsreels to find evidence of a "sickness that European civilisation has carried in its bloodstream for six hundred years".
4.0 out of 5 stars Insight into the Balkans,
These three short stories give possibly the best insight into the Balkans that I know. The section where the three minstrels can only sing songs of hate for one another is perfectly relevant now.
The other reviews have gone into great and insightful detail so I won't duplicate what they've said.
All I'll add is that it is an excellent way of understanding a fascinating part of the world and a good introduction to one of Europe's finest writers.
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Three Elegies For Kosovo by Ismail Kadare (Paperback - 5 May 2011)