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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Little Muddled but Enjoyable
The H of the title is Homer (of Odyssey and Iliad fame), and the central figures of this tragicomic satire are two Harvard researchers who arrive in Albania during the reign of King Zog (1930s) to study the oral epic tradition and its relation to Homer. Armed with the newly invented reel-to-reel tape recorder, they set themselves up a remote region where they will...
Published on 11 April 2006 by A. Ross

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Singers and Spies
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...
Published on 6 Mar 2011 by Bob Ventos


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Singers and Spies, 6 Mar 2011
This review is from: The File on H (Paperback)
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.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Little Muddled but Enjoyable, 11 April 2006
By 
A. Ross (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The File On H (Paperback)
The H of the title is Homer (of Odyssey and Iliad fame), and the central figures of this tragicomic satire are two Harvard researchers who arrive in Albania during the reign of King Zog (1930s) to study the oral epic tradition and its relation to Homer. Armed with the newly invented reel-to-reel tape recorder, they set themselves up a remote region where they will convince passing "rhapsodes" to recite epics into the tape recorder for later analysis. Alas, the idea of this is so preposterous to the paranoid Albanian authorities that they assume the two researchers are spies, and so order the governor of the remote province to keep a close eye on them. He, in turn, enlists the services of his most trusted informer, Dull Baxhaja, whose florid reports are the primary enlivener of the governor's dull days.
Somewhat wacky hijinks ensue, as the governor's wife dreams of a romantic assignation with one of the researchers, and Dull's reports grow more and more darkly comic. Originally written in 1981, the book is eerily prescient with regard to contemporary nationalist Balkan politics, as a wandering Serbian monk enters the story, takes umbrage that the researchers are not interested in Serbian epics, and stirs up trouble for them. At the same time, the theme of paranoia and emphasis on the rivalry between various informers is itself a satire on the grim nature of Communist Albania under the Hoxhas. Amidst all this, Kadare is also trying to say something about the elusive nature of art and historical memory. The overall effect is a little muddled, but not unenjoyable.
Note: The novel grew out of Kadare's 1970 meeting in the with Albert Lord, a notable scholar of oral epics who told Kadare of his travels in the former Yugoslavia as the assistant to Milman Parry during 1933-35. Affiliated with Harvard, Parry and he engaged in much the same kind of research as the two characters in the novel -- albeit with rather more successful results. In fact, part of the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature at Harvard has been digitized, and it is now possible to hear some of their field recordings online!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, knowing and will keep you thinking, 9 May 2008
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D. O'Reilly "Dom O'Reilly" (West London, forever) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The File On H (Paperback)
The previous reviewers have outlined the plot so I won't go over that.

It's probably the most straightforward of Kadare's novels and yet within lies layers that will have you teasing out ideas for a long time afterwards.

Almost every character ends up disappointed yet this is not a depressing book, rather it's told with sly wit and an awareness of the human character.

I raced through it in a weekend and have since reread it twice.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More than a curiosity, 22 Sep 2005
This review is from: The File On H (Paperback)
This is a deceptively-written book - it has the feel of an Edwardian travelogue as we are taken on a picaresque voyage through rural pre-War Albania. It soon turns into a political parable that has specific reference to Communist times and timeless reference to the eternal Human clash between Idealistic intellectual adventure and nasty brutish reality.
One of those that will stick with you for weeks after reading, both thanks to the haunting atmosphere, the colourful characters and the intellectual resonance.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Tintin in Tirana, 28 May 2014
By 
Simon Barrett "Il penseroso" (london, england) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The File On H (Paperback)
'She picked up the telephone under her customary cloud of melancholy'

You really need to get right to the end of this novella-length yarn to get the point. We are in an alt reality Albania with a comic opera slant, not quite as convincing as the hybrid Ruritania in Dan Jacobson's Confessions of Josef Baisz but that turns out to be not so far from the truth, as the translator's note makes clear. The translation is adequate, though 'totally lost, like they had been 'let drop' by a bird of prey' is both clumsy ('let drop' for laissés tomber) and uncouth (that 'like'). Was this the best Kadare to begin with?
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3.0 out of 5 stars A glimpse into Albania, 6 May 2013
By 
Amanda Jenkinson "MandyJ" (Cheltenham) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The File on H. (Paperback)
In this outwardly simple tale, acclaimed Albanian author Ismail Kadare mixes satire and scholarship and offers a glimpse into 1930s provincial life in an Albania ruled over by the despotic King Zog. Written in Tirana in 1981 when Albania was being ruled by the equally repressive regime of Enver Hoxha, the parallels were too close for comfort and by the end of the 1980s Kadare had fled to France.
Two Irish-American scholars from Harvard, Bill Ross and Max Norton, arrive in Albania to study the tradition of oral epic poetry. Armed with the newly-invented tape-recorder, they hope to record the last genuine rhapsodes, itinerant singers who recite the epics at weddings and funerals and other such events, to the accompaniment of a single-stringed instrument called the lahuta. By comparing different versions of the epics, they hope to discover how such poems are preserved and passed on through the ages. The answers, they hope, will shed light on the question of whether Homer (the H of the title) was the single author many assume him to be, or whether his was simply the name given to a collective.
Suspected of being spies, the two are closely monitored by the somewhat bemused Governor's agents, as they set up their base in a remote inn at the crossroads of two major highways where they can expect to meet some of the last remaining rhapsodes. All goes well at first. The rhapsodes are willing to cooperate and Ross and Norton start to collect their recordings. However, this is the Balkans, and they cannot escape local politics. Matters do not proceed quite as they wish.
Based on a similar real-life expedition made by Milman Parry and Albert Lord in Bosnia, this short novel is an engaging and sometimes though-provoking examination into the complexities of recording a dying oral culture, and at the same time a gentle look at the dreariness and ennui of provincial life. However, the characters are never fully-fledged and often seem to be little more than caricatures. The scholarship, and the insights into Homer's authorship, is interesting, but the mix of serious scholarship and satire doesn't completely come off, and I was left at the end feeling that I'd learnt quite a lot but hadn't developed any sort of connection with the protagonists. Nor does it feel particularly "Albanian" - I felt it could have been set in any small relatively backward country. Nevertheless, I tentatively recommend it, if only because there are so few Albanian authors to choose from, and it is at least an introduction to Kadare's work.
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The File on H. by Ismail Kadare (Paperback - 6 Jun 2002)
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