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on 21 October 2013
Ismail Kadare (emphasis on the last syllable for both names) rightly has been repeatedly on the short list to win the Nobel Prize for the whole body of his writing. At the time he was publishing his major works, he did so in painful fear of the demented regime which controlled his native Albania from 1948 until 1985, and each work contains one or another aspect where the repressive nature of the regime is conducting a tacit struggle with this courageous author as to what could be said without triggering a dire reprisal.
I have travelled Albania extensively, both before and since reading this book (four visits in all), and I emerge with a huge enthusiasm for both country and author. The former is at risk of succumbing to commercial pressures - go there quickly before too much of the landscape suffers - but the works of Kadare should endure. This volume is an extrordinary idea, compellingly told. If you read it with half your mind on the regime that ultimately (but obliquely) is being depicted, you will surely end up being very impressed.
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on 12 February 2006
Kadaré's book takes us on a journey through the Albanian landscape, and through the mind of an Italian general, who has come to Albania to collect the remains of his country's soldier from the second world war. This plot allows for a lot of deep thoughts and emotions, which Kadaré examines properly. Through glimpses into the minds of Italian soldiers during the war he also delivers comments on the pointlessness of war, the loss of identity, and many other topics which could have been explored more. But that is left to the reader, and the philosophical reader may remain with these questions at hand long after finishing the book. A very moving book, and an author I simply must explore further.
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on 7 August 2006
I read the Quartet Books edition of this book which has a preface by David Smiley, an SOE operative in Albania during WW2. He usefully points out where Kadare's text glosses over the complexities of the war in Albania. Invaded in 1939 by the Italians, possibly as a springboard to invade Greece, it was later (when the Italians had been thrown back into Albania) simultaneously occupied by the Germans, a situation made even more complex when Italy capitulated and joined the Allies in the summer of 1943. Both before and after the Italian volte face the various factions (collaborators, monarchists, Communists, partisans, SOE operatives) waged a confusing war in unforgiving terrain. That said, Kadare was writing under difficult circumstances, and the book is gripping. Written between 1962-1966 it is a bleak picture of the futility of war. Since 1994 I have visited Albania a number of times, both independently and with guided tours, and I find the country fascinating. TGOTDA was my first Kadare novel; it won't be my last.
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on 1 April 1999
Kadare, in my opinion, is one of the greats in literature. This story is a classic example of deep meaning intertwined in the simple story of a general gathering his dead comrades from the mountains of Albania. Few can match the subtle messages Kadare gives in his storie. Well done.
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on 17 November 2012
Let it not be misunderstood by the title of this review that I wish to condemn all the other featured reviews as unbalanced. Instead, I am only trying to deflect the attention of the reader away from certain notorious stereotypes which one-star reviews have earned themselves (culminating in the cretin who alleged Shakespeare had stolen his plot lines from certain Hollywood blockbusters). I am not said cretin, and my whole purpose in writing this review is to, in a way, justify the other reviews I have contributed to Amazon. When people ask me what my least favourite book is, I invariably answer "Ismail Kadare's 'The General of the Dead Army.'" The usual responses to this statement are: "Who's he?"; "What made you want to read that?"; "What was so bad about it?" or "No, but what was your least favourite book which I HAVE heard of?" With the omission of the final question, I shall attempt to relate my usual response in this review, albeit in a far more prosaic and self-important manner.

I decided to read 'The General of the Dead Army' as a part of my ever expanding obscure reading program. This has so far led me to read ancient Chinese poetry, pithy American travelogues and perhaps most rewardingly Ferdinand Ossendowsi's excellent "Beasts, Men and Gods." More specifically, I sought a book which I could take with me on a holiday to the Greek Adriatic coast, and fell upon Kadare through some chance so trivial I have completely forgotten it.

Firstly the language. It is awful. Before I decry the author, I should point out that I am reading the Derek Coltman translation for Vintage, and Mr. Coltman is quite probably the source of many of the novel's appalling phrases. The whole thing is coated in the most dull and uninteresting prose I have yet had the displeasure to read, perhaps comparable in its elegance to the stage directions of renaissance drama. The style may result from a rather unfortunate attempt to imitate Hemingway, or it may be native to Kadare. The fact that Coltman was translating from the French version of the novel, itself a translation from the original Albanian, may have something to do with it, but I find that the quality of the writing is so horrendous that the author can't be completely absolved of responsibility. Even for someone whose favourite writer is Tolstoy -- hardly remembered for his purple prose -- I find Kadare a touch too simplistic, relating, as he does, events in such painful slow-mo that I fell asleep on the beach more than once with this book open on my chest.

However, the problems don't end there. I failed to identify or sympathise with any of the characters in any way -- I detected that Kadare wants us to feel sorry for the poor Italian general dragged all the way to Albania to dig up bodies, but we hear far too little about the life, tastes and opinions of even him to make a connection. At some points Kadare gives us juicy snippets of information, such as the fact that the priest is not necessarily as celibate and angelic as he seems, but fails to follow these up to any kind of conclusion. I found myself at the end of the book wondering what had happened to all of the sub-plots, and whether my edition had pages missing. I realise that Kadare may be attempting to "mimic the alienation of modern society" by divorcing his characters from any kind of common humanity, but frankly it doesn't do it for me.

The final issue I will talk about (for there are many more I simply don't have time to mention) is Kadare's depiction of Albania. As an Albanian himself, one would expect Kadare to paint his homeland in warm oranges and rustic reds, but instead the country is depicted in a monotone grey. Rain, mud, concrete, corpses, misery, poverty, hostility, boredom. Perhaps Kadare is being ironic, I hear you cry, depicting the nation as it will inevitably appear to the infidel foreign general. But no. Not even the Albanian people seem enticing, and for once in a war novel the depiction of the Germans is preferable than that of the natives. Had I discovered this book with its title page torn off and all reference to Kadare erased, I would have thought this novel was the work of some embittered Italian private who hoped to reclaim some of his lost wartime years by giving the nation he was posted to a thorough trashing. Indeed, so miserable is Kadare's description that I frequently felt the book gave a grey tint to my own holiday in Epirus, despite the uniformly pleasant weather and people I experienced there.

Given the book's low quality and depressing aspect, it is strange that Vintage saw fit to publish it at all, especially under their 'Classics' imprint. I've read better books which are completely out of print, and, for a while, I was perturbed by the callousness of Vintage's decision. However, the key to the book's relative popularity with publishers lies, I think, in the fact that Kadare is an Albanian -- rather ironic considering his depiction of the country. There is a great pressure, and rightly so, on publishers like Vintage who purport to assemble a list of 'classic' reads, not to focus too strongly on western Europe and North America, and Kadare is simply a convenient plug for the hole of Albanian fiction. That is not to say that there aren't better Albanian writers out there (and I sincerely hope there are), but Kadare is the only one you're likely to find in Waterstone's. In printing his early novels, Vintage is hoping to establish something of an Albanian literary genus, although it would've been nice if they'd read the book before they endorsed it.

However, as I said at the start, I'm just the screaming madman one-star reviewer. For all I know my opinion is completely wrong and Kadare deserves the four-and-a-half stars he currently enjoys. This, naturally, won't stop me from truthfully telling people that this is the worst book I've ever read.
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on 11 December 1999
It is based in a real story happened during the 2nd World war. Kadare has reported it very realistically. Everyone can clearily and easily understand it. Albania is proud of having such a precious representative in the books' world.
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on 3 August 1999
This is the best novel written from Kadare. The story is so original, the style so breathtaking and the characters so interesting yet so real. Kadare is the ALBANIAN GENIUS. BRAVO!
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on 6 January 1999
I could not stop reading the book, from cover to cover. Very well-written. Kudos to the author.
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on 19 August 1996
Fascinating document, written in an
impressive style.
Gives an important item of the
inflections that this bloodshed country
and people underwent.
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