In this autobiographical novel, Albania's most renowned novelist and poet Ismail Kadare explores his relationship with his mother in a tale of home, family, creative aspirations, and personal and political freedom.
Ismail Kadare, the prolific Albanian novelist, is best known as an ironist who has earned comparisons to George Orwell and Milan Kundera, writing in the face of the ruthless Communist dictator Enver Hoxha ... [Kadare] returned to his country only several years later, after receiving a call from his siblings informing him of the illness of his mother, whom he called the Doll. Such is the premise of Kadare’s autobiographical novel of the same title, originally published in Albanian in 2015 and now translated by John Hodgson into English ... Readers already familiar with Kadare’s writing will most likely find this delicate work of remembrance rewarding ... Kadare likens his project to a Russian poem in which the poet repeats the Russian word for 'mother,' mat, three times, and on the fourth repetition leaves the word unfinished: matmatmatma. The final syllable — tma — means 'darkness.' 'An endless cycle of matma, "motherdarkness,"' Kadare writes, 'in which both the mother and the darkness remain beyond understanding.'
... Ismail Kadare’s autobiographical novel can be read as an elegant, slightly bittersweet coming-of-age memoir, touched with nostalgia for a homeplace that is now long lost ... The Doll is full of compelling details of life in a changing Albania, as the citizenry come to terms with various hues of communist rule under Soviet-backed Enver Hoxha. One of the funniest accounts is of the day, in 1953, when condoms arrive for the first time in the pharmacy ... The Doll is rich with such touches, alongside many of Kadare’s familiar concerns – with the folkloric roots of modern life, say, or the absurdity of Albanian politics. However, the poignant observation, bitter irony and misspoken fear running through the narrator’s central relationship with his mother, a woman secretly terrified of being disowned as unworthy the moment her son achieves the fame he so desires, are what dominate this fascinating study of a difficult love.
Some of the greatest novelists write with a forensic honesty about history and their countries. Ismail Kadare is one of them ... In 2015, at 78, he published The Doll in Albanian, turning that questing skill to a fraught set of subjects: his family home and his mother. The Doll, now published in John Hodgson’s English translation, is a short but intense autobiographical novel. In just 176 pages, with concentrated brilliance Kadare — who received the first International Man Booker Prize in 2005 — fictionalises his youth and his mother’s life ... This is not a book that a newcomer to Kadare should read first but, in its weaving of family history, Albania’s turmoil, and the life of a writer shaped by women’s words and anguishes, it is an essential work. The Doll is mesmerising, and like Kadare’s family home, conceals both darkness and flashes of light in its interior. Perhaps no one ever fully unravels the puzzle of their own pasts, their parents’ lives, but Kadare takes us through a secret entrance as far as he, and we, can bear to go into those hidden chambers.