The General of the Dead Army

Ismail Kadare

translated from the Albanian by Derek Coltman
Harvill Press 2000 [1963]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2008
In The General of the Dead Army an Italian general comes to Albania to recover the remains of the Italian soldiers who died there during the Second World War, twenty years ago. For nearly a year he works his way through his lists, supervising the location of burials, the digging up of bodies, and the comparison of heights and dental records. His enthusiasm is steadily cooled by his confrontation with Albania and the relics of war.

His only companion is a taciturn priest, who may have had an affair with the widow of the highest ranking missing soldier. And he meets a German lieutenant-general, accompanied by a mayor, performing the same duty for their dead. He spends his time surrounded by mountains and villages, rain and fog and cold, and the sullen resentment of the Albanians. He uncovers stories from the war itself, including the diary of an Italian deserter and a cafe-owner's description of a town having a military brothel stationed in it. And he experiences the death of a local workman and a dramatic encounter with an old woman during a visit to a local wedding feast.

All of this contributes to his growing disillusionment with his task and his steady psychological disintegration, which are revealed to us through his actions and conversations. On his departure from Albania everything he has done and experienced seems to amount no nothing, with the outside world unchanged.

Published in 1963, The General of the Dead Army was the first of Kadare's novels to attract international attention. It would make a good starting point for newcomers to his work.

February 2008

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%T The General of the Dead Army
%A Kadare, Ismail
%M Albanian
%F Coltman, Derek
%I Harvill Press
%D 2000 [1963]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1860466443
%P 264pp