The Palace of Dreams

Ismail Kadare

translated from the Albanian
William Morrow 1993
A book review by Danny Yee © 2012
Mark-Alem has a new job, working in the Tabir Sarrail, the Palace of Dreams, which monitors the dreams of the empire's subjects for signs and portents.

He gradually gets to know the different units of the Palace of Dreams: Reception, where dream-carriers bring the dreams which have been written down and collected around the empire; Selection, where the interesting dreams are weeded from the dross and fabrications; Interpretation, which tries to find meaning in the dreams; the Master Dream office, which selects one dream a week to send to the Sultan, to be used in guiding state policy; and the Archives, where dreams going back to the founding of the Ottoman state are stored.

The Tabir Sarrail is a mysterious building where finding one's way around works in a dream-like fashion, and where the employees exchange rumours and speculation. The intrigue outside is just as thick. Mark-Alem's mother is from the Quiprili (Köprülü) family, an Albanian lineage that has long provided the state with high officials, and he has taken his job at the instigation of his uncle the Vizier. He can't stop a master dream being used against the family, however, and forces opposed to them get in a dramatic night-time blow. But then the Quiprili strike back...

Mark-Alem remains almost entirely passive in all of this. His gradual discovery of the workings of the Palace proceeds through a combination of accident and patronage, while he is, despite being at its centre, almost an on-looker in the political power struggle. This makes a compelling drama, however, and there's plenty more to drive the story along. None of the other characters are developed, but Mark-Alem's internal turmoil, the infiltration of fear into his psyche and his distancing from the world outside the Palace all progress convincingly.

The Palace of Dreams was banned on publication in Albania in 1981 and it can certainly be read as a critique of totalitarianism, exposing its organisational and psychological logic. It is not an abstract metaphor, however, but a direct and only slightly fantasised depiction of an actual state, a quite realistic Ottoman empire into which a bureaucracy managing dreams fits remarkably naturally. It illustrates Kadare's ability to operate seamlessly on multiple levels.

April 2012

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%T The Palace of Dreams
%A Kadare, Ismail
%M Albanian
%F Bray, Barbara
%F Vrioni, Jusuf
%I William Morrow
%D 1993
%O hardcover
%G ISBN 0688111831
%P 205pp