The Pyramid

Ismail Kadare

translated from the Albanian
Harvill Press 1996
A book review by Danny Yee © 2003
The pharaoh Cheops decides to defy tradition and not to build a pyramid, but his advisers talk him around, explaining that pyramids were introduced in order to prevent prosperity, because "prosperity, by making people more independent and freer in their minds, also made them more resistant to authority in general and to the power of the Pharaoh in particular". And so the word goes out to the quarries and the workers labour and die, in accidents or under the whip — and the rumours fly, speculation is rife, and the secret police have plenty to do.
When news broke that the pyramid was finished, the inhabitants of the capital, who were the first to hear it, were dumbfounded. A fair number cupped their hands to their ears.
"You said the investigation was finished?"
"No, not the investigation, old chap, the pyramid!"
"Oh, that pyramid ..."
The dirt of quite a different kind of construction was still on their backs; their ears were still full of the echoes of relentless interrogations: You maintain that you never were on row eighty-one? that you said nothing to the hauliers of stone number fifteen hundred and two? But why don't you confess? We know it all anyway! As a result, for a long while few people had cared very much about what was going on on the ground at Giza.

The Pyramid is not a historical novel — it makes no attempt to describe ancient Egypt — but rather an extended, multi-faceted parable of life in Albania under the communist dictatorship, with its grandiose plans and its paranoia, uncertainty, and arbitrariness. There is no plot as such and the characters are only pop-ups — the Sumerian ambassador baking tablets instead of carving stone, the scholar A.K. denouncing the "degenerate linguist" Jaqub Har, a group of working class tomb-robbers, and so forth. But Kadare keeps us turning the pages with his inventive humour, mixing subtle mockery, sardonic wit, and light-hearted slapstick. His is a unique but entrancing approach to political comedy.

July 2003

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%T The Pyramid
%A Kadare, Ismail
%M Albanian
%F Bellos, David
%F Vrioni, Jusuf
%I Harvill Press
%D 1996 [1992]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1860461247
%P 119pp