Ismail Kadare essay
The Palace of Dreams, written in Tirana between 1976 and 1981, takes us into an entirely different universe set at the fictitious crossroads of a twentieth century dictatorship and the fourteenth century Ottoman Empire. Characters from those ancient times mix with contemporary characters—state employees and office clerks reminiscent of Kafka’s world—in a bureaucratic labyrinth identical to any other bureaucracy, save for its purpose: to collect, sort, interpret and finally choose the “Master-dream” of all the dreams dreamt throughout the Empire, and to decipher in it the fate of the Empire and of its rulers.
The Palace of Dreams incorporates the traits of all powerful secret institutions—one cannot help think of the Sigurimi, the Albanian Secret Police of the Communist era—as well as the characteristics of an almost Totemic figure, a Kafkaesque Castle whose rules no one can figure out. Kadare himself has declared that this is probably his best novel from a literary standpoint, and very likely his most courageous, an opinion the Albanian Communist regime must have agreed with, considering that shortly after its release the novel was banned.
But Kadare’s genius is such that, in the end, the Palace of Dreams has no precise signification, except that revealed by its name. It is a fabulous, otherworldly place where the “real world” doesn’t exist, sleep is reality’s only substance, and it isn’t the real, as we know from Freud, that brings the dream into being, but the other way around. Thus, at the end of the novel, one of the dreams that the main character, Mark-Alem Quprili, who works at the Palace, sorted and filed at the beginning of the novel, makes an unexpected appearance, literally acting upon the present and causing the drama the reader has been anticipating all along.
Kadare is someone I’ve always meant to read—especially his General of the Dead Army —but I’ve never managed to get to him yet. This essay is awfully inspiring though.