As winter fell away and the Sultan's envoys departed, we realised that was was our ineluctable fate.
–Ismail Kadare (trans. David Bellos) - The Siege - c.1970,2008
Sometime in the fifteenth century, an unnamed Albanian citadel is under siege by the Ottoman army. Among the besiegers is Mevla Celebi, the chronicler or historian. He will record the events for posterity. His job is to compose the story of the Ottoman’s campaign. He is the reader’s main viewpoint, among others, including two or three pages in between in each chapter from the point of view of the Albanians besieged in their castle.
And I have to say, that from the start I was not all that taken with the invading captain. His treatment of his wives did not endear him to me. Nor did any subsequent action, thought, or deed, that we see from him.
In fact none of the characters were all that relatable.
But in reading this book you need to be aware of the situation in which is was written. Albania in the 1970s, under the threat of the USSR, and under paranoia and tyrannical rule from within. It had a siege mentality all of its own.
And writing at the time Kadare was probably sensible to write of the brave Albanians in defence of their homeland, even if the actions of the Ottoman general with his secret police and scapegoat-trials are more like what was actually going on.
It is an interesting read but I don’t think this is a book I particularly enjoyed. The political power struggle within the besieging army is really what is at the heart of the book, and there is a sort of depressing inevitable to it all that I found a little wearing. And yet I still read it all and had a lot of interest in it. I think that it would probably work better if I knew more about the history of Albania. Both the mythological withstanding-the-Muslim-invaders history and the 1960/70s secret police type history.