Brazil seen from Albania

Image: Adir Sodré


Commentary on the novel “Dossiê H”, by Ismail Kadaré

Ismail Kadaré is a notable figure in the world of literature. The fact that he is Albanian makes him a type of platypus, a very rare, endemic specimen. If he had been born in Java or in the Fiji Islands, remote places that we only know through images of the National Geographic, would be understandable. But Albania is in Europe, it borders Greece, and only a few miles of Adriatic Sea separates it from the heel of an Italian boot. Between Greeks and Romans, therefore. How has a country like this been isolated for so long from so-called western culture? It is true that after World War II it went through an obscure communist dictatorship, but what about the previous twenty centuries?

Kadaré became known to Brazilians after his beautiful novel shattered april was scripted for the big screen by Karim Ainouz and directed by Walter Salles. A tragic story of betrayals and revenge, in an almost medieval atmosphere, was transplanted to the Brazilian Northeast with talent and respect for the original plot.

But Kadaré is not just tragedy. Dossier H, written in 1991, ten years before Abril Despedaçado, is very funny. At least until the first half of the story…

Two young Irish, literature students in New York, in the 1930s, decide to go to Albania (then a kingdom, ruled by King Zog). They believe that there are hints of the Homerist tradition there, that is, the Iliad and the Odyssey. They want to demonstrate that the rhapsodes of Albanian popular culture carry with them the ancestral marks of the great epic. The researchers take a newly invented device, a tape recorder, where they intend to record the Homeric chants.

The Albanian Embassy grants the visas, but suspects that they are spies. The mayor of the remote region where they are going to settle is instructed to watch over them. The mayor's wife sees in the Irish an opportunity for a forbidden romance, capable of taking her out of the monotony in which she lives.

The plot is created. Little by little, we are immersed in the Albanian rural culture, in the tradition of the rhapsodes, in the isolation of the Balkan Peninsula. Conflicts between tradition and modernity, erudite and popular culture, science and superstition are skillfully placed on the table.

For members of a fanatical obscurantist sect, the device that records voices must be destroyed, and that will add a sinister twist to the plot. Kadaré resumes an ancestral theme of the clash between science and conservatism: the truth cannot be revealed.

Rereading the work in 2020, in Brazil, we cannot help but have the impression that history is repeating itself, once again. The advance of “sects of obscurantist fanatics” is visible in all areas. The threat of deleting videos, films, recordings and cinematheques is present, and it is fueled by the faction currently in power. Disregard for academic knowledge and research is evident, with funding cuts, attacks on universities and the abandonment of museums and the closure of programs to promote culture. We watched the grotesque mayor of Rio de Janeiro form a gang, paid with public money, to prevent recordings and reports on the health situation. The different, whether black, woman, gay, unionist or indigenous, is treated as an enemy.

A biased reading of book 22 of the Odyssey, mnesterophony, where Odysseus (Ulysses, in the Latin version) kills all the suitors to Penelope's hand - or to the throne - could give rise to mythological desires for the current holders of power. As reading the classics is not part of their narrow repertoire, they are content to repeat historical procedures seasoned with ignorance, backwardness and gang behavior, with the connivance of venal justice and a corrupted legislature. res publica of the Romans, is stimulated by churches that yearn for a new Medieval Era, of crusades against the “enemy”.

Em Dossier H, Kadaré involves us with his sense of humor, and little by little he unveils the barbarism, leading to a dramatic finale, where he masterfully merges the legend of the blind epic poet with the reality that we have a hard time seeing. Delicious novel, written by one of the great masters of contemporary literature.

* Daniel Brazil é writer, author of the novel suit of kings (Penalux), screenwriter and TV director, music and literary critic.


Ismail Kadare. H dossier. Sao Paulo, Companhia das Letras.


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