The File on H

Thomas Jones writes:

The architect of the Successor’s rebuilt house longs for the separation of art from politics. But as The File on H, perhaps Kadare’s wittiest and most brilliant book, illustrates, such a separation is impossible. The File on H was published in two parts in the Albanian literary review Nëntori in 1980-81. In 1979, at a conference in Ankara, Kadare had met the American folklorist Albert Lord, who in the 1930s had travelled to the Balkans, primarily to Serbia, but to Albania too, with the classicist Milman Parry, in order to make recordings of the oral poets of the region as part of a study into the Homeric tradition. The File on H grew out of Kadare’s conversation with Lord. Sometime in the 1930s, two young Irish American scholars from Harvard, Max Ross and Bill Norton, arrive in the provincial city of N— in northern Albania, laden with newfangled recording equipment and professing a purely academic interest in the oral poetry of the area. The Albanian Embassy in Washington has sent a message to the Ministry of the Interior in Tirana, mentioning in passing that ‘one cannot rule out the possibility that the two visitors are spies.’

(LRB 6 September 2007)

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