Albania is overpowered and tossed around between predators ; first Italy, then Nazi Germany, then the Soviet Union. Its ancient city Gjirokastër represents historic cultural traditions of honour and virtue, but its population squirms and vacillates under the successive invaders’ threats. Enver Hoxha and Ismail Kadare both come from Gjirokastër, but represent diametrically opposite persona, the first to become Albania’s ruthless Stalinist dictator, and Kadare his literary critic.
Reminiscent of Mikhail Bulgakov’s taunting of Stalin, and of Franz Kafka’s depiction of the totalitarian state, Kadare mocks the control and inquisitions of the communist state. Like K in Kafka, and the artist in Bulgakov, Kadare’s story’s victim, the elderly doctor Gurameto, though cruelly manipulated and tortured, remains noble and fearless under the thuggish regimes, a model of moral resistance which they cannot eradicate.