Ismail Kadare — The Pyramid (1995)
Setting: Ancient Egypt.
What’s its about? The building of the pyramids as a political parable for communist rule. The premise is that Egypt’s rulers build pyramids to “destroy prosperity” and keep the populace in obeisance through suffering, whereas a taste of prosperity would make them demand even more.
Egypt needed to find some means of consuming the excess energy of its population. To launch works colossal beyond imagining, the better to debilitate its inhabitants, to suck them dry. In a word, something exhausting, something that would destroy body and soul, and without any possible utility. Or to put it more precisely, a project as useless to its subjects as it would be indispensable to the State.”
Which puts major government projects from the Olympics to dams in context!
What does it tell us about Albania? It is obviously based on the Communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha, but its more political philosophy than specifically Albanian. It is full of clever allusions to Communism, replete with raving, paranoid despots, petty bureaucrats, regular purges and a populace in fear of speaking out.
The prose is rich in the spirit of political intrigue, a little like an Armando Ianucci script, such as the High Priest explaining that Pyramids are not built as burial tombs but as a response to a great crisis for despotic regimes – prosperity:
The High Priest was aware of the importance of pausing between sentences. Pauses gave greater weight and elevation to thoughts, just as the shade on women’s eyelids intensifies the mystery of their glance.”
Why you should read it: For the pleasure of considering the double-meaning in every sentence, at once story and critique of totalitarianism.
Read more: The Siege, a forensic account of an Ottoman siege of an Albanian castle and the political intrigues that drive history on. A medieval West Wing. One for history buffs.
You’ll like this if you liked: Kafka, Darkness at Noon, Gogol.