The life of the artist in the communist dictatorship

Thoughts about the novel “Slaves of the peace” of the writer Shefki Hysa

Although the books of the writer Shefki Hysa treat all in all rich problems and topics, they are characterized by the reveal and the unmasking of the communist dictatorship, the reflection with realism and veracity of the ordinary people’s life in that fierce and vicious period, when the poorest population of Europe shouldered the weight, the violence and the terror of the most sanguinary dictatorship of the continent. In this sense while in the novel “The cursed heaven” the author points out the tableaus of people’s lives during the dictatorship, in “Slaves of the peace” he moots an important problem and somewhat special, little touched in our literature: the problem of the lives and the work of the artists during the dictatorship.
The problem of the artist is bound up with the problem of the system, under of which a population lives. The artists are the most sensible stratum of it and always in opposition with every kind of political power that doesn’t accomplish the obligations toward the country and its population. But the communist dictatorship is so much severe and powerful that with its terror, diablerie and astuteness, it was able to convert even these petrels of the truth in “slaves of a silent war under the blessing of the peace…Yes, yes! Slaves of the peace”… (P, 91). Therefore even some of the most noted figures of the Albanian literature that become personages of this novel, doesn’t show any desire, boast or servility of the author to know them, but on the contrary they demonstrate a serious attempt to find out the message that during the dictatorship even the elite talents such as Kadare or Agolli were obliged to survive with their writings, and so, in this way, apart from the convictions and the opposition breath against the regime, they were “slaves” of the peace. And if there were these, you can imagine how it was the file of all the Albanian writers and artists. Surely, there were even some writers that didn’t put up with the communist violence, all their ways were closed, and so they pushed through the perdition and escaped, such as the writer with a certain future Bilal Xhaferri, whose figure is described with love from Shefki Hysa not only in this novel but even in other writings.
Thus “Slaves of the peace” though it makes an attractive description of the well- known writer Ismali Kadare, it isn’t just a personalized novel for Kadare, but in general for the Albanian artist during the dictatorship.
I think that from the typological aspect this is an artistic novel with a historical and documentary background. Such a literature is becoming more and more attractive for the reader of today.
The subject of the novel is simple. The writer Ismail Kadare comes on vacations with his family in a coastal city of the South. The writers of the city headed by Cife, the director of the branch of “League of writers and artists of the district” and in particular Cifja, Xheki and Piro are vivified and made a cordial welcome to the writer and his family. During those days on vacations, Kadare is converted in the focus of the writers’ and artists’ attention, but not only. And in this way the novel continues with conversations and different episodes for Kadare, for his writings and the advanced thoughts for that time.
When the author of the novel introduces the figure of the great writer, in spite of the utilization of the creative whim that gives to the figure the artistic character, turning him into a personage, he uses even a lot of impressions and happenings regarding Kadare, that are true. In this way, with his own intuition, the author makes the portraiture of this special writer and personality of the Albanian letters. In this way, Kadareja is discovered as a quiet, serious man, not only as a magnificent writer for Xheki, Cife or Piro and in general for the youth of those years, but also as a thinker and a philosopher for the art and life in general. In the view of the young creators like Xheki and Piro he takes in special dimensions and turns into an imagery to be imitated for his values as a great creator. The author, during the description of the historical figure of Kadare, staying faithful to the truth, intends that this famous artist didn’t like it, even considered it wrong the interference of the politics in art and especially of those mediocre people in power that leaded the communist culture and ideology and that Kadare couldn’t tolerate. Let’s bring to mind the episode when Kadare was invited for dinner and he is with Cifja, the first secretary and with how much sadness and disregard the writer conducts himself.
Another historical figure that is given with rapid lines in the novel is that of Dritëro Agolli, the other great writer who is presented as especial and waggish, with his nice humor, even with the known vices, but anyway well-minded and good-natured. During the presentation of these famous figures, who were also loved from the readers and especially from the new creators, as we mentioned above, Shefki Hysa makes a portrait with the right lines even to his favorite writer, the real dissident, Bilal Xhaferri. The author of the novel, being familiar with his Cham origin, the life and the activity of this writer that escaped because he didn’t find any kind of space to express his values in his own country, with the writings he left, after the death in the peak of his artistic circumspection, emphasizes the message that if Bilal Xhaferri had had the possibilities to write and publish in a democratic place, and not under the hoof of the dictatorship, we would have had another colossus of the Albanian letters.
In his novel “Slaves of the peace” the writer Shefki Hysa, following the progress of the history of the events, describes even the figure of Enver Hoxha, during a meeting that he had with Ismail Kadare and his family. The figure of this dictator is given with rapid lines in the novel, as every Albanian has known him, but the author of the writing, with a significant implication narrates how the leader of the communist dictatorship gave instructions even to the most known creators, so they could serve to the party cause.
“Before they went away, in spite of Zaharia’s book “La fin du mistere etrusque”, Hoxha gave them even a set of Balzak’s books in French.
– O, we covered you with Balzak!-he joked.
It was a joke of a man, well informed about the discussions made all over the world regarding the relation between the realistic literature of the XIXth century and the contemporary one, in which Balzaku was in focus of the contrapositions that hadn’t passed without making an echo even at our country. The smiling view of Hoxha has absolutely a hidden implication, thought Kadare. I think it says: “In the literary creations you mustn’t be a critic realist like Balzak, meanwhile do what he did, get out from your convictions, and against them, devote yourself to the method of socialist realism, to the description of the reality in its revolutionary development. Thus, you will bring in the literature the beautiful reality of the future, with in focus the positive hero…” (P. 156).
Besides the historical personages, in which is entwined the creation of the author with documentary data, in the novel “Slaves of the peace” are depicted even many figures of personages, totally artistic, with special qualities and characteristics. Among them we can mention the couple Xheki-Pirro, two young and talented boys: the first in the literature field and the second in that of picture and both with dreams for the future. One of them was to make a career in the respective fields, to become someone in life but the communist regime doesn’t open the doors easily even to these young artists with a future because of their biography. These and many others like these have Kadare as an imitation and inspiration model, have respect for him, even if they discuss severally for many things regarding the great writer.
The figure of Xheki, who, as a personage symbolizes in a way the author himself and that is given even in the confidential plan, in the relations with Esmeralda, is widely touched. A personage given with artistry is even Cifja, a lively person, joyful and full of humor, who has had a difficult life but he has known how to juggle and to survive owing to his strong character. Cifja is an admirer of Kadare and his work, therefore, like Xheki and Piro, even this personage has respect and a huge sympathy for the great writer.
It is well known that the communist dictatorship had as a central lever for the holding of the power with violence: The State Security. The writer Shefki Hysa in “Slaves of the peace” has tried, and I think he has succeeded, to sculpt with appropriate lines the figure of the Security man, Ramush Kaleci. The reader understands from the surname of this abhorrent man that the author has put him in focus to unmask and denigrate him for the squalid profession. There is a passage in the novel where the figure of Ramush is described with irony, in a grotesque as well as ridiculous way, until he becomes a rag: “Xheki, surprisingly, as with magic, was converted in a shade. And he was invisible for Ramush Kaleci’s eyes. It was a wonderful situation because it is imperceptible for a general mind being a shade. Look how he turned round in mid-air wherever he wanted, in that phantasmagoric situation. He could see everything, everyone and without being watched by someone. This was the prettiness of that new situation that he was living. So there, Ramush Kaleci! Let’s go near him. As it were. He hasn’t felt anything yet. He is breathing like a miser, as he is devouring all the oxygen to asphyxiate the other human beings. The enemies. And what a puffy face,
“Like a bun, burst with laughter Xheki and hit him in the nose with the tip of the forefinger”. Ramush, with a fool appearance, scratched the nose and watched for a while, as he wanted to catch by surprise any pestilent beetle. Xheki burst with laughter. It was a big pleasure to make fun of this fat dumpling. He tickled him in the neck and without letting him to recollect himself, strained him one ear, and then the other. Ramushi stopped open-mouthed, like being hit by palsy. What a big pleasure!”
The figure of the shade that follows Ramush and other elements of the magic, such as the episode of the description of the Hell or the episode of the return in the past where the meeting of Kadare with the King Pirro of Ephyrus, is realized etc., reminds you the magical atmosphere that lives in the popular Cham epos and at the same time remembers you the mastery that the author Shefki Hysa utilizes in such fanciful circumstances in his composition, merging wonderfully, as with magic, the real with the unreal, the real life with the dreams of the personages, becoming in this way the typical representative of a new wave of the magical realism with Albanian peculiarities, a bit similar with the magical realism that characterizes the books of Gabriel Garcia Markes.
Ramush Kaleci is the prototype of the persecutor, the spy, the greyhound that runs after his “chase” and persecutes him as far as he makes a calamity. In such a way he follows even Kadare when he comes in the southern coastal city supposing “to protect him”, but also to survey what he does and whom he stays with. An interesting point of the novel is also the story of “the stealing” of the book of Kadare that ends in a bluff for Ramush and he is finally unmasked.
The writings of Shefki Hysa are distinguished for their lithesome and dynamic style, for a clear language, for a lively and attractive dialogue and for expressive details, which makes it curious and interesting for those readers that desire to learn more from that black period of our history, from the period when the communist dictatorship governed.

Sokol Jakova
Writer

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