Agamemnon's Daughter: A Novella and Stories - Ismail Kadaré, David Bellos, Tedi Papavrami Rating: 2.0-2.5 stars

I wanted to enjoy these stories more than I did but they weren't particularly more original or affecting than others I've read; writing about the paranoia and corrosive brutality of dictatorships stretches back at least 2,000 years to Suetonius and Tacitus.

The first story, "Agamemnon's Daughter," is the best in the collection. The title refers to the episode from the Trojan War when Agamemnon sacrifices his favorite daughter, Iphigenia, to the gods so the Achaean fleet can sail. In this reworking of the tale, the narrator (a minor employee of the state's TV station), is the lover of the heir to the regime's leader (the Great Guide). The lover is the only person to get a real name - Suzana. Everyone else, including the narrator, remain unidentified or get initials. She decides to give the narrator up to protect her father's career. As a sop, the narrator is invited to a grandstand seat at a celebratory parade. The story recounts his journey from his apartment to the stands; and, as he walks there, he reviews episodes from his life that reveal the paranoia necessary to survive and he considers parallels between what's happening to him and Iphigenia's tale. As he watches the parade and sees his former lover in the stands, the narrator realizes what Iphigenia's sacrifice meant 3,000 years ago and what his own means today - the state will trample all feelings of humanity, love and feeling, even the desires of the regime's highest members.

Largely, the story worked for me, especially the last few pages when the translator captured the narrator's epiphany in moving language, but there wasn't any emotional connection for me.

I found the same problem in story number two, "The Blinding Order," which recounts the events that follow an Ottoman sultan's command to eradicate the "evil eye." Again, it's a well written/well translated story but not engaging enough. I wrote that sentence last night when I was drafting this review. This morning, reflecting further, I will say that this story did have a more human focus (on Marie, whose fiance is one of the inquisitors/torturers but who is sacrificed by the regime when it comes time to discontinue the edict) but the tone was too impersonal to engage me in her tragedy.

"The Great Wall" takes place during the final years of Timur the Lame's reign of terror, when his armies were poised to cross into China (probably - he died before anything developed but, considering that he had slaughtered his way from the Bosporus to the Indus, it's not unlikely that the Middle Kingdom was his next target). But this story isn't about that at all; it's more about "walls" and what they symbolize both to those within and to those without. To honest, I'm still not sure how to understand everything that happens in the story.

While I wasn't overly impressed with Kadare's writing presented here, I think I'll give him another chance with one of his novels. Perhaps in a longer work, he develops the emotional connection lacking in these stories.