this edition translated from the French of Jusuf Vrioni by Jon Rothschild, then updated, with new sections added, by Ismail Kadare and David Bellos
From the four corners of the principality people flocked to the funeral of the Lady Mother and her daughter. Since time immemorial, events have always been one of two kinds: those that bring people together, and those that tear them asunder. The first kind can be experienced and appreciated at market days, crossroads or coaching inns. As for the second, each of us takes them in, or is consumed by them, in solitude. It soon became apparent that the funeral belonged to both categories at once. Although at first sight it seemed to belong to the crowd and the street, what people said about it brought to the surface all that had been whispered or imagined within the walls of every house, and brought confusion to everyone’s mind.
Like any disquiet that gestates at first in solitary pain before coming out into the open, rumours about Doruntine grew and swelled up, changing in the most unforeseeable ways. An endless stream of people dragged the story behind them but were yet drawn forward by it. As they sought to give it a shape they found acceptable, they were themselves altered, bruised or crushed by it.
observations: Ismail Kadare is Albania’s greatest writer, and when I featured his book The Siege on the blog I just really wanted to run the whole book, with pictures – see endless entries by clicking here. I find his style mesmerizing and fascinating – even in translation he has something very charismatic about him, I think shown in some of the sentences above. The Ghost Rider is a novella or long story, and can be read in one eerie sitting. The story is apparently a traditional folkmyth found all over Eastern and Balkan Europe in differing versions: the young woman Doruntine – married away from home - is brought back to her mother by her brother Kostandin. They turn up late at night on horseback, and then the rider departs. But her brother died long before – so what is really going on? As the title suggests, this might be a really creepy ghost story – it is very atmospheric and quite scarey. But then perhaps there is a more straightforward explanation for what happened – I went back and forward on whether there was going to be a truly supernatural element or not. Does the young woman have a lover? Did she know [all] her brother(s) was/were dead? Is she happy living with her new husband so far away from her friends and family? What about the sacred promise that the dead brother made to his mother – that he would always bring Doruntine home if she was needed… would he do this from beyond the grave?
The introduction tells us that the tale has a huge political meaning also, revolving round the much-repeated word besa - a promise or an oath, but representing much more than that in Albanian society. It was most interesting to read that, and it adds to the story, though you can certainly read it without knowing anything about the background.
The story is set in some unspecified long-ago time, but the policeman who investigates the case, Captain Stres, could come from any European crime novel of today as he thinks about the case, talks things over with his wife, and has a rather unexpected sex scene.
This is a fantastic story, one of the most unsettling I’ve read in a long time.