“A Girl in Exile” is a retelling of the Orpheus Eurydice legend in the context of Albanian totalitarianism. Recasting classical myths and totalitarianism are apparently themes in other works by the renown Albanian author Ismail Kadare.
Here the prisoner of death is Linda B., a woman infatuated with the principle character Rudian Stefa, a known Albanian playwright who borders on dissidence and is paranoid about incarceration by the State. Linda B. has never met Stefa and engages her girlfriend Magena to get her an autographed copy of one of Stefa’s books. Magena has a relationship with Stefa and Linda B ultimately commits suicide. In a dream sequence Stefa tries to marry the dead Linda B., who plays the Eurydice role.
Linda B.’s family tries to retrieve her interned body from the State cemetery. The point of the novel is captured in this sequence: you are a prisoner of the State in life and in death.
“The Albanian regime was tottering but its laws remained in place, especially the regulations governing prisons and internment. One of these laws was extremely strange, and many people believed it must be unique to Albania. This law concerned political prisoners and internees who died before completing their sentences. Their bodies, even though vacated by their souls, had to continue serving their sentences in the grave, wherever they happened to be, until the end. Only after the expiry of the term of their sentence did their families have the right to exhume them from the cemeteries designated by the state, and take them where they wished.”
The plot and characters in this novel are both thin and contrived. Mr. Kadare’s other works may be better than this novel. If it wasn’t 184 pages I would have given up on it.