The Pyramid by Ismail Kadaré
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Ismail Kadare's "The Pyramid" is a parable about totalitarian system of government and about the dynamics of relationships between tyrants and their subjects.
In the 26th century BC, Cheops, the pharaoh of Egypt, influenced by his advisors, decrees that a huge pyramid be built for his tomb. The unfathomably difficult task (over two million blocks of stone are used, with some blocks weighing over 20 tons) is completed in 20 years. The construction process is accompanied by cyclical fabrications of anti-government conspiracies, which lead to mass quarterings, stonings, and crucifixions of people. Tens of thousands die, while working on the pyramid or executed for fictitious crimes.
Mr. Kadare obviously models the pharaoh's totalitarian rule on Enver Hoxha's ways of wielding power in his native Albania before the fall of "Communism". Moreover, he rightly implies that people have not changed very much in 4600 years. We had Timur the Lame, Stalin, Idi Amin, and now we have North Korea's Kim Yong-un, starving his nation.
My mixed feelings about the novel most likely indicate that I am too obtuse to grasp its greatness. True, the writing and translation are of high quality (the English version is based on the French translation), but I find the book highly unfocused. I do not quite understand the author's fascination with the cyclical nature of Egyptian people's emotions toward the pyramid ("Admiration turned to indifference, hatred, destructive fury, then reverted to indifference, followed by veneration, and so on, ad infinitum"), and the chapter about the pharaoh reading the scrolls is, in my view, abstruse.
I agree, however, with what I think the main message of the novel is: a tyrant's greatness is measured by how many thousands or millions of people horribly suffer or die.
Three and a quarter stars.
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