Rating: 3 out of 5.

Ismail Kadare seems to be everybody’s ‘go to’ author when it comes to reading literature from Albania. For 2023 I decided I’d read more writers more around the world and obviously chose to go by the alphabet like millions of other bookworms. Kadare is Albania’s most reputed literary name and I got ‘The Doll’ only because it was the most affordable paperback title by the author. It helped that the cover picture looked pretty – a young woman holding a bright red hibiscus flower against her face.

On the surface, ‘The Doll’ seems like it is about Kadare’s relationship with his mother, he even declares that in as many words at the beginning of the novel. The author begins the book by recalling how his parents were married and then takes readers through a quick lesson on how his mother’s side was very different from the Kadare clan. But as the novel reaches the second half, you realize the book is a dual tale about Kadare’s ties with both his mother and motherland – Albania.

In an interesting parallel, the feelings of the author’s mother regarding her martial home can be mirrored with the author’s ties with his homeland. The new bride feels stifled in her new home, like it’s eating her up. Similarly, Kadare feels the need to leave Albania for greener pastures, his home country too small for his big literary ambitions. Just like he doesn’t understand a lot about his mother, thinks her too simple yet loves her dearly, the author has similar feelings for his country.

‘The Doll’ is written in a fluid manner, making it a breezy read, but despite understanding that it isn’t simply a story about a woman, I wanted to know more about Kadare’s mother, whose name isn’t ever mentioned throughout the text, she is just referred to as ‘the doll’ or as his mom. The Kadare house has more personality and back-story than the protagonist, with vivid descriptions of its rooms, void and domestic feuds fought within its walls. While this is definitely a witty enjoyable novel, readers would only be able to appreciate it more if they’ve read other books by Mr Ismail.

It’s a 3 on 5 from me.

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