Dritero Agolli: Tartarean of Tirana
Dritero Agolli whose first book is translated in French, heads the Albanian League of Writers and Artists for 17 years now. Those who know popular democracies are aware that in the state devise important authors were rarely appointed in high positions. For the classic apparatchik, for the ‘laureate poet” who was famous in the East, Milan Kundera has presented a harsh portrait in the novel “Life is elsewhere”, whose hero Jaromil, precedes the comic figure of “Comrade Zylo”. But it seems that Dritero Agilli has nothing to do with the zealous and tasteless novelists that Stalinism liked so much. When I met him last year in Tirana, I was impressed by his profile as a leader and his flowing tone. Now his works have been translated in the valuable collection “From all over the world”, where not everyone is invited to publish. Will he get as famous as Ismail Kadare? This is not impossible.
From the clear title of the novel “The rise and fall of Comrade Zylo” we are reminded of the rise and fall of Zylo Kamberi in Tirana, a high official, director of cultural affairs. It is a stunning and very funny criticism over bureaucracy, intellectual administration, of privileges of socialism and the harsh and sharp language used. Published in a journal in 1972 and a year later as a separate edition, republished again in 1981, “The rise and fall of Comrade Zylo” forces us to review some of our ideas on the freedom that a novelist in Albania during Enver Hoxha's dictatorship. It was really a mysterious place! Moreover, behind the characters of the novel, functionaries, paper writers, critics (and their fat and well-behaved wives) the warned readers could recognize the real personalities. We are even more impressed to accept that these ridiculed caricatures were real portraits.
By imitating a famous formula, Dritero Agolli becomes Franz Kafka, with a bit more sun. The Ministry of Culture, its directories, commissions and meetings make up the abstract décor of a buffoon satire. Zylo is a Tartarean of dialectics, a pot full of words, a grandiloquent talker, hypocrite, maybe even honest, but an irreparable fool. In his work “Rober” or “School for Women” Andre Gide describes an exhausted and cunning character in this family. It is envisaged that even Gogol who had lived a century later, had used this subject. Being or not supporters of the “socialist realism”, it is something rare that the authors venture to describe a negative hero. This is a dangerous undertaking but masterpieces may come out of them. A sustainable distance should be kept between the author and the character, and between this latter and the reader. Dritero Agolli has achieved this by using an ideal narrator: Demka who is at the same time slave and parasite of comrade Zylo who is his shield. Being a hopeless writer and cool-headed journalist, Demka is rather the insignificant editor of reports, speeches and interventions of his hierarchic superiors. He is seen only at a lost profile, writing down the inextinguishable sentences of his master and serving him his soup. Soon, both characters, fed by one-another, are inseparable. Demka's flattering modesty and hypocrisy approaches the grandiosity of Zylo, his arrogance, his empty rhetoric, somewhat a ridiculous grandiosity. This is the epopee of the dogmatic chitchat, apotheosis of nothing.
One should not think that the author is exaggerating. Are we not familiar with the CP intellectuals and artists in the 50s who were not able to speak, and such ideological follies? In this naive euphoria in which we are immersed for 6 months now, the evidence of such power and mockery should slow down the dizzy movement of the pendulum in our country.
(In the journal “Figaro Journal” dated 30 June, 1990).