Sunday, 4 November 2018

Three Elegies for Kosovo

I picked out this slim little volume at the charity shop on our recent trawl. 'Three Elegies for Kosovo' by Ismail Kadare is a dramatic history of Kosovo told by some travelling musicians at a decisive battle in 1389 when a Christian army was defeated by the might of the Ottoman empire, an event that has impacted down the centuries. It is not a period in history, or a part of the world, I know much about but the impression I was left with is one of both deep seated animosities but also a strong sense of the bonds between the communities of the region. The ordinary people seems to accept the fact that they live or die at the whim of their leaders, they are resigned to their fate. As the musicians travel together away from the battlefield they jealously guard their instruments and share their songs with people along the way, each place they stop having a differing view of the unfolding events. The tales aim to highlight the tragic consequences of the historical conflict and how the lessons of history do not seem to have been learned. I give you this interesting quote, which in the current political climate seems highly appropriate, but also shows how political tactic haven't changed much:

"Ever since the Venetians began using mute couriers, political rumours, particularly those emanating from the roadside inns, had fallen off considerably. But as if often the case when greed incites an individual or a state to foolish deeds, the Venetians were not satisfied with simple secrecy, but strove to go even further. And since the only courier more secretive than one whose tongue has been cut out is a dead courier, the Venetian's quest moved in an unexpected direction. Their new couriers were not deaf-mutes and not blind mutes, as one would have expected, but normal couriers with eyes, ears, and tongues - in fact, tongues that wagged far more than usual. In short, the often gloomy and taciturn couriers of the past were replaced by talkative couriers who were eager to sit down for a chat with any traveller they came across at wayside inns.
It was not all that difficult to guess that they had two types of information: true information, which they guarded carefully, and falsehoods, which they dropped in fragments of an evening by the fireside as if by a slip of the tongue or from too much drink.
That spring the false news was often enough injurious to the opposition, as was to be expected, but quite often also it came back to haunt those who had spread it. The road from the Turkish capital to Venice was long, and to carry both truths and lies at the same time was not easy. At times the truth, and at times the lies, would colour each other, adding to the surrounding fog, which was heavy in the month of March." (p.11-12)

The book is a fascinating insight into a very troubled part of the world, but I also enjoyed it for its story and the characters who shared their woes at the inevitable fate of their country.

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