The Palace of Dreams
by Ismail Karare
translated by Jusuf Vrioni and Barbara Bray
4 stars - draining, powerful
I'm kind of at a loss as to how to summarize, so I'm going to use the synopsis from Goodreads.
Ismail Kadare once called The Palace of Dreams "the most courageous book I have written; in literary terms, it is perhaps the best". When it was first published in the author's native country [Albania], it was immediately banned, and for good reason: the novel revolves around a secret ministry whose task is not just to spy on its citizens, but to collect and interpret their dreams. An entire nation's unconscious is thus tapped and meticulously laid bare in the form of images and symbols of the dreaming mind.
The Palace of Dreams. Where all the dreams of the nation are collected, reviewed, questioned. A dream can foretell acts against the state. A dream can implicate traitors. A dream can mean nothing. A dream can be, perhaps, not entirely a dream, but a fabrication intended to force the hand of the government into action. Citizens cannot withhold their dreams from the state, but they also live in fear of having a dream questioned. A potentially volatile revelation results in the dreamer being brought in for interrogation. Interrogation to ostensibly glean the true meaning of the vision, but which lasts days, weeks, months, until the dreamer no longer knows what was dream and what was real.
It's a dreary and chilling book. Suffocating. Full of dark imagery.
And what Mark-Alem was feeling was indeed caused by a kind of upheaval. For as he read the letter, the official with the morose expression had slowly risen from his chair. The movement was so slow and so smooth it seemed to Mark-Alam that it would never end, and that the formidable official on whom his fate depended was going to turn into a monster of some kind before his very eyes. He was on the point of yelling, "Never mind! I don't want the job. Give me back the letter. I can't bear to watch you uncoiling like that!" when he saw the process of standing was now over and the official was finally upright.
I know, right?
From the author: "Dictatorship and authentic literature are incompatible... the writer is the natural enemy of dictatorship."
It is through works of art such as this that those of us who enjoy the comfort of a fat and happy life with security of thought and deed are reminded of the horrors that exist just around the corner.