The Ghost Rider by Ismail Kadare




The Ghost Rider is a retelling of the dark Kostandin and Doruntine ballad, an ancient Albanian tale : in this legend, Doruntine’s brother, Kostandin, raises from the dead in order to bring her back to her mother, as his oath – his besa – demanded him. Due to the animated state it creates in the little town – and the fact that neither Doruntine nor her mother are responding anymore, Captain Stresi is asked to investigate the case.


Pleased Aliénor – The Ghost Rider was undoubtedly enthralling, drawing me in its haunting and out of the world mystery from page one.

Skeptical Aliénor The repetitions, though. What’s up with them? Is it some kind of translation fail… or something?

Pleased Aliénor It’s your fault, though.

Skeptical Aliénor My fault? Oh, right. Listen up, friends : when English is not your first language and you’re reading a translated novel, be sure to check how the translation business took place. Indeed I realized that The Ghost Rider wasn’t directly translated from Albanian to English, but that the English version was merely a translation from the… French version, as most of Ismail Kadare‘s works. Indeed his long-standing collaborator, Jusuf Vrioni, translated most of his work into French, the English translators merely translating the French versions. Does nobody speak Albanian in the US? That’s some lazy work, in my opinion. Anyway – I’ll be sure to read the French versions next time, because it shows – I felt as if the translator lacked the ability to expend the vocabulary used, making it way too easy for repetitions to overflow.

Pleased Aliénor Enough of these complaints, I was compelled all the same! All of these repetitions didn’t diminish my enjoyment, and never broke the spell the dark atmosphere put on me. From the start I wanted to know : as many characters through the novel, I’ve repeatedly asked myself who brought Doruntine back from Bohemia : was it really her dead brother, raising from the dead to respect his besa? Was it some impostor whose intentions were unclear? Was it a straight-on hoax? Until the end I couldn’t say.

Skeptical Aliénor But you must admit that the plot was sometimes all over the place –

Pleased Aliénor I knooooow! I should have been annoyed by the way the story changed its course all the time but actually, I really liked that? The Ghost Rider repeatedly surprised me, lost me, confused me with all the tiny clues the author put everywhere…. and abandoned quickly.

Skeptical Aliénor Hmm, “abandoned”, that’s right. Can’t it be lazy writing? Some of the clues were never explained nor taken into account in the end, and I kinda want to call bullshit on them? Like, really? You’re gonna make me believe something and then get out by side-stepping the question? I’m not sure I like that.

Pleased Aliénor Alright, fair enough. Perhaps the reason is simpler than that, though : indeed The Ghost Rider uses Albanian traditions I knew nothing about, as the kanun (oral traditional laws) and the besa (a person’s most sacred oath), and I felt like I had not the knowledge baggage necessary to analyze and understand everything. I saw reviews urging readers to start with Broken April in which the author explains what kanun is, and I wish I’d followed that advice. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t able to enjoy The Ghost Rider, because I did, but I felt what I often feel with classics written about societies I do not know : I couldn’t take the most out of my read. Yet what I did gathered is that we can’t analyze his 1970s works without taking into account the paranoid Stalinist regime in which Ismail Kadare lived at the time. As stated in the Introduction, the current edition contains historical and political references that weren’t there at first, because dangerous under the Hoxha regime.

Skeptical Aliénor The MC! Talk about the MC!

Pleased Aliénor Hmm, yes, captain Stresi, yes. What can I say, hmm, he was very driven and

Skeptical Aliénor a jerk

Pleased Aliénor Hmm yes you could say that, yes. Willing to keep his feet firmly on the ground, he let nothing going in his way and

Skeptical Aliénor he tortured people

Pleased Aliénor Yes, about that. I did feel uncomfortable with his interrogation techniques – especially because they came from nowhere – and I can’t say Captain Stresi made any effort to be likeable,

Skeptical Aliénor because he was a bully

Pleased Aliénor Sometimes, yes he was. Yet it never read as if I was supposed to care for him whatsoever : what mattered was the mystery, but I would have wanted for his behavior to be called out and challenged.

Skeptical Aliénor like when he called women sluts and a disabled boy an idiot

Pleased Aliénor PRECISELY. That was so useless in my opinion, even for a novel written in 1979. Yet in my opinion Stres isn’t the main character in this novel. Kostandin is, his ideas and resistance are. As often happens, The Ghost Rider may have a stronger political meaning that it first appears. This quote below made me shiver –

What face should [the Albanian] show to the world? Shall he disfigure himself, changing his features to suit the masks of the age, seeking thus to assure his survival, or shall he keep his countenance inchanged … (…) Albania aims to keep its eternal image. That’s the main thing, to my mind. She will keep her face not by retreting from the world like a wild animal at bay, but by joining the world.

Skeptical Aliénor So. Are we recommending this or not?

*running sounds*

Skeptical Aliénor Alright. Do what you want.

PS. I rarely take editing into account, BUT I would strongly recommend you to read the paperback version and not the ebook which is AWFULLY edited.

*World map credit*

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