I wonder why so few people have read this novel, because it's quite amazing. I can't say that it's completely original, because it reminded me of Kafka (The Castle
) and Saramago (All the Names
), but imagining an institution where people's dreams are analyzed... That is a brilliant idea, masterfully developed by Ismail Kadaré.
Mark-Alem comes from a powerful Albanian family, the Quiprili (Köprülü), and his relatives decide that he should apply for a job at one of the most influential institutions of the Ottoman Empire - Tabir Saray, the Palace of Dreams. Thus he begins his ascent to the top, although fearful and confused, never fully aware of what he is supposed to do. In this huge machinery of control, the dreams from all over the empire are gathered, sorted and analysed, in order to choose one Master Dream that is presented each Friday to the Sultan. Dreams are believed to foretell important political events, thus being of utmost importance to the Empire.
We follow Mark-Alem's journey through the mysterious Palace of Dreams, with its nightmarish passages where he usually gets lost, with the thousands of dreams stacked away in its huge underground archive, with the kafkian beaurocracy and the strange happenings that make people paranoid. Without realising, Mark-Alem becomes an active part in the events that will unfold in the story, bringing misfortune to his family.
Absorbed in the world of dreams, Mark-Alem comes to believe that this is the real world, powerful and vivid, while the reality outside gradually becomes gray, dull and less and less attractive. He gets more and more isolated, his relatives remaining his only connection to the earthly world. He seems oblivious to any romantic relationship and the only mention of a possible wife comes from his uncles, but we don't ever get to know the girl. The lack of a sexual dimension makes the character a bit too flat, but contributes to his total immersion in the fantastic world of dreams, a sort of hell that Ismail Kadaré wanted to create in his novel.