Thoughts on “Chloroform”
Published Thursday, 11 February 2010 11:00 by Tiranaobserver
There are several ways to express the truths of a bygone era, which continue to weight down, and even haunt our collective conscience today. In order to alleviate their conscience, many uncover never-heard-of and often imagined heroic deeds, or boast of being unsung dissidents during those dark times. They want to secure purification and revive their pride in the eyes of the others, with a little help from “truths” either barely above, or completely constructed of lies.
The fever of “testifying” about the past has taken over individuals, collectives and even government institutions. Unfortunately, these sanctioned truth campaigns have either failed or become ridiculous. The discussion of the past causes no analysis and sheds no light on the root of the evil, but instead manipulates the present. Very often, trumped-up exposes fail to bring the wanted reaction out of the listeners. Let’s not even mention the thousands of pages and declarations of “ultimate truths”. We only have to point out the total failure of the current government to show once and for all the true nature of the dark path, which we were obliged to travel for many years. Isn’t the twenty years plus effort to open the secret files of the previous regime a complete and utter failure? Aren’t we wandering inside a hopeless maze, while under the illusion of walking toward the truth? Isn’t it evident that this truth is presented in so many different forms, that it has become unbelievable?
Fortunately for us, there are still ways to confront the past and fearlessly study it in all its negative glory. Art is one of the elegant, finer and believable forms, which can display its many dimensions as no other means of expression can. Without a doubt, Klara Buda’s “Chloroform” is one of the better displays, full of sadness, confusion, pain and sharp sarcasm. The novel is thoroughly submerged in grey and permeated by death from the beginning to the end. Masks and disfigurements dominate, because no one is who they claim or should be. Their names and their entire beings are made of lies and deceit. One individual contains contradicting images gathered from different cadavers, where “some of the features…showed a young age, whereas others would be more common in the elderly…”. This happened because “…in that hierarchical system, age was an unimportant element…”. That is a time out of time. The characters move like shadow puppets and their destinies are already predetermined, because they live in a strictly regulated ghetto. Even Marenglen Qani himself – the Dog of the times, is nothing but an absurd character of an absurd time. His world is limited within the indefinite universe of the body parts severed from cadavers. He is both tragic and comical. He is a dual murderer because he “murders” life even after it has been extinguished, or before it is born. He is the mask he wants to hide behind. “How could one understand the expression of an individual, whose only purpose was to keep his eyes hidden at all times?” the author asks. He is a shadow of a time of shadows, who wants to hide not only his eyes, but his macabre acts too.
The best feature of this novel is the fact that its author manages to describe the events and characters in a very original way, by shedding light on the simplicity of their world. This artistic way of portraying characters and events manages to stay above pointless simplification and becomes Klara Buda’s most distinguished and accomplished feature. The author is not in a rush to make her characters more distinguished or pile fake heroism upon them. She does not try to force their discovery or their diversity, and refuses to fake them artistically. The author does not care if her characters do not read like the stereotypes that populate TV screens and front pages of the Media. These stereotypes typically fall all over themselves in their efforts to “testify” about the regime, but instead of dealing with the essence of things, they showcase their own imagined courage. Klara Buda clearly tells us that we should not expect earth-shattering deeds and hardy opposition to the totalitarian regime from her characters, or her “islands of freedom” as she called them at a television appearance. They are just regular human beings. She describes the totalitarian regime through their eyes, a very difficult and ambitious approach. She masterfully selects and describes spellbinding moments from their common existence. Her characters hate, oppose and fight the regime in their own innocent and very human ways. They do not discuss politics. Politics does not even enter their young dreams. They prefer to talk about Sappho, the Lesbos Island, and the taboo that surrounds the great poet of antiquity. They love in a simple way, and can never imagine the infinite abyss their simple love will ultimately push their lives into.
Klara Buda knows how to exonerate her affable characters twice over. First, they are within their rights to protect their dreams from being extinguished. That is the most elementary premise of human life. However, if she stopped here, Klara’s work would never display her extraordinary writing skills. She purposefully chooses people with innocuous and innocent dreams. They do not want to overthrow anything else but the invisible walls within their own souls. Thus, she makes the reader ask some very hard questions. What is the crime of these innocent youngsters, most likely of the same age as the readers? What is their sin, apart from the desire to live, love and protect their dreams before realizing them? Why the guilt, when their only ambition is to live normal lives? The author does not label them as anti-totalitarian because their wishes and ambitions are very private and humble. They are delicate and almost invisible. Only the pen of a true artist can describe them accurately. In our opinion, the author is very conscious of the boredom and loss of interest she may induce when she makes these characters the focus of her novel, but she avoids that risk brilliantly.
“Chloroform” is the first published endeavor of this author in the beautiful but difficult path of prose, and she acquits herself like a pro. The plot is seamlessly constructed and captivates the reader from the first to the last page. Her style goes beyond the worn out schematics of a traditional novel, incorporating interesting twists and turns. The first pages give the impression of travelling through a bleak and monotonous route dominated by death, but then all of a sudden one feels the presence of light, even if very pale, in between these islands disconnected from our times.
It is worth mentioning that the author’s extensive experience as a journalist and a physician gives a different flavor to the novel. Both professions help her paint believable and dynamic scenes. However, her journalistic background influences some of her writing, which can sound out of place in a literary novel. Several expressions and slogans such as: “…the higher-ups never even looked your way around here…”, “Pseudo-art like a flower at spring…blossoms stronger every day…” “…they considered both matters Party business…” “…when the all-powerful Tirana Radio entered the game, with its deep reaching waves to all the obscure corners of the world…” and more, while being masterfully ironic, do not add to the value of the novel.
Despite such friendly criticism, we feel confident in stating that Klara Buda’s “Chloroform” is a great achievement for the author. She shows her thorough knowledge of the art of writing and promises to perfect it even further in her future work. Returning to our quote at the beginning of this critique, we firmly believe that the fundamental truths of the totalitarian regime will come to light through the dignified expression of art and literature, despite the failure of political tribunes to do so. Klara Buda’s new novel “Chloroform” is the best illustration of our hopes.