If I absolutely have to pick a favorite topic in literature, I would have to go with dystopian novels. For the first time am I able to apply something I learned in finance class to literature (however distant these two subjects might seem). And that is “The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour”. With novels this is an absolute truth for me – my impressive (modestly of course) track in dystopian novels includes such titans as George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley, Anthony Burgess, Yevgeny Zamyatin, and of course the teenage favourite Suzanne Collins. It was, thus, quite understandable that I would thoroughly enjoy Ismail Kadare’s The Palace of Dreams and even more thoroughly praise it here.
I am quite at ease with the fact that any novel critical of the current regime and published in a conservative (probably Islamic, but no judgement here) and/or totalitarian regime is bound to be banned and the author bound to be exiled. I wouldn’t even start on examples from mother Russia, Afghanistan, or the fact that the genius Salman Rushdie has a death sentence because of his novels. I would simply point out that I wasn’t even remotely surprised that after it was published, The Palace of Dreams was banned. Kadare was forbidden from publishing for 10 years and eventually went on a voluntary exile in Paris, exasperated with the Communist rule.
There are four things in which contemporary people foolishly believe and which drive me unreasonably mad – God or some divine power, horoscopes, dreams and the prediction of the future. I will not dwell on the topic of God (for this post only). However, believing that the date you were born carries any importance to your life whatsoever, attempting to decipher whatever is that you dreamt last night and not sharing it before 12:00 am so that it might happen, and spending money on people so that they can tell you when you will marry and how many children you will have, makes me lose my faith in humanity’s future. And still, however much I hate the above superstitions, I wouldn’t mind reading about one of them, especially when it is beautifully entangled into a dystopian novel about the State’s desire to control not only the lives of its citizens, but also their minds.
Orwell had his Ministry of Truth. Zamyatin had the Bureau of Guardians. Ismail Kadare has the Tabir Sarrail, or the Palace of Dreams.The Palace of Dreams is the most secretive ministry in the Turkish empire, which task is to collect the dreams of its citizens, decipher them, and attempt to predict the future of the empire, or most notably any crisis that might affect its power. Dreams are collected even from the remotest parts of the empire and then send to the Palace of Dreams, where they are selected and interpreted. Once every week, a Master Dream is picked, the most important dream of the week, and is presented to the Sultan. The rest are stored in the Archives, to be consulted if necessary.
Through the eyes of Mark-Alem, a member of the ancient and powerful Albanian family of Quprili, Kadare portrays yet another clever invention of a totalitarian regime in order to control its citizens. So far (and we established I have read quite a lot of dystopian novels) this approach scares me the most. The mere idea that someone might go into my brain and analyze my dreams (which I must admit most probably reflect my thoughts) makes me shiver. I have thoughts and dreams I don’t have the bravery to say out loud to myself, let alone have them be public knowledge. Joke aside, The Palace of Dreams explores two important themes – the strive for ultimate power and the quest for a perfect record of human events. For if we are to accept that dreams reflect human thoughts, what best defines a nation that the accumulated dreams of all of its citizens. After all, we had heard one too many times that Life is a dream.
More dystopian novels: