Doruntine by Ismail Kadare (Kush e solli Doruntinėn)
Doruntine is a powerful work of historical fiction that brings light to the longstanding tension between old world religious beliefs and the newer Catholic doctrines as the Holy Roman Empire vied for influence over the various principalities. The protagonist sets out on behalf of the Church to investigate a supernatural claim and he uncovers a wound in his eastern European homeland which Kadare writes about with incredible insight.
Ismail Kadare's novel, Doruntine, is a poignant portrayal of the constant tension created by the rise of Christian doctrines in Europe. Stres' investigation of an apparently supernatural event which brings some of the foundational tenets of Christianity into question reveals all the fault lines between various beliefs people held about the world at that time. Some of these differences are shallow and political while others are deeply resounding, fundamental disparities between opposing belief systems and they are all elucidated through Kadare's crisp writing style.
English translations of Kadare's
Religious Past Tense
From the very start, a large focus is placed on the importance of Doruntine’s return. While this event was doubtlessly mysterious, it seemed like Stres put an undue stress on the investigation. Afterall, as the man later charged and interrogated as Doruntine’s rider admits, nobody has ever been arrested for riding in the company of women. However, Stres claims that he knew from the start that this went “beyond mere murder or any other crime” (Kadare 26). This turns out to be quite true as the highly positioned religious figures in Albania and the surrounding area become quite involved in the inquiry. The reason why this story of is so crucial is made clear by Kadare’s narrative.
Constantine’s supposed resurrection casts doubt on Christian control over government and morality on both literal and figurative levels. In a very basic way, the idea that Constantine was resurrected can be viewed as a challenge to the idea that there is only one Messiah with only one Son and that his feats can never be repeated. Additionally, there is some level of suspense created by the tensions between various Christian doctrines of the time as they fight for control over spheres of influence and the allegiance of Eastern European princes and principalities. Beyond this very basic, literal tension between Doruntine’s legend and the New Testament, there are major foundational discrepancies between the two stories.
Catholic Dogma vs. Paganism
On one hand, the differences between these stories underline a human tendency towards more animistic philosophies. The pagan religions which had dominated human culture for the majority of human existence were, in evolutionary terms, quickly being replaced by rigid and dogmatic Church doctrines. Catholicism embodied a view of the world that moved God to some ethereal place far from human understanding and created a stark contrast to the various belief systems that had previously existed.
While Constantinople and the Greek Orthodoxy argued over their various petty doctrinal differences, there was a much larger battle going on in everybody's daily lives. And the immediate response to a story as extraordinary as Doruntine's was to fall back on what made sense to the individuals involved. As Stres recounts, "each person's attitude [regarding this affair] would have everything to do with his station in life...That would be the echo awakened in these people by what was happening" (Kadare 43-44). They easily succumbed to an explanation about resurrection even if it contradicted the religious doctrines that a Prince happened to decree was the stated belief system for that region during his rule.
Role of religion
Roman Catholic Orthodoxy vs. Personal Faith
Additionally, Stres' speech at the end of the novel highlights a similar notion that beliefs are held and perpetrated by people and it is personal faith in our beliefs that matter more than the decrees of priests or prophets. His support of Bessa in the face of all the political power in Eastern Europe is a remarkable example of the conviction with which a man can fight if he believes what he is doing to be right. The ironically named Constantine set into motion a major movement which would inspire his countrymen to do great things long after his death.
In a way, the adherence to Bessa at the end of the novel is a symbolic alternative to Christian dogma. Stres and Constantine's old friends are asking for people to act righteously on the basis of the real world around them and a sense of personal commitment to each other as human beings. They provide a means to make the doctrinal politics of religion a thing of the past and a way to move back to Jesus Christ's original message of love and passion.