The Pyramid by Ismail Kadare

The Pyramid Dreams.

Kadare takes some liberties with history, of course, often speculating wildly for dramatic and symbolic effect, but there is enough verisimilitude here to cast the pall of history over the pages. It has a very similar aura to the writings of Kafka, borrowing much of the atmosphere of oppression and psychological tension. Then you have the whorl-pools of Borges, the puzzles of the literary mathematician, well-realized. Similar also is the lack of character development, how Kadare’s characters embody concepts rather than make choices according to their or the author’s will.

Cheops, the pharaoh, attains immortality vicariously through his pyramid, and the pyramid attains life vicariously via its creators. This is the ingenious interplay of the novel. The pyramid takes on increasing weight as the story progresses, metaphorically and literally. Everyone universally endows it with sentience, and many believe it conspires to consume them, haunts them in dreams, not least Cheops himself.

In the absence for most of the book of traditional characterization, the pyramid becomes the central figure, the changeable chimera, baffling and exotic, embodying its peoples’ fears, ambitions, myths, and frustrations. Cheops, gullible and vain, is but a puppet for an endless legion of ministers and politicians, magicians, et. al. The pyramid grows and inspires silence and fear, and spreads it like a disease. Its stones bring death from foreign lands in many forms, it swallows people like chum. It is variously and beautifully personified and the bureaucracy surrounding its erection is portrayed as a machine which accomplishes great feats of industry only to wreak havoc in the lives of the humans who are its moving cogs.

Wicked advisors to the throne are plentiful. The first part of this book oozes with shades of Shakespeare, while the second half focuses on the manifestations of phenomena, both real and imagined, surrounding the emergence of the great pyramid.

The luscious historical details are infused with apocryphal history, and serve to explicate and allegorize the evolution of myth and other archetypical human constructs. The mysteries of inborn human superstition, the ambitious capacity they have to design monuments to symbolize their own reaching after heaven. The construction of symbols is an important ritual of ascribing meaning within our lives, but this book illustrates how symbols can take over the mind like a virus. While Kadare insinuates the importance of geometric elegance, his structure does not partake of harsh strictures of form. You can view his approach as a narrowing of themes and action, toward a pinnacle perhaps, but by constraining his subject and given the short duration of the book, I would not consider his form of paramount importance. The elegance of mathematics is nowhere more evident than in the pyramids. Its inner mystery, the decoys, the hidden passages, all mirror the convolutions within our minds, the inner labyrinths, and the mental torture of construing human civilization is fraught with the traps we set through symbology and our own weaknesses.

Aside from the horological complications of The Pyramid, the jigsaw pieces of historical details, and the effective atmosphere, I was struck by the mummification of thought, the cyphers, glyphs, and the embalming of ideas, which Kadare utilizes through the power of his fiction to crystallize experience and impression. The unconfrontable void of death looms over the whole. I loved the eminence of the pyramidion. The positioning of the sarcophagi, the grave-robber foiling devices, the hermetic chambers, and the immense scope of its construction were all worth reading about. The conspiratorial dimension of the pyramid, the menace of its secrets, and the all-too-human aspects of its history, were fairly obvious results of such an unequalled undertaking. The pyramid of Cheops rested on the shoulders of Egyptian society from the moment of its conception – still does – it was a responsibility the whole empire would bear with great strain. Stone by stone, death by death, the physical presence of evil, as a force and an entity, drawing many parallels to the Tower of Babel, would result in one more proliferation of human omen-worship. Above all, this is a profound and charming study of pointed concepts, applicable to any society partaking of human vices.