A spellbinding Albanian fairy tale

DORUNTINE by Ismail Kadare Translated from the French version of Jusuf Vrioni by Jon Rothschild New York: New Amsterdam Books 180 pp. $15.95

A NOVELIST, poet, critic, and short story writer long famous in his native Albania, Ismail Kadare has attained a considerable reputation in Europe and more recently has been introduced to English-speaking readers with the publication of translations of his novels ``The General of the Dead Army'' and ``Chronicle in Stone.''

``Doruntine'' is a novel that will appeal both to readers who like their fiction laced with a sophisticated literary self-awareness and to those who simply enjoy the pleasures of old-fashioned storytelling.

The setting is medieval Albania, some time after the great schism between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. Doruntine, a young woman who married a foreigner and went to live in the faraway land of Bohemia, suddenly and mysteriously returns to her home one night. She tells her mother that her brother Constantine - who solemnly promised on the eve of her wedding to bring her back home should her mother ever yearn for her company - fulfilled his vow by spiriting her on horseback with him to their native town.

But Constantine, as her mother tells Doruntine, has been dead for three years. Shocked by each other's news, mother and daughter die soon thereafter. It is left to Captain Stres, head of the regional constabulary, to try to figure out what happened.

The plot is a fairy tale, the stuff of legends. But the narrating voice of Captain Stres sounds remarkably modern. Modern, too, is the artful interweaving of the story and its possible interpretations.

This English version is the translation of a French translation of the original Albanian. How close it comes to the original, few reviewers are in a position to guess.

Suffice it to say that Jon Rothschild has fashioned a crisp narrative that succeeds in being spellbinding without resorting to exotic or archaic mannerisms.

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