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by Bamber Gascoigne

Ismail Kadaré (1936- )


Albanian writer, frequently mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, a leading figure of Albanian cultural life from the 1960s. During the terror of the Hoxha regime, Kadaré disclosed the true character of totalitarian rule and doctrines of socialist realism with subtle allegories, although as a committed Marxist he officially supported the liberation of Albania from its backward past. Since 1990 Kadaré has lived in France. Kadaré's best-known works include The General of the Dead Army (1963), about an Italian general who is immersed in his absurd and gruesome mission in Albania. He never realizes that spiritually he is as dead as the fallen soldiers of past wars.

"The bodies of tens of thousands of soldiers buried beneath the earth had been waiting so many long years for his arrival, and now he was here at last, like a new Messiah, copiously provided with maps, with lists, with the infallible directions that would enable him to draw them up of the mud and restore them to their families. Other generals had led those interminable columns of soldiers into defeat and destruction. But he, he had come to wrest back from oblivion and death the few that remained. He was going to speed on from graveyard to graveyard, searching every field of battle in this country to recover those who had vanished. And in his campaign against the mud he would suffer no reverses; because at his back he had the magic power conferred by statistical exactitude." (from The General of the Dead Army)

Ismail Kadaré was born in the museum-city of Gjirokastra, in southern Albania. His father worked in the civil service. Kadare grew up during the years of World War II, witnessing the occupation of his home country by fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union. He attended primary and secondary schools in Gjirokastra, and went on to study languages and literature at the Faculty of History and Philology of the University of Tirana. In 1956 Kadaré received a teacher's diploma. He also studied in Moscow at the prestigious Gorky Institute of World Literature, founded in 1932. A collection of his poetry was translated into Russian with a preface by the poet David Samoilov, but the institute failed to make him a Socialist Realist. Kadare recalled his experiences in the novel Le Crépuscule des dieux de la steppe (1981), in which the protagonist is adviced not to say a word about Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago

In 1961 Albania broke with the Soviet Union, and finally with all other Socialist countries, including China. From the cultural standstill arose a new generation of writers, among them Kadaré, Fatos Arapi, and Dritėro Agolli, who was for many years head of the Albanian Union of Writers, although his work was occasionally felt to be out of touch with the party line. In Albania Kadaré first won fame as a poet at the same time when writers hostile to Hoxha suffered persecution. Kadare's attitude to the Hoxha regime was ambiguous. His first novel, Gjenerali i ushtrisė sė vdekur (1963, The General of the Dead Army), is a study of postwar Albania and begins in a pouring rain.

The general of the title is on a mission to Albania, years after the occupation and war, to dig up and repatriate the bones of his fellow soldiers, who had died in the country during World War II. "I have a whole army of dead men under my command," he realizes bitterly. Before completing his work, the general suffers a nervous breakdown in a wedding feast. Dasma (1968, The Wedding) was well received in Albania. The heroine of the novel, a young peasant girl, is rescued from a traditional arranged marriage by factory work. She meets and marries a man she loves, thus breaking the traditions.

Kadaré served as a delegate to the People's Assembly in 1970 and he was given freedom to travel and to publish abroad. Kadaré's Chronicle in Stone (1971) was praised by John Updike in The New Yorker as "sophisticated and accomplished in its poetic prose and narrative deftness". In Kėshtjella (1970, The Castle), a story of Albania's struggle against the Ottoman Turks, and Ura me tri harqe (1978, The Three-Arched The Bridge), an account of the events surrounding the construction of a bridge across a river, Kadaré depicted the feudal Albania. After offending the authorities with 'The Red Pashas' (1975), a politically satirical poem, he was subjected a self-criticism session at the Writers' Union and forbidden to publish for three years. Kadaré has admitted that The Great Winter (1977), which flattered Enver Hoxha, was written in an attempt to avoid confrontation with the authorities.

In Broken April (1978), a story about the blood feud, Kadaré returned to one of his favorite themes – how the past affects the present, this time exemplified by the unwritten law of Kanun. Acting upon the eye-for-eye principle, Gjorg Berisha avenges the murder of his brother, but in so doing he also seals his own fate. "Gjorg came out of the concealment and walked towards the body. The road was deserted. The only sound was the sound of his own footsteps. The dead man had fallen in a heap. Gjorg bent down and laid his hand on the man's shoulder, as if to wake him. 'What am I doing?' he said to himself. He gripped the dead man's shoulder again, as if he wanted to bring him back to life. 'Why am I doing this?' he thought."

Kadare's major themes include the historical experience of the Balkan peoples, the Communist experiment in Albania, and the representations of the classical myths in modern contexts. Nėnpunėsi i pallatit tė ėndrrave (1981, The Palace of Dreams) was a political allegory of totalitarianism, set in an Ottoman capital. The central character is a young man, Mark-Alem, whose job is to select, sort, and interpret the dreams of the imperial populace in order to discover the "master-dream" that will predict the overthrow of the rulers. This basically humorous novel for others than the Albanian authorities was almost immediately banned after its publication. In 1982 Kadaré was accused by the president of the League of Albanian Writers and Artists of deliberately evading politics by cloaking much of his fiction in history and folklore.

Hoxha died in 1985, and his successor, Ramiz Ali, was a less powerful figure. The Successor (2003), a thriller, was loosely based on the suspected suicide of Mehmet Shehu, who was long regarded as Hoxha's right-hand man. Kadaré plays with the complex relationship between the Designated Successor, living in a constant fear of a political error, and the dictator (called the Guide in the novel), who can't trust anyone. At the novel's end the Successor himself reveals in his interior monologue, what really happened on the night of his death. "The events of this novel draw on the infinite well of human memory," Kadaré wrote in the beginning, "whose treasures may be brought to the surface in any period, including our own."

A few months before the collapse of the communist regime, Kadaré emigrated to Paris where he has lived with his family ever since. In 2005 Kadaré was awarded the Man Booker International Prize and in 2015 he receieved the prestigious Jerusalem prize. Several of Kadare's books have been adapted to the screen. Broken April has been filmed three times. A film version of The General of the Dead Army, entitled Il generale dell'armata morte (1983), was made in Italy, starring Marcello Mastroianni as General Ariosto. Shirin Neshath, who won the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival in 2009, has optioned The Palace of Dreams for her second film.

Kadare's Koncert nė fund tė dimrit (1988, The Concert) was considered the best novel of the year 1991 by the French literary magazine Lire. The story is laid against Albania's break with China. In exile Kadaré has expressed his disappointment and bitterness. La Pyramide (1992), written in French, was set in Egypt in the twenty-sixth century B.C. and after. Kadaré mocked Hoxha's fondness for elaborate statutes, the pyramid form also reflecting any dictators love for hierarchy. The Accident (2010) was a multilayered novel about two lovers, whose death launches an investigation not only of their relationship, but also of Balkan politics. A playwright is questioned about the death of a young girl in A Girl in Exile (E punguare, 2009); the novel also touches on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Kadare's short autobiographical novel, Kukulla (2015, The Doll), is centered on the relationship between narrator and his mother, the Doll of the title.

For further reading: Ismail Kadare, le rhapsode albanais by Anne-Marie Mitchel (1990); Eric Faye: Ismail Kadare by Eric Faye (1991); Contemporary Albanian Literature by A. Pipa (1991); Ismail Kadare by Fabienne Terpan (1992); Uviversi letrar i Kadaresė by T. Caushi (1993); Kadareja i panjohur by E. Naumi (1993); Ekskursion nė dy vepra tė Kadaresė by I. Zamputi (1993); Njė fund dhe njė fillim by R. Elsie (1995); World Authors 1985-1990, ed. by Vineta Colby (1995); Studies in Modern Albanian Literature and Culture by R. Elsie (1996); Pengu i moskuptimit by S. Sinani (1997); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, vol. 3, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999); Ismail Kadare: The Writer and the Dictatorship, 1957-1990 by Peter Morgan (2010); Visages d'Ismail Kadaré by Ariane Eissen (2015) - Note: Kadaré's birthdate is in some sources Jan. 28, 1936 or Jan. 26, 1936. In this calendar: Jan. 27, 1936. - For further information: Poezi Shqip / Ismail Kadare

Selected works:

  • Frymėzimet djaloshare, 1954
  • Ėndėrrimet, 1957
  • Princesha Argjiro: poėme, 1958
  • Shekulli im, 1961
  • Gjenerali i ushtrisė sė vdekur, 1963
    - The General of the Dead Army (translated by Derek Coltman, from Jusuf Vrioni’s French version)
    - Kuoleen armeijan kenraali (suom. Seppo Tuokko, 1972)
    - Film: Il generale dell'armata morte (1983), prod. Antea Cinematografica, Films 66, Films A2, dir. Luciano Tovoli, starring Marcello Mastroianni (as General Ariosto), Anouk Aimée, Michel Piccoli, Gérard Klein
  • Pėrse mendohen kėto male, 1964
  • Vjersha dhe poema tė zgjedhura, 1966
  • Qyteti i jugut, 1967
  • Dasma, 1968
    - The Wedding (translated by Ali Cungo from J. Vroni's French version, 1968)
  • Motive me diell, 1968
  • Kėshtjella, 1970
    - The Castle (translated by P. Quesku, from Jusuf Vrioni’s French version, 1974) / The Siege (translated from the French of Jusuf Vrioni by David Bellos, 2008)
  • Autobiografi e popullit nė vargje dhe shėnime tė tjera, 1971
  • Kronik‘ n‘ gur, Tirana, 1971
    - Chronicle in Stone (tr. 1987)
    - Kivisen kaupungin kronikka (suom. Kyllikki Villa, 1976)
  • Dimri i vetmisė sė madhe, 1973
  • Linja tė largėta, shėnime udhėtimi, 1973
  • N‘ntori i nj‘ kryeqyteti, Tirana, 1975 [The November of a Capital]
    - Film: Radiostacioni (1979), prod. Albfilm (Tirana), dir. Rikard Ljarja, starring Kastriot Ēaushi, Birēe Hasko and Adrian Hoxha
  • Poezia shqipe 28, 1976
  • Koha, vjersha dhe poema, 1976
  • Emblema e dikurshme, tregime e novela, 1977
  • Dimri i madh, 1977 [The Great Winter]
    - Film: Ballė pėr ballė (1979), prod. Albfilm (Tirana), dir. Kujtim Ēashku, Piro Milkani, starring Katerina Biga, Rajmonda Bullku and Thimi Filipi
  • Ura me tri harqe, 1978
    - The Three-Arched The Bridge (translated by John Hodgson, 1997)
  • Prilli i thyer, 1978 (published in Gjakftohtėsia, 1980)
    - Broken April (tr. 1990)
    - Särkynyt huhtikuu (suom. Annikki Suni, 2006)
    Films: Tė paftuarit (1985), prod. Albfilm (Tirana), dir. Kujtim Ēashku, starring Reshat Arbana, Mario Ashiku and Viktor Bruēeti; Avril brisé (1987), prod. Canal+, Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC), Franco American Films, dir. Liria Bégéja, starring Jean-Claude Adelin, Violetta Sanchez and Alexandre Arbatt; Abril Despedaēado (2001), prod. Bac Films, Dan Valley Film AG, Haut et Court, script Karim Ainouz, Sérgio Machado, Walter Salles ey al., dir. Walter Salles, starring José Dumont, Rodrigo Santoro, Rita Assemany, Ravi Ramos Lacerda
  • On the Lay of the Knights, 1979
  • Poezi, 1979
  • Buzėqeshje mbi botė, 1980
  • Gjakfohtėsia, 1980
  • Autobiografia e popullit nė vargje, 1980
    - The Autobiography of the People in Verse (tr. 1987)
  • Kush e solli Doruntinėn, 1980
    - Doruntine (translated by Jon Rothschild, 2001) / The Ghost Rider (translated from the French by Jusuf Vrioni by Jon Rotschild; updated, with a new sections added, by Ismail Kadare and David Bellos, 2011)
  • Nj‘ dosje p‘r Homerin, 1980
  • Sjell‘si i fatkeq‘sis‘, 1980
  • Viti i mbrapsht‘, 1980
    - Film: Koha e kometės / Time of the Comet (2008), prod. Kkoci Production, L.A.R.A., dir. Fatmir Koēi, starring Blerim Destani, Masiela Lusha and Xhevdet Ferri
  • Krushqit jan‘ t‘ ngrir‘, 1980
  • Le Crépuscule des dieux de la steppe, 1981 (translated by Jusuf Vrioni)
    - Twilight of the Eastern Gods (translated bt David Bellos, 2014)
  • Vepra letrare, 1981-89 (12 vols.)
  • Nėnpunėsi i pallatit tė ėndrrave, 1981
    - The Palace of Dreams (translated by Barbara Bray, from Jusuf Vrioni’s French version, 1993)
  • Avril brisé, 1982 (translated by Jusuf Vrioni)
    - Särkynyt huhtikuu (suom. Annikki Suni, 2006)
  • Eschyle ou le grand perdant, 1985
    - Film: Cendres et sang (2009), prod. Alfama Films, arte France Cinéma, Hirsch, dir. Fanny Ardant, starring Ronit Elkabetz, Abraham Belaga, Marc Ruchmann, Claire Bouanich
  • Koha e shkrimeve: tregime, novela, pėrshkrime, 1986
  • Koncert n‘ fund t‘ dimrit, 1988
    - The Concert (translated by B. Bray, from Jusuf Vrioni’s French version 1994)
  • Eskili, ky humbės i madh, 1990
  • Dosja H: roman, 1990
    - The File on H. (translated from the French of Jusuf Vrioni by David Bellos, 1998)
  • Ftesė nė studio, 1990
  • Migjeni ose uragani i ndėrprerė, 1990
  • Ardhja e Migjenit nė letėrsinė shqipe, 1991
  • Ėndėrr mashtruese, tregime e novela, 1991
  • Ardhja e Migjenit n‘ let‘rsine shqipe, 1991
  • Printemps albanais, 1991
  • Nga njė dhjetor nė tjetrin, 1991
    - Albanian Spring (translated by Emile Capouya)
  • Pėrbindėshi, 1991
  • Invitation a l'atelier de l'ecrivain suivi de Le Poids de la Croix Paris, 1991
  • Pesha e kryqit, 1991
  • Nata me h‘n‘, 1992
  • La Pyramide, 1992
    - The Pyramid (tr. 1996)
  • Oeuvres, 1993-94
  • Vepra, 1993-94
  • Noėl, une anthologie des plus beaux textes de la littérature mondiale, 1994
  • L'ombre, 1994
  • Albanie, 1995
  • La legende des legendes, 1995
  • Visage des Balkans, 1995
  • Dialog me Alain Bosquet, 1996
  • Shkaba, 1996
  • Spiritus, roman me kaos, zbulesė dhe cmėrs, 1996
  • Kasnecet e shiut, 1997
  • Kushėriri i engjėjve, 1997
  • Počmes, 1957-1997, 1997
  • Kombi shqiptar nė prag tė mijėvjeēarit tė tretė, 1998
  • Tri kėngė zie pėr Kosovėn, 1998 (first published in France as Trois chants funčbres pour le Kosovo)
    - Elegy for Kosovo (translated by Peter Constantine, 2000)
    - Neljä surulaulua Kosovolle (suom. 2009)
  • Ikja e shtėrgut, 1999
  • Qorrfermani, 1999
  • Vjedhja e gjumit mbretėror: tregime, 1999
  • Ra ky mort e u pamė: ditar pėr Kosovėn, artikuj, letra, 1999
  • Breznitė e Hankonatėve, 2000
  • Lulet e ftohta tė marsit, 2000
    - Froides fleurs d'avril (translated by Jusuf Vrioni)
    - Spring Flowers, Spring Frost (translated from the French of Jusuf Vrioni by David Bellos, 2002)
  • Unaza nė kthetra: sprova letrare, shkrime tė ndryshme, intervista, 2001
  • Qyteti pa reklama: roman , 2001
  • Shqiptarėt nė kėrkim tė njė fati tė ri: sprovė, 2001
  • Ca pika shiu ranė mbi qelq, 2003
  • Hija: shėnime tė njė kineasti tė dėshtuar, 2003
  • Kėshtjella: daullet e shiut: roman, 2003
  • Vajza e Agamemnonit, 2003
    - Agamemnon’s Daughter: A Novella and Stories, (translated by David Bellos, 2003)
  • Pasardhėsi: roman, 2003 (Le Successeur)
    - The Successor: A Novel (translated from the French of Tedi Papavrami by David Bellos, 2005)
    - Seuraaja (suom. Tuula Nevala, 2012)
  • Kristal, 2004
  • Nata me hėnė: roman, 2004
  • Poshtėrimi nė Ballkan: sprovė, 2004
  • Shkaba, 2004
  • Ftese ne studio, 2004
  • Dantja i pashmangshėm, 2005
  • Pa formė ėshtė qielli, 2005
  • Hamleti, princi i vėshtirė: sprovė, 2006
  • Identiteti evropian i shqiptarėve: sprovė, 2006
  • Muzgu i perėndive tė stepės: roman, 2006
    - Twilight Of The Eastern Gods (translated from the French of Jusuf Vrioni by David Bellos, 2014)
  • Hija, 2007
  • Vepra, 2007
  • Spiritus, 2007
  • Darka e gabuar, 2008
    - The Fall of the Stone City (translated from the Albanian by John Hodgson, 2012)
  • E punguare: Rekuiem pėr Linda B., 2009
    - A Girl in Exile, 2015 (translated by John Hodgson, 2016)
  • Aksidenti, 2010
    - The Accident (translated by John Hodgson, 2010)
  • Mosmarrëveshja: mbi raportet e Shqipërisë me vetveten: sprovë letrare, 2010
  • Mbi krimin në ballkan: letërkëmbim i zymtë, 2011
  • Ēlirimi i Serbisė prej Kosovės, 2012
  • Bisedë për brilantet në pasditen e dhjetorit: tregime dhe novela, 2013
  • Mëngjeset në Kafe Rostand: motive të Parisit, 2014
  • Kukulla: portreti i nënës: roman, 2015
    - The Doll (translated by John Hodgson, 2015)
  • Arti si mëkat, 2015
  • Koha e dashurisë: (triptik), 2015
  • Uragani i ndërprerë: Ardhja e Migjenit në letërsinë shqipe, 2015
  • Tri sprova mbi letėrsinė botėrore, 2017
  • Kur sunduesit grinden, 2018
  • Vepra poetike nė njė vėllim, 2018
  • Proza e shkurtėr, nė njė vėllim, 2018

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