Ismail Kadare 1936-
Albanian novelist, short story writer, poet, essayist, critic, playwright, memoirist, and nonfiction writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Kadare's career through 2003. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 52.
Kadare has been one of the most prominent Albanian writers since he first began publishing literary works in the 1960s. A prolific author who has composed poetry, short stories, and volumes of criticism in addition to his many highly regarded novels, Kadare is one of the few Albanian writers whose works have been translated and published in other countries. His novels and stories have been translated into over thirty languages and have seen an increasing amount of critical attention since the 1980s, particularly in France and the United States. In a country rigidly ruled by a Stalinist regime from the end of World War II until the early 1990s, Kadare's writings have stood out as some of the few examples of Albanian literature that did not follow the strictures of social realism, a genre devoted to propagating Marxist ideology. Instead, Kadare offers historical and contemporary tales that range from lyrical portraits of the Albanian people, drawing upon both the history and folklore of the culture, to scathing parodies of totalitarian rule. Although he was often praised as a champion of Albanian nationalism during the reign of Communist leader Enver Hoxha, Kadare did encounter difficulty with government censorship under Hoxha and his successor, Ramiz Alia. Citing increasing pressures and threats from Albania's secret police during the reign of Alia, Kadare sought political asylum in France and moved with his family to Paris in 1990.
Kadare was born on January 28, 1936, in Gjirokastër, Albania, the same birthplace as Hoxha. The son of a civil servant, Kadare was raised during a period of tumultuous political struggle and the hardships of war—experience that would later resurface thematically in his fictional and autobiographical writings. Albania, a relatively new country, had declared independence from Turkish rule in 1912, and subsequently the small country found itself a target for several occupying forces, including the Italians during World War I and the Nazis during World War II. Hoxha's Stalinist government took control of Albania in 1944 and allied itself with the Soviet Union in the Warsaw Pact of 1955. After receiving his teaching degree from Tirana University in 1956, Kadare moved to Moscow to accept a scholarship to the Gorky Institute, where he studied world literature. Kadare was forced to leave Moscow in 1961 after Hoxha severed ties with the Soviet Union and formed an alliance with Communist China. In 1963 Kadare published his first novel Gjenerali i ushtrisë së vdekur (The General of the Dead Army)—an English translation was eventually published in 1971, making it the first Albanian novel ever published in the United States. The General of the Dead Army garnered significant attention in his homeland, particularly from Hoxha's tyrannical government. Although his works were under constant scrutiny, Kadare was appointed to the country's legislative body, the People's Assembly, in 1970. Due to his comfortable relationship with government officials as well as his leading role in Albanian literature, Kadare was given the rare privilege of being allowed to travel and publish outside of Albania, which led to increasing international exposure for his work. In 1975 Kadare's privileged position ended with the publication of “The Red Pashas,” a poem which satirized Albania's inefficient bureaucracy. He was subsequently forced into internal exile in a small central Albanian village and forbidden to publish his works. The ban ended in 1978 with the publication of Ura me tri harqe: triptik me një intermexo (The Three-Arched Bridge). After Hoxha's death in 1985, Kadare became a leader in the movement for democratic reform in Albania. Frustrated by the lack of democratic progress under the rule of Hoxha's successor, Alia, and concerned for his personal safety, Kadare sought asylum in France in 1990. Six months later, the Albanian dictatorship collapsed, and the era of Albanian Communism came to an end. Kadare has since divided his time between Paris and Albania, continuing to both write new works and assemble a comprehensive, multi-volume set of his collected works titled Œuvres: Tome onzième (1993-2002).
Kadare's first major novel, The General of the Dead Army, follows an Italian general in the company of a laconic priest on a mission to Albania to recover the remains of soldiers who died some twenty years earlier during World War II. The general's search for the bodies of his former comrades reveals his need to discover his own self-identity, and his subsequent descent into madness reflects the absurdity of his mission and the guilt that stems from his participation in the war. In the 1970s, Kadare turned increasingly to historical prose, a decidedly safer genre in terms of negotiating with government censors. Reminiscent of Dino Buzzati's Il deserto dei Tatarti, Kështjella (1970; The Castle) is set during the fifteenth century in the age of the Albanian national hero Scanderbeg. In carefully composed detail, the novel depicts the siege of an Albanian fortress—symbolic of Albania as a whole—under attack by the Turks during one of their numerous punitive expeditions to subdue the country. As in The General of the Dead Army, The Castle is set in Albania, though narrated through the eyes of a foreigner—in this case, a Turkish pasha. Scholars have noted that Kadare's portrayal of the occupying Turks can be viewed as both historical fact and as a political allegory for the Soviet dominance in Eastern Europe at the time.
In 1971 Kadare published Kronikë në gur (Chronicle in Stone), a novel constructed of eighteen chapters and an epilogue, which chronicles life in the city of Gjirokastër during the Nazi occupation in World War II. Dimri i vetmisë së madh (1973) has been interpreted as Kadare's literary examination of the dramatic rupture between Albania and the Soviet Union in 1961. The principal character is Besnik Struga, a Tirana journalist, who finds himself assigned to the Albanian delegation to the USSR as an interpreter. In Moscow, Struga takes part in negotiations, receptions, and secret high-level talks, experiencing political intrigue and power politics first hand. With The Three-Arched Bridge, Kadare returns to the realm of Albanian mythology, utilizing one of the most sensational motifs in Balkan legendry—immurement. A suspenseful tale of murder and exploitation of ignorance set in medieval Albania, the narrative centers around a Catholic monk relating the discovery of a man entombed in a bridge's arch—the legend of a person being walled in during the construction of a bridge or castle is widespread in Albanian oral literature. Prilli i thyer (1980; Broken April) opens with a murder set in the 1930s. Gjorg Berisha, at the insistence of his family, has just killed his brother's murderer from the rival Kryeqyqe clan. The novel examines the rituals of vendetta in Albania, demonstrating how the ancient Code of Lekë Dukagjini has helped propagate generations of revenge killings in the country. Frequently compared to the works of Franz Kafka and George Orwell's 1984, Nëpunësi i pallatit të ënderrave (1980; The Palace of Dreams) remains as one of Kadare's most recognized works. Set in the Ottoman Empire, Mark-Alemi, scion of a noted family of public servants, is appointed to work for the Tabir Saraj, the government office responsible for the study of sleep and dreams. Mark-Alemi is charged with analyzing and categorizing the dreams and nightmares of the Sultan's subjects and interpreting them in order to enable the authorities to stifle any incipient rebellion or criminal acts.
In Nje dosje per Homerin (1980; The File on H.), two fictive Irish American scholars, Max Roth and Willy Norton, set off for the isolated mountains of pre-war northern Albania to search for the homeland of Homer and the epic verse of Greek mythology. The two folklorists are intent on investigating the possibility of a direct link between Homeric verse and the heroic songs sung by Albanian mountaineers on their one-stringed lahutas. The historical tale offers a satirical take on modern Albania's isolationist proclivities and the Balkan love of rumor and gossip. Similar in format and tone to Dimri i vetmisë së madh, Koncert në fund të dimrit (1988; The Concert) offers a fictional rumination on Albania's break with post-Maoist China in 1978. The novel Piramida (1992; The Pyramid) creates a historical and political allegory, decrying the pyramid-shaped “Enver Hoxha Museum” in Albania. Set in ancient Egypt, the plot follows the conception and building of the Cheops pyramid, noting the absurdity of the massive construction and how detrimental the project was to the Egyptian people. In 1998 Kadare published Tri këngë zie për Kosovën: Novela (Elegy for Kosovo), a series of three novellas, all set in different historical periods of the embattled Kosovar region. Lulet e ftohta të marsit (2000; Spring Flowers, Spring Frost) weaves Greek myth with modern-day events as Mark Gurabardhi, a minor government official, tries to understand the meaning of a series of murders and disappearances, all somehow tied to a secret cache of blackmail files left over from the Communist era. In addition to his fictional works, Kadare has released numerous collections of memoirs and criticism, which are largely focused on the author's Albanian heritage and the complexities of Albanian politics. Such works include Ftesë në studio (1990), Nga një dhjetor në tjetrin (1991; Albanian Spring), and Pesha e kryqit (1992).
Kadare has developed an international reputation as Albania's most prominent writer, drawing wide acclaim for his insightful and poignant depictions of the Albanian people and their struggles under a totalitarian government. Scholars have commended Kadare's talent for social commentary and have praised the author's ability to construct trenchant political allegories, which frequently escaped the notice of government censors. For example, many have noted that Kadare's use of Albanian legend and history to parallel and comment on contemporary issues has been a particularly effective narrative technique. Kadare's prose has also been lauded for its ambitious social vision and staunch rejection of socialist realism. Robert Elsie has observed that, “[t]here can also be no doubt that [Kadare] has contributed more than any other author to the advancement of contemporary Albanian letters, both through his works and through his candid criticism of mediocrity and politically motivated stereotyping.” However, several commentators have debated Kadare's role as Albania's “national author,” with some arguing that Kadare benefited greatly during Albania's totalitarian rule and was afforded opportunities denied to most Albanian authors. Though such critics have labeled Kadare as a compromising political opportunist, a majority of reviewers have countered this argument, asserting that Kadare was simply adept at maneuvering past the Albanian bureaucracy and that his fame rests wholly on this quality of his prose.
Frymezimet kjaloshare (poetry) 1954
Gjenerali i ushtërisë së vdekur [The General of the Dead Army] (novel) 1963
Qyteti i jugut (short stories) 1964
Dasma [The Wedding] (novel) 1967
Kështjella [The Castle] (novel) 1970
Kronikë në gur [Chronicle in Stone] (novel) 1971
Dimri i vetmisë së madh (novel) 1973
Nëntori i një kryeqyteti (novel) 1975; published in France as Novembre d'une capitale
Koha: vjersha dhe poema (poetry) 1976
Në muzeun e armëve:...
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SOURCE: Rubin, Merle. “Albanian Revenge.” Christian Science Monitor 82, no. 230 (24 October 1990): 14.
[In the following review, Rubin commends Kadare's lyrical prose in Broken April, asserting that the author “achieves a precise and delicate balance of wonder and horror, simplicity and irony.”]
A small, mountainous country on the eastern shores of the Adriatic, Albania was always one of the lesser-known places on the European subcontinent: a preserve of fierce mountain tribesmen whose exotic garb inspired Lord Byron to pose for a portrait in Albanian dress.
Modern Albania is still one of the last places on earth that Americans are not...
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SOURCE: Falcoff, Mark. “Notes from the Dark Side of the Moon.” World Affairs 153, no. 3 (winter 1991): 113-15.
[In the following essay, Falcoff characterizes Printemps albanais as a narrative reflecting the difficulties of writing under a totalitarian dictatorship.]
“You cannot imagine what a titanic task it is to produce real literature in what used to be called East bloc countries!” This was the way that Albania's greatest novelist, Ismail Kadaré, justified his decision in 1990 to abandon his country after three decades of playing cat-and-mouse with censors, rivals, and party “cultural” officers. Kadaré's decision struck at the very heart of the...
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SOURCE: Elsie, Robert. Review of Broken April, by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 65, no. 2 (spring 1991): 343-44.
[In the following review, Elsie commends Kadare's contribution to contemporary Albanian letters with Broken April.]
When the writer Bessian Vorpsi announced the destination of his honeymoon to friends and acquaintances at a dinner party in Tirana, he was met by a stunned silence. His young bride Diana was taken aback as well at the thought of spending a holiday on a desolate plateau of the northern Albanian Alps. Would not the sparkling beaches of the Albanian Riviera or Italy or even France have been more appropriate for protagonists of the...
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SOURCE: Knapp, Bettina L. Review of Le palais des rêves, by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 65, no. 2 (spring 1991): 344.
[In the following review, Knapp considers the balance of humorous and serious subject material in Le palais des rêves.]
Ismail Kadare, the prolific Albanian author of poems, short-story collections, and novels, has just had his fifteenth work translated into French. Published in Albania in 1981, Le palais des rêves, one of his finest works, made waves. Was it derisive? Satiric? A subtle way of condemning the communist vision of an automated society? Could it have been a warning against the institutionalization of groups of...
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SOURCE: Elsie, Robert. Review of Dosja H., by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 65, no. 3 (summer 1991): 529-30.
[In the following review, Elsie lauds Dosja H. as a “delightful satire” about two foreigners exploring Albanian history and culture.]
In 1953 Milman Parry and Albert Lord caught the attention of the academy world with the publication of their “Serbo-Croatian heroic songs,” which demonstrated that the Homeric tradition of epic verse was still alive and well in the Balkans. Their Sandjak bard Salih Ugljanin (b. 1866) was quite capable of reciting hours of Serbo-Croatian and Albanian epic verse on heroic deeds of times past....
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SOURCE: Elsie, Robert. Review of The General of the Dead Army, by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 65, no. 4 (autumn 1991): 746-47.
[In the following review, Elsie praises Kadare's revolutionary narrative in The General of the Dead Army, maintaining that the novel “marked the birth of contemporary Albanian prose.”]
“Like a proud and solitary bird, you will fly over those silent and tragic mountains in order to wrest our poor young men from their jagged, rocky grip.” Such was the vision of the Italian general in the company of a laconic priest on his mission to Albania to recuperate the remains of his soldiers who had fallen some twenty years...
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SOURCE: Elsie, Robert. Review of Ftesë në studio, Printemps albanais, and Nga një dhjetor në tjetrin, by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 66, no. 1 (winter 1992): 180.
[In the following review, Elsie offers critical readings of Ftesë në studio, Printemps albanais, and Nga një dhjetor në tjetrin, asserting that the volumes function as Kadare's literary reaction to the tumultuous political events in Albania in 1990 and 1991.]
Eastern Europe breathed a sigh of relief when Joseph Stalin died in 1953. In Albania, incredible as it may now seem in retrospect, even to Albanians themselves, orthodox Stalinism survived unscathed...
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SOURCE: Elsie, Robert. Review of Përbindëshi, by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 66, no. 2 (spring 1992): 384.
[In the following review, Elsie compliments Kadare's insightful political metaphors in Përbindëshi, noting that the novel was “an unusual publication for the Albanian literature of socialist realism of the sixties.”]
Ismail Kadare, the scion of a small nation in which reality has often been difficult to stomach, has shown a long-standing predilection for impregnating his own reality with haunting legendry. The novel Kus e solli Doruntinën? (1980; Eng. Doruntine, 1988; see WLT 61:2, p. 332) transposes the...
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SOURCE: Elsie, Robert. Review of Pesha e kryqit, by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 66, no. 2 (spring 1992): 384-85.
[In the following review, Elsie evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Pesha e kryqit, arguing that the volume lacks Kadare's traditional “loftier vision of things.”]
In no other city of Albania has the fight for survival been harder than in rocky Gjirokastër near the Greek border. If Korçë in the southeast was blessed with a relative degree of prosperity (in Albanian terms) and Shkodër in the north knew how to survive the buffets of fate with a certain Mediterranean levity and nonchalance, Gjirokastër epitomized the...
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SOURCE: Kolsti, John. Review of Broken April, by Ismail Kadare. International Journal of Middle East Studies 25, no. 1 (February 1993): 153-55.
[In the following review, Kolsti considers Broken April to be a unique work in Kadare's oeuvre, lauding the novel's effective political commentary.]
This is a tale simply told about broken time. Kadare takes the reader into the shadow world of the Roman Catholic clans of the north Albanian mountains. In this kingdom of death, time is measured by twenty-four-hour or thirty-day truces between families senselessly caught up in the kanun, a centuries-old code that regulates killing as well as everyday life. In...
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SOURCE: Binding, Paul. “Soul Searches.” New Statesman and Society 6, no. 241 (26 February 1993): 40-1.
[In the following review, Binding labels The Palace of Dreams as a “Kafkaesque” narrative and notes the novel's poignant emotional resonance.]
In of the most remarkable books of the past decade, Theodore Zeldin's lateral journey through the human mind, Happiness, we read that: “It was time that fantasies and dreams were recognised to be as important a part of history as coins and pots and battle-axes; dreams which never quite came true were as much events … as well-established facts, which frequently only just managed to happen.”...
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SOURCE: Elsie, Robert. Review of La pyramide, by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 67, no. 3 (summer 1993): 648.
[In the following review, Elsie characterizes La pyramide as a political allegory for the reign of Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha.]
It would seem to hold true that absolute monarchs have a predilection for pyramid-form monuments in order to exemplify the hierarchical structure of their power. It comes, therefore, as no surprise that the last representative monument set to the memory of Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha (1908-85) before the collapse of the system he perfected was the pyramid-form Enver Hoxha Museum, erected on the main boulevard...
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SOURCE: Elsie, Robert. Review of Clair de lune and La Grande Muraille, suivi de le firman aveugle, by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 68, no. 2 (spring 1994): 406.
[In the following review, Elsie examines the controversy surrounding Kadare's frank treatment of sexual issues in his novel Clair de lune as well as briefly commenting on the stories collected in La Grande Muraille, suivi de le firman aveugle.]
When Clair de lune (A Moonlit Night) was originally published in Albania (as Nata me hënë) in January 1985, it caused something of a scandal. It was one of the rare occasions under the dictatorship during which Ismail...
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SOURCE: Forster, Imogen. “Mao Goes to Pot.” New Statesman and Society 7, no. 323 (7 October 1994): 49.
[In the following review, Forster offers a mixed assessment of The Concert, asserting that “in among this baffling farrago of plot, counter-plot and inflated ‘message’ are passages of great delicacy and perceptiveness.”]
Sometimes called Albania's “loyal dissident”, Ismail Kadare occupied a contradictory position under Enver Hoxha. A favoured intellectual, even a cultural spokesperson, he was at the same time a persistent, though harassed, critic of crude socialist realism and of a political order that, as an “official” writer, he was...
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SOURCE: Elsie, Robert. Review of The Concert, by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 69, no. 2 (spring 1995): 412.
[In the following review, Elsie explores the speculation surrounding Kadare's political metaphors in The Concert.]
So much has changed in Albania in the six years since the original Albanian publication of The Concert (Tiranë, 1988) that the Sino-Albanian alliance now seems like ancient history. Albania was hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world during most of that extraordinarily curious marriage, which lasted from the break with the Soviet Union in 1961 through to 1978. The Concert, now finally in an English...
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SOURCE: Elsie, Robert. Review of L'ombre, by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 69, no. 4 (autumn 1995): 842-43.
[In the following review, Elsie notes Kadare's declining critical reputation in Albania and views L'ombre as a largely autobiographical work.]
After his emigration to France in October 1990, Ismail Kadare stated that he would return to his native land once democracy was restored. He has nevertheless chosen to remain in Paris, and there seems little chance that he will return to Albania at all—at least for the time being. His choice is understandable not only in view of the creative stimulus most writers enjoy in the French capital, but...
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SOURCE: Thomson, Ian. “Darkness over the Land of Egypt.” Spectator 276, no. 8747 (9 March 1996): 29-30.
[In the following review, Thomson asserts that The Pyramid is not Kadare's best work, commenting that the novel's social commentary is “very bitter, but also abstruse.”]
After half a century of Stalinist dictatorship, Albania is fumbling its way towards capitalism. On his recent visit to this Balkan outpost, Malcolm Rifkind found the Albanian president beaming with gratitude. ‘I would like to thank the British taxpayers for all the help they have given to my country.’ In turn Mr Rifkind was happy to announce the appointment of the first British...
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SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “A Tomb of One's Own.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (28 April 1996): 2.
[In the following review of The Pyramid, Eder contends that “Kadare is a supreme fictional interpreter of the psychology and physiognomy of oppression.”]
When he became Egypt's pharaoh 4,600 years ago, Cheops hinted to his scandalized courtiers that he, unlike his predecessors, might not build a pyramid. It is the opening irony in Ismail Kadare's mordant political parable (Cheops' Great Pyramid is 480 feet high and covers 12 acres). Only the opening one, though.
The Pyramid is an iron mille-feuille: multilayered, finely honed...
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SOURCE: Elsie, Robert. Review of Dialogue avec Alain Bosquet, by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 70, no. 4 (autumn 1996): 1005.
[In the following review, Elsie argues that Dialogue avec Alain Bosquet provides valuable insight into Kadare's struggle to remain a productive and honest artist while living in a totalitarian state.]
Who is responsible for the political crimes of the communist period in Eastern Europe: the dictator alone, the class of officials who served him and themselves at the time, or the people as a whole? This is a question which has been gnawing at the soul of postcommunist Albania ever since the collapse of one of the most...
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SOURCE: Elsie, Robert. Review of Shkaba, by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 70, no. 4 (autumn 1996): 1008.
[In the following review, Elsie regards Shkaba as an allegory for the practice of political internment under the communist regime in Albania.]
[In Shkaba, t]wenty-two-year-old Max went out one evening to buy a pack of cigarettes. On his way down the street, he passed under some scaffolding, slipped on a board, and fell, plunging into another world. There he found himself in a community not unsimilar to his own, a small town in the provinces with a bar, a bank, and a zoo. Max discovered that he was not the only stranger to have made the...
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SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “History as Illness.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (9 February 1997): 2.
[In the following review, Eder delineates the major thematic concerns in The Three-Arched Bridge.]
If we knew what the future held, we might be less eager than President Clinton to build a bridge to it. Perhaps we would widen the river.
Tragedy to our American mind—to the extent that our mind regards it—is still what you advance out of. Through much of the history of much of the world, it has been what you advance into, helplessly.
The bridge in Ismail Kadare's The Three-Arched Bridge is a foreboding, an omen, a threat....
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SOURCE: Elsie, Robert. Review of The Three-Arched Bridge, by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 71, no. 3 (summer 1997): 630.
[In the following review, Elsie praises the English translation of The Three-Arched Bridge and deems the novel “one of Kadare's classic works of Balkan history and legendry, and … among his finest novels of the period.”]
At long last, after many years of delay, the novel The Three-Arched Bridge has finally appeared in English. It is one of Kadare's classic works of Balkan history and legendry, and counts among his finest novels of the period. The Albanian version, Ura me tri harqe, was first published in...
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SOURCE: Annan, Gabriele. “Rainy Days.” London Review of Books 19, no. 18 (18 September 1997): 15.
[In the following review, Annan criticizes The File on H. as “amateurish” novel that overindulges in “cultural condescension.”]
The only book about Albania I had read before this one was Edith Durham's deadpan account of her travels there before the First World War. It is called In High Albania and describes how she had to become an honorary man in order to get around—not among the Muslims, as you might think, but among the Catholic tribes of the north, whose favourite Sunday pastime was shooting members of families with whom they were at blood...
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SOURCE: Elsie, Robert. Review of Spiritus: roman me kaos, zblesë dhe çmërs, by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 71, no. 4 (autumn 1997): 841-42.
[In the following review, Elsie offers a stylistic and thematic overview of Spiritus: roman me kaos, zblesë dhe çmërs.]
It has been almost a decade since Ismail Kadare left his homeland to settle in Paris, and these last years have been decisive in enabling him to reach full maturity as a creative and entertaining writer. He was recently elected to a seat in the venerable Académie Française in recognition of his achievements. Kadare's latest novel, Spiritus, published simultaneously in Albanian and...
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SOURCE: Hibbard, Allen. Review of The Three-Arched Bridge, by Ismail Kadare. Review of Contemporary Fiction 17, no. 3 (fall 1997): 242.
[In the following review, Hibbard finds parallels between The Three-Arched Bridge and Julien Gracq's The Opposing Shore.]
The narrator of The Three-Arched Bridge, a monk by the name of Gjon, begins his story by writing that he will attempt to tell the “whole truth” and in so doing “record the lie we saw and the truth we did not see.” He proceeds to say, “I write this in haste, because times are troubled, and the future looks blacker than ever before.” That threatening dark force is the Ottoman Empire,...
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SOURCE: Malcolm, Noel. “In the Palace of Nightmares.” New York Review of Books 44, no. 17 (6 November 1997): 21-4.
[In the following review, Malcolm traces Kadare's literary development, commenting that The Three-Arched Bridge “offers a concentrated example of the Kadarean style and mood.”]
The Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare once observed that every writer has two ages, two chronologies. First there is the author's biological age; then there is his or her reputation, which is born at a different date and lives on another timescale. Kadare himself was born in 1936. His international reputation came into the world in 1970, with the French translation of...
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SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “Roots.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (15 February 1998): 2.
[In the following review, Eder maintains that The File on H. functions as a “Balkan farce,” noting that the work is unusually absurd in comparison to Kadare's previous works.]
Two archeologists equipped with a cumbersome tape recorder arrive in a northern Albanian province in the 1930s. They have come to capture the recitations of the last few mountain bards, heirs of an oral epic tradition going back to Homer.
Their project sets off a series of paranoid janglings and clownish cross-purposes in a society as isolated then as it has been virtually ever...
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SOURCE: Elsie, Robert. Review of Poémes, 1957-1997, by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 72, no. 2 (spring 1998): 428.
[In the following review, Elsie evaluates both the poems collected in Poémes, 1957-1997 and Kadare's impact on the whole of Albanian poetry.]
The international reception of Ismail Kadare's works over the last thirty years has been mixed. In the Albanian and French-speaking worlds, he is and remains the Albanian prose writer par excellence and has enjoyed wide acclaim. The English, German, Italian, and Spanish-speaking publics have been more reserved, though this is understandable because of the paucity of readable...
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SOURCE: Elsie, Robert. Review of The File on H., by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 72, no. 2 (spring 1998): 432.
[In the following review, Elsie commends The File on H. as a “tremendous satire” on Albania's former totalitarian dictatorship.]
The File on H. is a delightful tale from Ismail Kadare's mature period. It was published in Albanian under the title Dosja H in 1990 (see WLT 65:3, p. 529) and has already been translated into French (1989), Swedish (1990), Portuguese (1990), Norwegian (1992), Greek (1992), and Spanish (1993).
The story line takes us back to the early 1930s. Kadare's “fictional”...
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SOURCE: Kadare, Ismail, and Shusha Guppy. “Ismail Kadare: The Art of Fiction CLIII.” Paris Review 40, no. 147 (summer 1998): 195-217.
[In the following interview, Kadare discusses his body of work, his literary influences, his time in the Soviet Union, and his creative process.]
In 1970 a novel by an unknown Albanian writer took literary Paris by storm. The General of the Dead Army was the story of an Italian general who goes back to Albania after the Second World War to find the bodies of the Italian soldiers killed there and take them back to Italy for burial. It was hailed as a masterpiece, and its author was invited to France, where he was welcomed by...
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SOURCE: Evans, Julian. “A Thick Fog Covers the Plain of Blackbirds.” London Review of Books 21, no. 10 (13 May 1999): 30-1.
[In the following favorable review of Trois chants funèbres pour le Kosovo, Evans maintains that “the three elegies, like his other fiction, seek to establish not necessarily an exact historical truth but one based on an amalgam of ascertainable fact and the authenticity of literary tradition.”]
Ismail Kadare knew what was coming six years ago. ‘The Albanians have kept extremely calm in Kosovo,’ he told me, ‘because they know that the Serbs are only waiting for a sign of provocation to start a terrible massacre. Milosevic is...
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SOURCE: Elsie, Robert. Review of Novembre d'une capitale, by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 73, no. 3 (summer 1999): 569.
[In the following review, Elsie describes the circumstances surrounding the publication of Novembre d'une capitale as well as its subsequent revision.]
One of the most frightening moments in the history of the long Stalinist dictatorship in Albania was the so-called Purge of the Liberals at the Fourth Party Congress in 1973, which unleashed a reign of terror against Albanian writers and intellectuals lasting to at least 1975. Comparable in spirit to the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, this event followed in the wake of the...
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SOURCE: Kadare, Ismail, and Shusha Guppy. “Poet of Freedom: A Profile of Ismail Kadare.” World and I 14, no. 9 (September 1999): 287.
[In the following interview, Kadare discusses Albania politics, his writing career, and his future aspirations.]
One day during the negotiations in Cheteau de Rambouillet, the leaders of the Kosovan delegation paid a visit to Ismail Kadare, Albania's greatest living writer, in Paris. They were seeking his advice about the final proposals. Over a drink they talked, laughed, took some photographs, and left. The next day they duly signed the accords, which the Serbs finally rejected. We know the tragedy that ensued: “It says something...
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SOURCE: MacPherson, Hugh. “The Songs of War.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5064 (21 April 2000): 21.
[In the following review, MacPherson praises Three Elegies for Kosovo as a lucid and insightful exploration into Kosovar politics and history.]
Three Elegies for Kosovo again creates the eerie world that was the setting for Ismail Kadare's novel The Three-Arched Bridge, a medieval equivalent of the 1930s, in which war between power blocs is inevitable, and in which the final period before conflict is made even more tense by rumour and propaganda. The stories that circulate claim to report the very words used by European kings, the Byzantine...
(The entire section is 1007 words.)
SOURCE: Margaronis, Maria. “Palaces of Dreams.” Nation 270, no. 23 (12 June 2000): 28-31.
[In the following review, Margaronis asserts that Elegy for Kosovo should be read as fiction, rather than historical fact, and offers a biographical and critical overview of Kadare and his work.]
The Battle of Kosovo, at which the Ottoman forces of Sultan Murad I defeated an assortment of Balkan leaders under the Serb Prince Lazar in 1389, is mostly known to the world through the mythology of Serbian nationalism, which takes it as the holy funeral pyre from which the Serbian phoenix will one day rise again. It was on the 600th anniversary of that battle that Slobodan...
(The entire section is 3526 words.)
SOURCE: Elsie, Robert. Review of Three Elegies for Kosovo, by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 74, no. 3 (summer 2000): 682-83.
[In the following review, Elsie elucidates the plots and thematic concerns of the novellas collected in Three Elegies for Kosovo.]
Nothing has been more central to the historical and emotional identity of the southern Balkans than the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. It was on 28 June, St. Vitus Day, of that year that a coalition of Balkan forces made up of Serbs, Bosnians, Albanians, and Romanians confronted an invading Ottoman army led by Sultan Mourad. Their defeat at the hands of the Turks led to five centuries of Ottoman rule and...
(The entire section is 661 words.)
SOURCE: Phillips, Brian D. “Postbellum.” Commonweal 127, no. 15 (8 September 2000): 36-8.
[In the following review, Phillips discusses Elegy for Kosovo in relation to several other narratives concerning the political situation in Kosovo during the late 1990s.]
At the heart of his masterful Elegy for Kosovo, the Albanian fabulist Ismail Kadare places the poignant tale of two fourteenth-century minstrels joined in flight. Their epic journey follows the defeat of the massed Christian armies of southeastern Europe by the Ottoman forces at the legendary Battle of Kosovo. As Gjorg, an Albanian, and Vladan, a Serb, wander out of the Balkans into French and...
(The entire section is 1231 words.)
SOURCE: Levy, Michele. Review of Elegy for Kosovo, by Ismail Kadare.World Literature Today 74, no. 4 (autumn 2000): 903.
[In the following review, Levy compliments the emotional depth of the stories in Elegy for Kosovo, arguing that “Kadare has shaped a powerful metaphor for Kosovo and the Balkans.”]
In 1389 Albanians and Serbs suspended ancient enmities to unite against the Turks at the Battle of Kosovo. Ismail Kadare's three-part prose poem [Elegy for Kosovo] traces the fate of war minstrels who must entertain the troops and memorialize the battle. His voice that of a medieval chronicler, his chosen moment mythic and historic, embedded with...
(The entire section is 530 words.)
SOURCE: Mundy, Toby. “Novel of the Week.” New Statesman 129, no. 4510 (30 October 2000): 55.
[In the following review, Mundy lauds The General of the Dead Army as a powerful and evocative parable for Balkan politics.]
In his famous essay “What Is a Nation?”, the French historian Ernest Renan suggested that nations are defined equally by what people choose collectively to remember and by what everyone decides to forget. The General of the Dead Army tells the story of an Italian general sent to Albania in the 1960s to repatriate the remains of the young Italians who fell there during the Second World War. Their defeat is something that Ismail...
(The entire section is 687 words.)
SOURCE: Brownjohn, Alan. “Kingdom of Bones.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5093 (10 November 2000): 24.
[In the following review, Brownjohn regards The General of the Dead Army as a “profoundly moving novel” and notes that the narrative remains engaging, despite the ambiguousness of the lead characters.]
The Albanian novelist, poet and critic Ismail Kadare both enjoyed the cautious favour of the Hoxha regime as someone applauding the Marxist “modernization” of his country, and suffered from its humiliating disapproval; he was banned from publishing for three years, when he brought out a political satire in verse in 1975, and then attacked in 1981,...
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SOURCE: Apter, Emily. “Balkan Babel: Translation Zones, Military Zones.” Public Culture 13, no. 1 (winter 2001): 65-80.
[In the following essay, Apter discusses the recurring themes of language politics in Balkan literature, citing how Kadare's works—particularly The Three-Arched Bridge and The Palace of Dreams—portray the challenges of multilingualism in the Balkan region.]
As the field of translation studies begins to respond to new directions in transnational literary studies, there has been a foregrounding of topics such as the “dependency” of minoritarian languages on dominant, vehicular ones; the links among linguistic standardization, nation-building, and the colonial export of European languages; the ways in which a global economy reinforces the imperium of English; the emergence of an international canon of books that are translation-friendly (in a market sense); and the definition of a “translational transnationalism” in terms of diversal relations among minoritarian languages.1 This last conceptual area is clearly indebted to the pioneering study of Franz Kafka by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature.2 In a seminal chapter entitled “What Is Minor Literature?” Deleuze and Guattari analyzed Kafka's German as a pastiche of the “vehicular” tongue—meaning, in this case, the impoverished bureaucratese, the hollow state language imposed on Czechoslovakia by the Prussian state. According to their reading, Kafka subverted the vehicular by freighting it with unwelcome baggage, from Yiddish inflections to scraps of Czech vernacular. Now, even if the newly edited and translated Malcolm Pasley and Mark Harman editions of Kafka reveal a very differently textured use of the German language from the one characterized by Deleuze and Guattari, their idea of minor literature has been crucial to defining the “trans” unit in literary transnationalism.3 In the field of transnational translation studies, the ramifications are clear: rather than a major language acting as the general equivalent between two or more minor languages, the translation process is now conceptualized as occurring within a field of the minor.
Translational transnationalism, as it moves beyond Deleuze and Guattari, points to a future space-time of translation between, say, Tagalog and Ogoni or Wolof and Spanglish. And if these exchanges still seem far off, we already have the example of Michel Tremblay's Les belles-soeurs, the pioneering work of Joual theater that was put on at the Edinburgh Festival several years ago as The Guid-Sisters in Scots translation, or, more recently still, the translation of Irvine Welsh's Scottish argot in Trainspotting into Quebecois Joual.4 The British Council translation Web site refers us to the collaboration between Martin Bowman, born in Montreal of Scottish parents, and Wajdi Mouawad, a theater director born in Beirut and brought up in Montreal, in which they arrived at a particular orthography and transposed demotic to capture the language of Welsh's Scots speakers in Joual. In the following excerpt from the Joual translation, the parenthetical numbers refer to the translators' explanatory footnotes: “J'ai envie d'me battre (1) tabarnak (2)! J'veux dire (3)! Tu m'connais tsé, j'sus pas l'genre de grosse plotte tabarnak à charcher (4) des hostis d'problèmes, mais j'étais le gars avec le câlisse de bat de billard din's (5) mains et c'te grosse plotte là à face d'étron (6) pouvait bien se r'trouver a'c (7) le câlisse du bout gras du bat dans sa câlisse de grosse yeule, si y'avait envie (8) J'suis prète à l'faire (9) tabarnak!”5 The notes reveal how the problems typically attending standard language translation—compensation for nonequivalency, the rendering of sound values and rhythm, the carryover of sedimented layers of linguistic history and “lost” inflection—become particularly acute when the transference is between so-called minor or highly idiomatic languages. Bowman and Mouawad explain:
The translation attempts to reflect the rhythm of the original sentence, but to do so within its own sound system, certain literal elements had to be dropped, (eg. ‘ensemble’, i.e. together, replaces ‘ah mind’, i.e. I remember) The main phenomenon to observe here is the use of the expletive language to create the rhythm and to observe the use of one of these words as a verb, i.e. tabarnaké. This creative use of the vocabulary of religious words, turning what are usually nouns into verbs and adverbs, underscores the vitality of the vernacular for all the poverty of imagination of the speaker. We liked the repetition of the hard ‘c’ in tabarnaké, câlisses, corps, criss, crabes, câlisse as the sound functions to underscore the violence in the action being described and is captured in such words in the original as smashin, fuckin, crabs, bits, stanes, cunt, fuckin, ken. In the Scots the violent effect is reflected not only in the consonants but in the use of monosyllabic plurals. In other words, the translators here are trying for an effect based as much in sound as in meaning.6
This translation from dialect to dialect, or from minority to minority tongue, bypassing (while certainly acknowledging) standard usage, lends substance to theoretical speculations about translation's relationship to transnationalism: it is precisely a meeting between argots over the bodies of the official tongues from which they depart. Like the “trans to trans” of transnational affiliations, the bonds forged between ethnic and proletarian vernaculars in different cultures defy the gold standard of vehicular languages such as English and French. They also serve inadvertently to question the grounds of aesthetic judgment by drawing attention to the difficulty of distinguishing between vernacular deviations and poetic warpings of standard language. One reader's “bad English” or “bad French” will be another's high poetry, and, of course, no writer has brought this ambiguity more pointedly into focus than James Joyce. These tensions among vehicular, literary, and colloquial speech define the abrasive edges of translation studies; and it is where these edges meet—the volatile zones of translation, the zones of linguistic warfare—that I would situate my own discussion of what I call “Balkan Babel.”
Balkanism is a term wielded by Maria Todorova in her book Imagining the Balkans as a self-conscious counterpoint to Saidian Orientalism.7 Todorova and other scholars of Balkanism caution judiciously against regional stereotyping that equates “Balkan” with ethnic cleansing, bloodletting, a perpetual underground and mongrel regionalism, “semi-developed, semi-colonial” Europe, “an incomplete self of the West.”8 There is nonetheless, in representative literary works from southeastern Europe, a pronounced thematic focus on border wars and fractious linguistic copopulation. It is from these works that I take my cue in treating “Balkan” as a synonym of a particular kind of translational transnationalism, in which emphasis is placed not so much on market determinations of the flow of minor languages and literatures but, rather, on the question of what occurs semiotically and socially when dialects, or marginalized world languages, are in a war of maneuver unmediated by a major language of position.9
A subset of politics at large, with particular agendas and strategic interests, language politics defines its theater of war in the space where a military zone may be superimposed on a linguistic hot spot or translation zone. The expression translation zone could well refer to the demarcation of a community of speakers who achieve an ideal threshold of communication (the utopia of Gottfried-Wilhelm Leibniz, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and Jürgen Habermas). But when war is at issue, it makes more sense to define it as a translation no-fly zone, an area of border trouble where the lines dividing discrete languages are muddy and disputatious; where linguistic separatism is enforced by high surveillance missions; or where misfired, off-kilter semantic missiles are beached or disabled. Construed in terms of border patrols and military operations, the paradigm of a translation zone at war may be applied beyond the Balkans to the way in which monolingual nations police their internal linguistic borders and to revolts against the computer as a machinic labor force in the economy of global translation. From the market in pocket translators to the onslaught of universal standards of technological literacy and the rise of comprador computer dialects that aggressively squeeze out weak competitors, a language war of the information age is taking shape with a distinctly bellicose rhetoric. Recent reports of attacks on Internet sites (Yahoo, Buy.com, eBay) consistently rely on the language of ballistics: assault, barrage, fortification, siege, bombardment, and the loss of public safety. In this context, the declaration that “wars between languages are as fateful as wars between men”10 is truly premonitory and indicative of a present condition in which la guerre de Troyes will not, indeed, take place without computer-assisted violence and defense strategy.
In the Albanian author Ismail Kadare's 1978 novel The Three-Arched Bridge, this statement is made by a European monk on his return from a diplomatic visit to Byzantium. It is spoken to the novel's main character, a translator who is negotiating the terms of the construction of a bridge that would span rivalrous Balkan and Ottoman territories.11 Set in 1377, Kadare's novel uncannily anticipates the most recent Balkan conflagrations, specifically the way in which the Mitrovica bridge on the Ibar River in northern Kosovo, flanked by self-appointed Serbian “bridge keepers,” Albanian militants, and NATO peacekeeping forces, made the question of partition and permanent secession the order of the day. Kadare's searing portrayal of mountain country vendettas in Broken April (1978) is equally prescient;12 the erasure of Tito's Yugoslavia and the collapse of Soviet hegemony have introduced a wild card politics of East-West realignment that enables ancient ethnic, religious, and cultural feuds to reignite in the guise of modern mafia warfare.
The Three-Arched Bridge traces how language wars fit into the larger picture of political misalliance, blood feuds, and border trauma. Balkan babble—a condition of failed semantic transmission—obtains an isomorphic fit with Balkan Babel, a Tower of Babel turned on its side to form a hapless bridge intended to ford the unbridgeable gulf between Europe and the so-called East. In the tense negotiations around the erection of the bridge, multilingualism asserts its importance at the bargaining table, raising stakes in what is already a lethal game of diplomatic and cultural one-upmanship. For example, the politics of laying claim to linguistic superiority is paramount, as when the narrator, a professional translator in the employ of an impoverished Albanian count, heaps contempt on the “foreigners” (Turks) by derogating their speech (it is “easier to interpret for woodpeckers”) (TB [The Three-Arched Bridge], 18). And in another instance: “The new arrivals did indeed speak the most horrible tongue. My ears had never heard such a babble. Slowly I began to untangle the sounds. I noticed that their numbers were Latin and their verbs generally Greek or Slav, while they used Albanian for the names of things, and now and then a word of German. They used no adjectives” (TB, 10-11). This confusion issuing from strangers' mouths is transliterated as broken English: “This road bad because non maintain, mess complete. Water smooth itself, road non, routen need work, we has no tales, has instruct, we fast money, give, take. Water different, boat move itself graciosus, but vdrug many drown, bye-bye, sto dhjavolos. Funebrum, he, he, road no, road sehr guten but need gut repair” (TB, 13; emphasis in original). The translation implies a corrupt original language—Slavo-Germanic pidgin—whose broken grammar and encrypted allusions to bad roads, vengeful waters, and drowning men foretells the contested construction of the bridge and the ensuing cycle of violent retribution that culminates in the encasement of a living man in the bridge's rampart.
If, as some have said, language is a dialect protected by an army, then The Three-Arched Bridge may be read as a study of what happens when the security forces protecting the reigning tongue start to lose their strategic advantage and become vulnerable to the invading force of multilingual language users whose polyglot idiolect has yet to select a dominant dialect for standardization. Here this situation relates specifically to the Albanian claim to “first language” status, a claim that remains active even today in the politics of regional chauvinism. “I told him,” says the narrator, “that we are the descendants of the Illyrians and that the Latins call our country Arbanum or Albanum or Regnum Albaniae” (TB, 69). After informing his listener that Albanians, together with the ancient Greeks, are the oldest people in the Balkans, with roots in the region “since time immemorial” and with a tradition that has embittered the “newcomers” (the Slavs), the narrator makes the familiar argument that the Albanian language “is contemporary with if not older than Greek, and that this, the monks say, was proved by the words that Greek had borrowed from our tongue”—and, he then adds, they are “not just any words, but the names of gods and heroes” (TB, 70). This linguistic patrimony is now under threat from the Ottoman language (“casting its shadow over both our languages, Greek and Albanian, like a black cloud”) (TB, 70). The -luk suffix, he laments, is pounding the originary tongue like “some dreadful hammer blow,” and “nobody understands the danger” (TB, 70). It is in the context of these observations that the sympathetic interlocutor makes the remark about wars between languages and wars between men.
Kadare's novel poses the proverbial question, What's in a name? The insidious beginning of an embattled condition is the answer, when it comes to the word Balkan itself. To the narrator's amazement, the term passes from the Turkish language virtually unnoticed into the vocabulary of the Albanians after the count sells the Turks a stretch of highway: “More than by the desire of the Ottomans to cover under one name the countries and peoples of the peninsula, as if subsequently to devour them more easily, I was amazed by our readiness to accept the new name. I always thought that this was a bad sign, and now I am convinced that it is worse than that” (TB, 25). The seeding of conflict in the very name “Balkan” repeats a prior history of Germanic self-appellation: “A century previously,” the narrator says, “it was the ‘Jermans’ who were coming, they were described as ‘people who talk as if in jerm, in delirium.’ … According to our old men, these people have even begun to call their own country Jermani, which means the place where people gabble in delirium, or land of jerm” (TB, 27). This embedding of a story of Babel within ethnic and regional nomination acts as a secret weapon—a Trojan horse conceit—deployed by Albania's invaders. Smuggled across the border in the guise of a commercially motivated translation operation, the Turkish language behaves like germ warfare; impossible to contain, yet capable of spreading linguistic chaos once released into the atmosphere. Polyglot chatter breaks out at the bridge—Europe's symbolic weak link and the physical site of blood sacrifice—spreading confusion and narrative disorientation. As the Albanian locals lose their ability to distinguish legend from fact, or beginnings from endings, the “Ottoman hordes” advance upon them, subjecting their “majestic language” to the “terrible ‘luk’” that strikes their native tongue like “a reptile's tail” (TB, 183). Here one must caution against a neutral reading of this decidedly negative portrayal of linguistic Ottomanization in the light of Kadare's political orientation. A dissident exile living in Paris since 1990, he is known for his pronounced pro-Europe, anti-Turkish, and anti-Islamic stance, as evinced in a polemical pamphlet on “the anatomy of tyranny” in which he refers derisively to the “baggage of the Ottoman overlords” while longingly prognosticating “a great rectification of [Albania's] history that will hasten its union with the mother continent—Europe.”13
Kadare's professed commitment to removing the traces of Turkish language and cultural influence on a future Albania surely render his texts problematic as exemplars of language politics, if one is committed to warding off the latest iterations of Orientalism. But it is also in their denunciation of the East that these texts function effectively as symptoms of what they diagnose—a condition of Balkan Babel defined by the acute anxieties that surround possession of a discrete language in territories of intense linguistic variegation and border conflict. Though not unique to the Balkans, this anxiety is aggravated by East-West barriers of untranslatability;14 by the sameness between languages (such as Serbian and Croatian) that have been declared separate by official decree; by the physical proximity of differential language groups (with a language shift occurring at virtually every train stop); by the historic failure of nationalist linguistic policy to eliminate discrepancies; and by the proliferation of hybrid dialects that fall short of qualifying as standard languages. In the Balkans, the vindication of a language, or even a word, may be a lethal affair, and many writers have fastened on this problematic as key to understanding not only regional factionalism but also the symptomatology carried, for better or for worse, by the term Balkanization.
The Nobel prize-winning Serbian author Ivo Andrić, whose 1945 novel The Bridge on the Drina clearly served as inspiration for, if not as the occasion of rewriting, The Three-Arched Bridge, gives special focus to the responsibility language bears for making Balkanization a synonym of profound regional dysfunction. Set in Bosnia, The Bridge on the Drina spans several centuries and replays the smoldering tensions between Orthodox Serbs and Islamic converts. The fateful construction of a bridge excites the wrath of the boatmen, who destroy by night what has been built by day, and who, as in The Three-Arched Bridge, must forfeit the life of one of their own as punishment. As the novel moves forward to the end of the nineteenth century and the outbreak of civil war, the politics of blood tribute evolve seamlessly into the politics of occupation, with local militias doubling as military troops, and vice versa. Violence, as in the Kadare novel, erupts on the occasion of a diplomatic translation: an old man from the Turkish side, thought to be a dervish, wanders unsuspectingly into the Serbian camp and is subjected to interrogation through the intermediary of a translator with “poor knowledge of the Turkish language.” Intentionally performing a shoddy job, the translator puts “the worst possible construction on the old man's exalted phrases” such that they seem to “smell of politics and seditious intent.”15 And so the old man is marked for execution, setting in motion the tit-for-tat engine of a language war. Turkish soldiers find their opportunity for retribution when they happen upon a mill attendant in a remote forest area as he is giving full throat to a ballad of ancient Serbia normally reserved for “closed houses” (BD [The Bridge on the Drina], 87). The verse that speaks of a maiden whose lover hopes to carry a standard for her into battle is particularly offensive to the Turks, convinced that the words maiden and standard have been subversively purloined from their language. The narrator explains: “In that great and strange struggle, which had been waged in Bosnia for centuries between two faiths, for land and power and their own conception of life and order, the adversaries had taken from each other not only women, horses and arms but also songs. Many a verse passed from one to the other as the most precious of booty” (BD, 87-88). In the fictional worlds of Andrić and Kadare, the anodyne practice of linguistic border-crossing—from the adoption of loan words to the appropriation of a rival country's verse—becomes enmeshed in a paranoid psychology of transferential identification with the other's words in which each side hears the theft of its patrimony in the other's language. Tracked like illegal transients, words become subject to military patrol, their border infractions punishable by death.
In Kadare's novels, the Balkans become a microcosm of a state of civil society driven by what Manuel de Landa calls “intelligent machines.”16 Only here, de Landa's vision of smart bombs and robotic channelers of human will are replaced in the Balkan context by age-old linguistic technologies, propelling themselves through maneuvers independent of individual agents. From this perspective, consider specific moments in The Three-Arched Bridge. As East and West, Christendom and Islam, proceed full tilt into battle, the war machine is set in motion by a “commination,” a gestural speech-act or ritual curse (from the Latin comminari, to threaten punishment or vengeance). Formally launched by the Turks against Europe, the commination resembles a machinic technology, built according to strict rules and safety measures culled from archival manuals. The commination has the power of first strike, embodying the terrible seriousness of cursing in Balkan lands. The curse activates a code of honor that exacts blood payment for the redemption of good name and commits future generations to unrequited warfare. Evidence of how this fatal heritage gets passed on to future generations crops up in The Palace of Dreams, a sequel novel to The Three-Arched Bridge, in which the protagonist discovers that his family name is a cursed patronymic because an ancestor had adopted the name of the “bridge with three arches in central Albania. … built with a man walled up in its foundations,” thus dooming, for ever after, his descendants to an association with the “stigma of murder.”17 With its grammar of threats and punishments, vengeful cycles and blood sacrifice, the commination reveals how war is structured like a language.
In Broken April, perhaps Kadare's most harrowing novel, this structuralist vision of tribal peoples bound together in community by a common language of perpetual war is exemplified to the extreme. The inhabitants of a remote Albanian mountain village, locked into the rules of the besa (code of honor), survive in a state of permanent war that recalls Pierre Clastres's theory of “the archeology of war,” specifically the case of the Tupi-Guarani Indians, who he claims “participated in the same cultural model without ever constituting a ‘nation,’ since they remained in a permanent state of war.”18 Operating according to strict rules of linguistic and social contract, there is zero-sum ambiguity in the moves each side makes. Each infraction of the laws of hospitality triggers ritual killing, economized in the currency of truce periods and funeral tithes, debt wound paid off by human life, or the right to “own a death” redeemed by taking X number of family hits. The war machine, though reduced to local scale, nonetheless exhibits the key structural functions attributed by Georges Bataille to military subcultures in his notes on “The Structure and Function of the Army”: the psychic economy of the sacrificial victim, mystical corporatism, fealty to the autonomous engine of destruction, with its power to transform humans into a caste of fabricated beings called “men at war.”19
Over and over, Kadare depicts war as language—that is, as a transparent accounting of death's score, charting wins and losses without affect, or with the precision and dryness of mathematical notation. This “dead” language—something on the order of what George Steiner would identify as the “post-linguistic” condition of inhumanism20—describes language as pure linguistic technology geared up for militaristic use. This description is reminiscent, certainly, of Carl von Clausewitz's intimation of “combat no longer guided by the ‘will of a guiding intelligence,’” of war that would “drive policy out of office and rule by the laws of its own nature.”21 Unlike the messy border wars that prevail in The Three-Arched Bridge, pitching Ottoman polyglotism against European monolingualism in a fight that can only end in Balkan Babel, Broken April constructs its paradigm around a technocratic language of almost digital simplicity: strokes and naughts, hits and misses, minimal margins of error. In this paradigm, dialects and standard languages alike are flattened into the Esperanto of intelligent machines.
The Three-Arched Bridge and Broken April offer, respectively, two distinct models of language war that eventually join up with each other: the first, following the Guyanese writer Wilson Harris, characterizable as mafia war; the second, following the French theorist Paul Virilio, characterizable as Total War.22 Harris makes careful use of the term mafia, referring not to the “Family” Italo-American style or, for that matter, to “any other aspect of a hegemonic underworld,” but to a “perverse commitment to a privileged frame or family, a hidden authoritarianism that cements its vested interest in the preservation of ruling convention.” “Mafia,” thus abstracted, suggests a logic of “divorced or separated or closed orders and worlds,” an “invariant code or fate,” leading inexorably to “an institutional self-division of humanity.”23 In Harris's ascription, “mafia” becomes virtually synonymous with Balkanization in its most recognizable contemporary dress; that is, an arms-trafficking, vigilante or guerilla force of organized crime, politically invested in social apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and border patrol.
When extrapolated to the battlefield of language wars, “mafia” represents the fortification of linguistic essentialism and the patrolling of creolization. In this sense, we can discern a fanned out version of the “mafia-effect” in the “English Only” movement in the United States, or more pointedly still, in groups that attempt to safeguard the purity of a national standard language. Consider, in this regard, the way in which a recent essay bemoaning the decline of French as a global language warns against the auxiliary evil of pidginization: “If the fate of French is to become the ancient Greek of the twenty-first century, the situation of English is even less enviable—that of kitchen Latin—broken English as the vehicular language is no more favorable to culture as we understand it.”24 According to this argument, the preservation of “culture as we understand it” would chase hybrid tongues underground, forcing them to assume such tactics of self-defense as camouflage or mottling. This idea of camouflage could be applied to writers like Salman Rushdie and Hanif Kureishi who may be seen as ushering in Indian “corruptions” of standard English under the auspices of vernacular literateneness. Mottling, by contrast, could be used with reference to the bilingual code-switching of the Chicano writer José Montoya, whose poems frequently take on the territorial contests between Anglos and Latinos raging over the freeways, vacant lots, and swimming holes of California. In the poem “Gabby Took the 99,” “wetback” Spanish or Calo may be read as mottled language. Phrases such as el troque for truck, or El highway 99 blend in with a landscape that is itself a quintessential translation zone between Mexico and the United States. In another poem “Until They Leave Us A Loan,” the homophonic play between a financial loan and the angry message “leave us alone” underscores the jarring collision between English and Spanish within hybrid speech.25
Moving back to the Balkans, we see that mottling appears in the Internet activism of opposition groups. The (frequently censored) satirical journal Feral Tribune, published in Split, Croatia, and accessed through the aptly named Web site and http://www.feral-tribune.com, mixes Croatian and English in its texts and graphic designs, creating what is, in effect, a hybrid language media pamphlet accessible to readers beyond the Balkans. Typical Web pages are rife with anticapitalist, anti-U.S. sentiment: while Mickey and Minnie Mouse cavort with corrupt politicians, the caption reads “Welcome to Daytonland.” In another image, the familiar army recruitment shot of Uncle Sam mobilizes insulting language as activist invective: I WANT YOU TO EXPLAIN ME WHAT A FUCK IS GOING ON HERE! Feral Tribune's Slav-inflected English and Anglo-Slavic puns belong to an arsenal of vulgar, vitriolic, high camp caricatures deployed in a war against repression at home and indifference abroad.
If mafia war, applied to language, coincides with what Virilio calls an “intestinal” localism, Virilio's notion of Total War (referring to the universal language of bunker architecture and antiaircraft shelters that function as “reference points or landmarks to the totalitarian nature of war in space and myth”) might be keyed to Nuclear English.26 The linguist Randolph Quirk invented the term Nuclear English to designate a language akin to C. K. Ogden's Basic English (BASIC)—that is, a language, in his words, that would be as “culture-free as calculus.”
Culture-free as calculus, with no literary, aesthetic or emotional aspirations, it is correspondingly more free than the “national Englishes” of any suspicion that it smacks of linguistic imperialism or even (since native speakers of English would have to be trained to use it) that it puts some countries at an advantage over others in international communication. Since it is not (but is merely related to) a natural language, it would not be in competition for educational resources with foreign languages proper but rather with that other fundamental interdisciplinary subject, mathematics. Nor, by the same token, could its teachers be accused of wasting resources (as sometimes happens, distressingly, with foreign languages and literatures) on an elitist disciplinary ornament for the few. The relations of Nuclear English are less with the ivory tower than with public convenience.27
Nuclear English, in Quirk's ascription, advertises itself politically as a force of democracy, but a democracy aimed at the boardrooms of multinationals. In execution, it seems to boil down to “restricting modalities,” that is, reducing the incidence of polysemy wherever possible, constraining unconventional or pidgin grammar, and maximizing semantic intentionality. Nuclear English seems to promote a denationalized, Taylorized literacy in which signs do not misfire but, rather, hit their mark with mathematical precision. Carried to its logical end, Nuclear English is tantamount to a prescription for Total War on linguistic diversity and cultural inflection—nothing short of a nuclear attack on the language of humans. But the obvious humanist rebuttal may be all too easy. What makes the idea of Nuclear English rather interesting, it would seem, is that it updates the old dream of a perfectly standardized, universal language for an age of intelligent machines.
For what is Nuclear English if not the culmination of intertwining strands of imperial politics and utopian language philosophy—the former going back to revolutionary and colonial histories, the latter to the explosion of lingua francas at the turn of the twentieth century? As regards the revolutionary heritage, Renée Balibar, Clastres, and the Jesuit linguist Louis-Jean Calvet have traced how, particularly during the Terror, language squadrons were billeted to rural areas in a campaign to bring dialect into line with newly established codifications of French standard language.28 Clastres writes:
The Revolution of 1789, in allowing the triumph of the Jacobins' centralist thought over the Girondins' federalist tendencies, brought the political ascendancy of Parisian administrations to an end. The provinces, as territorial units, had each relied on an ancient, culturally homogenous reality: language, political traditions, etc. Provinces were replaced by abstract division into departments, intended to break all references to local particularisms, and thus facilitate the penetration of state authority everywhere. The final stage of this movement through which differences would vanish before State power was the Third Republic, which definitively transformed the inhabitants of the hexagon into citizens, due to the institution of free and obligatory secular schools and obligatory military service. Whatever remained of autonomous existence in the provincial and rural world succumbed. Francification had been accomplished, ethnocide consummated: traditional languages were attacked as backwards patois, village life reduced to the level of folkloristic spectacle destined for the consumption of tourists, etc.29
Calvet shows how this French linguistic colonization of itself was extended to the colonies; he documents the application of French language policies outre mer and the consequent consolidation of a dominant French culture in territories outside the Hexagon. He also examines the lack of tolerance for minority languages in Russia—both before and after the revolution. The doctrine of “one tsar, one religion, one language,” is transformed by the Soviet regime into the mandate of a society without frontiers or nations. This “unique culture” was supposed to evolve in stages, from rastvet (the flowering of different cultures), to sblizheniye (their coming together), to sliyaniye (the emergence of harmonious unity in a single world language).30
In addition to spelling out causal connections between the rise of universal language ideology and imperialism, Calvet interprets the rise of Esperanto as a response to the growing divisionism of Europe on the eve of World War I. Nineteenth-century “logothèthes,” he notes, invented around five hundred schemes for artificial languages that would transcend the imperfections of natural languages: Cosmoglossa (1858), Universalglot (1868), Volapük (1879), Weltsprache (1883), Esperanto (1887), Mundolingue (1890), Dil (1903), Simplo (1911), and Europeo (1914) were among the most popularly disseminated. Volapük, for example, sustained twenty-five journals, 283 societies, and an academy.
The idea of Nuclear English reveals the reductive drive inherent in Leibnizian schemes for a scientific language that were famously castigated by Ernest Renan in De l'origine du langage (1859) as “mangled, tortured, artificial, painfully constructed, and inharmonious,” in short, “plus barbare que l'iroquois” [more barbaric than Iroquois]. Even worse than their infelicitous form, he argued, was their specious pretense to logic: “Premeditated linguistic reforms … are often less logical than humble patois.”31 If Nuclear English derives on the one hand from Leibniz—from revolutionary standardizations of language, state-sponsored single-language policies, and lingua franca movements in turn-of-the-century Europe—on the other hand, it has also been traced (by Alastair Pennycook among others), to British philosophical traditions of pragmatism, positivism, and utilitarianism that influenced Ogden's development in 1930 of BASIC (an acronym for British American Scientific International Commercial).32 Comprising a vocabulary of only 850 words, boosted by Winston Churchill in the 1940s as part of a meliorist colonial platform, Basic English aspired to technological rationalism and mathematical simplicity. BASIC set a precedent for future wars against linguistic proliferation and prepared the way for future fetishizations of a supersimplified English vulgate or technological Globalspeak.
Of course, one can argue, it is precisely at the moment when Globalspeak becomes feasible in the age of intelligent machines that Balkan Babel breaks out on the borders. In Japan, for example, Babel can be identified in the teenage pidgins used to “evade parental surveillance.”33 This code language draws on the transliteration of English words pronounced with a Japanese accent (wonchu for “I want you”); pig Latin mixing of product names with Japanese verbs (deniru for “let's go to a Denny's restaurant,” hageru for “let's get a Haagen-Dazs ice cream”); and various forms of techno-babble (as in daburu-kurikku mausu for “double-click the mouse”).34 Here it would seem, the greater the reach of English, the greater the production of “other Englishes” that both undermine and reinforce monolingual orders.
For English to maintain and enhance its growing grip on international communication, it needs to contain Balkanization by patrolling linguistic breakaway groups, supporting linguicide or the stamping out of “useless” endangered language species, and routinely “cleansing” the language of rebarbative localisms or mongrel incursions. But already this task is complicated by the latest side effects of technological literacy whereby hackers—enabled by the Internet—“break in” and disable the languages and codes by which computers protect themselves.35 In an era of Internet attacks, the future theater of war, the future translation zone, is removed to electronic turf and the crucial question becomes, How do we wage war, make peace, or control the enemy, when we do not even know who or where the enemy is?
I discuss the term translational transnationalism in more detail in my essay “On Translation in a Global Market” (in this issue of Public Culture).
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).
For broader applications see, for example, David Lloyd, Nationalism and Minor Literature: James Clarence Mangan and the Emergence of Irish Cultural Nationalism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987). For an example of the new translation, see Franz Kafka, The Castle: A New Translation Based on the Restored Text, trans. Mark Harman (New York: Schocken Books, 1998).
Michel Tremblay, The Guid-Sisters, trans. William Findlay and Martin Bowman (Toronto: Exile Editions, 1988); Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting (London: Minerva, 1994).
“The Text in Joual,” in Trainspotting at http://www.literarytranslation.com/index2.html, available as recently as June 2000.
“The Text in Joual,” n. 2.
Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).
Maria Todorova in discussion of her book, University of California at Los Angeles, 25 May 2000.
For a discussion of the marketing of translations of non-Western literature and the historic difficulties these works have in breaking into the global literary canon, see Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “The Politics of Translation,” in Destabilizing Theory: Contemporary Feminist Debates, ed. Michèle Barrett and Anne Phillips (London: Polity Press, 1982); Edward Said, “Embargoed Literature,” in Between Languages and Cultures: Translation and Cross-Cultural Texts, ed. Anuradha Dingwaney and Carol Maier (Pittsburgh, Penn.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995); and Emily Apter, “‘Untranslatable’ Algeria,” parallax 7 (April-June 1998): 47-60.
Ismail Kadare, The Three-Arched Bridge, trans. John Hodgson (New York: Vintage International,  1997), 71. Hereafter cited as TB.
Bernard Lewis has identified this translator as a dragoman or turgeman, an interpreter-middleman specialized in relaying information between the Holy Roman and Ottoman empires. See Lewis, “From Babel to Dragoman: The Tortuous History of the Interpreter in the Middle East,” British Academy Elie Kedourie Memorial Lecture for 1998, Times Literary Supplement, no. 5012 (23 April 1999): 12-14.
Ismail Kadare, Broken April, trans. John Hodgson (New York: New Amsterdam Books, 1990).
Ismail Kadare, Albanian Spring: The Anatomy of Tyranny, trans. Emile Capouya (London: Saqi Books, 1994), 34. First published as Kadare, Printemps albanais (Paris: Librairie Fayard, 1991).
If at times border wars are fueled by the lack of official recognition accorded small linguistic differences, in other instances it is the threat of sameness that sparks discord. The political motivations of linguistic separatism are no more clearly in evidence than in the post-Bosnia decision to break Serbian and Croatian into separately classified tongues, despite their overriding grammatical homologies. As George Steiner noted in 1963, decades before the Berlin Wall would come down, language divisionism could be most acute where homonymy was greatest. Observing the way in which “The East German language is developing its own jargon and dialect,” Steiner concludes: “The words may continue to sound alike, but have contrary definitions. A young East German might come to be more at home, in the syntax of his politics and feelings, in Peking or Albania, than in Cologne.” Steiner, Language and Silence: Essays on Language, Literature, and the Inhuman (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press,  1998), 348-49.
Ivo Andrić, The Bridge on the Drina, trans. Lovett F. Edwards (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,  1977), 86. Hereafter cited as BD.
Manuel de Landa, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (New York: Zone Books, 1991).
Ismail Kadare, The Palace of Dreams, translated from the French of Jusuf Vrioni by Barbara Bray (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1993), 13-14. Cited passage italicized in the original text.
Pierre Clastres, Archeology of Violence, trans. Jeanine Herman (New York: Semiotext(e), 1994), 55. Translation of Clastres, Recherches d'anthropologie politique (Paris: Seuil, 1980).
Georges Bataille, “Structure et fonction de l'armée” (1938), in Denis Hollier, Le collège de sociologie: 1937-1939 (Paris: Gallimard, 1979), 255-67.
George Steiner, Language and Silence: Essays on Language, Literature, and the Inhuman (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998), vii.
Carl von Clausewitz, On War, trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976), 87.
Wilson Harris, “Creoleness,” in Selected Essays of Wilson Harris: The Unfinished Genesis of the Imagination, ed. A. J. M. Bundy (London: Routledge, 1999). Paul Virilio and Sylvère Lotringer, Pure War, trans. Mark Polizotti (New York: Semiotext(e), 1983).
Harris, “Creoleness,” 238-39.
Antoine Compagnon, “Pourquoi le français devient une langue comme les autres,” le débat, no. 104, March-April 1999: 103 (my translation).
José Montoya, Information: 20 Years of Joda (San Jose, Calif.: Chusma House Publications, 1992).
Virilio and Lotringer, Pure War, 2-3.
Randolph Quirk, “International Communication and the Concept of Nuclear English,” in English for International Communication, ed. C. J. Brumfit (Oxford: Pergamon Institute of English, 1982), 19.
Renée Balibar, L'institution du français: Essai sur le colinguisme des Carolingiens à la République (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1985); Clastres, Archeology of Violence; Louis-Jean Calvet, Language Wars and Linguistic Politics, trans. Michel Petheram (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998). Originally published as Calvet, La guerre des langues et les politiques linguistiques (Paris: Payot, 1987).
Clastres, Archeology of Violence, 49.
Calvet, Language Wars and Linguistic Politics, 155-56.
Ernest Renan, De l'origine du langage (Paris: Michel Lévy Frères, 1859), 95-96 (my translation).
Alistair Pennycook, English and the Discourses of Colonialism (London: Routledge, 1998); Pennycook, The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language (London: Longman, 1994).
Nicholas D. Kristof, “Stateside Lingo Gives Japan Its Own Valley Girls,” New York Times, 19 October 1997, 33.
Kristof, “Stateside Lingo,” 33.
A New York Times editorial on Internet hacking is foreboding: “The Internet is nearly impossible to police, for the same reason that it is so difficult to define. It is not owned or regulated by the government. Nor is it ‘owned’ by private businesses or individuals. It consists of telephone lines and countless computer sites linked together in a system through which anyone can navigate anonymously. In this environment, freedom of expression, commercial transactions, political activity and the simple pleasure of gathering information and communicating have come to flourish in ways few thought possible only a few years ago. These very qualities are what make the Internet vulnerable to anonymous attack. … Even more insidiously, the hackers have apparently enlisted unknowing allies in the attacks by invading vulnerable computer systems and using those computers to help carry out the assaults.” Editorial, “Hacker Attacks on the Internet,” New York Times, 11 February 2000, A30.
SOURCE: Elsie, Robert. Review of Lulet e ftohta të marsit, by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 75, no. 2 (spring 2001): 406-07.
[In the following review, Elsie finds parallels between Kadare's Broken April and Lulet e ftohta të marsit.]
The nineties were busy and productive years in the literary career of Ismail Kadare. Now in permanent residence in Paris, far from the chaotic Balkans, he had to reaffirm his talents as an international writer without the exotic political and ethnic role as Albania's writer in exile. Over the last seven years he has republished almost all of his works in two impressive nine-volume series, one in Albanian and the...
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SOURCE: Morgan, Peter. “Ancient Names … Marked by Fate: Ethnicity and the ‘Man without Qualities’ in Ismail Kadare's Palace of Dreams.” European Legacy 7, no. 1 (February 2002): 45-60.
[In the following essay, Morgan examines the role of ethnicity in The Palace of Dreams, concluding that Kadare utilizes “ethnicity as a central factor of social change in post-communist societies.”]
The Albanian writer, Ismail Kadare made a radical break with the tradition of socialist realism in his novel, The Palace of Dreams.2 In this work, published in Tirana in 1981 and banned shortly...
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SOURCE: Elsie, Robert. Review of L'envol du migrateur: Trois microromans, by Ismail Kadare. World Literature Today 76, no. 2 (spring 2002): 242-43.
[In the following review, Elsie praises the skillful French translation of the short stories collected in L'envol du migrateur.]
One of the most surprising buildings in Albania is a wooden hunting lodge built in the marshlands of Lezha by Mussolini's foreign minister Count Ciano (1903-44). Ciano had intended it as a retreat, where the leaders of Fascist Italy could go bird-hunting in their newly acquired colony. It was used as a hotel complex during the Stalinist dictatorship and survives today with its modestly...
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SOURCE: Morgan, Peter. “Between Albanian Identity and Imperial Politics: Ismail Kadare's The Palace of Dreams.” Modern Language Review 97, no. 2 (April 2002): 365-79.
[In the following essay, Morgan proposes a critical reexamination of The Palace of Dreams, suggesting that scholars have failed to pay attention to the “socio-cultural significance of material relating to little-known Albanian and Bosnian epic traditions used by Kadare to articulate the problems of imperialistic power structures and ethnic identity during a time of political change in the Balkans.”]
Ismail Kadare is one of the best known of contemporary Balkan novelists and probably...
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SOURCE: McAlpin, Matthew L. Review of Spring Flowers, Spring Frost, by Ismail Kadare. Review of Contemporary Fiction 23, no. 1 (spring 2003): 156.
[In the following review, McAlpin notes Kadare's portrayal of post-communist Albania in Spring Flowers, Spring Frost, calling the novel “bizarrely touching.”]
In Ismail Kadare's latest novel [Spring Flowers, Spring Frost], Albania awakes from the isolation and terror it experienced under communist dictatorship. But this awakening is bittersweet. With all of the benefits of joining the modern European order come unforeseen problems: taxes, bank robberies, and the rebirth of the kanun, an...
(The entire section is 324 words.)