Ismail Kadare grew up in Gjirokastër, an ancient Albanian city with steep streets. It serves as the setting for his delightful early novel Chronicle in Stone, which is about his childhood experiences during World War II. His father, Halit, and his mother, Hatixhe, were nonpracticing Muslims. Kadare studied Albanian language and literature at the state university in Tirana and then attended the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow from 1958 to 1961. His sister, Kadrie, studied Russian language and literature, and his brother, Shahin, became an oncologist.
Albania was headed by a strict Stalinist regime, led from 1943 to 1985 by Enver Hoxha, then by his successor, Ramiz Alia, until the collapse of Communist rule in Albania in 1992. Hoxha appreciated Kadare’s writing and the positive publicity for the state that followed from Kadare’s trips abroad. Kadare’s fame outside Albania began when his first novel, The General of the Dead Army, appeared in French translation in 1970. Still, Kadare suffered censure and repression at home. In 1975, he was banished from the capital and forbidden to publish for three years. Also in 1981, his novel The Palace of Dreams was banned as soon as it appeared. Kadare made the necessary concessions to the state and even served as a member of Parliament, where there was no debate. He continued to write as if he were free, and he smuggled his manuscripts out of the country for later publication. After receiving threats from the Sigurimi, the Albanian secret police, Kadare and his family sought political asylum in France in October of 1990. His subsequent writings were more directly critical of oppressive regimes, including Albania under Hoxha (The Successor), China under Mao Zedong (The Concert), and ancient Egypt under Cheops (The Pyramid).
Kadare and his wife, author Elena Kadare, were married in 1963. In 1970, Elena published the first novel in the Albanian language written by a woman. The couple had two daughters; one earned a doctorate in genetics from the Sorbonne and the other earned a degree in journalism.