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.