Monday, December 25, 2006

Ismail Kadaré (1936- )

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

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

Ismail Kadaré was born in the museum-city of Gjirokastra, in southern Albania. His father worked in the civil service. Kadare grew up during the years of World War II, witnessing the occupation of his home country by fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union. He attended primary and secondary schools in Gjirokastra, and went on to study languages and literature at the Faculty of History and Philology of the University of Tirana. In 1956 Kadaré received a teacher's diploma. He also studied at the Gorky Institute of World Literature in Moscow.

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

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

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

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

Nënpunësi i pallatit të ëndrrave (1981, The Palace of Dreams) was a political allegory of totalitarianism, set in an Ottoman capital. The central character is a young man, Mark-Alem, whose job is to select, sort, and interpret the dreams of the imperial populace in order to discover the "master-dream" that will predict the overthrow of the rulers. This basically humorous novel for others than the Albanian authorities was almost immediately banned after its publication. In 1982 Kadaré was accused by the president of the League of Albanian Writers and Artists of deliberately evading politics by cloaking much of his fiction in history and folklore.

Hoxha died in 1985, and his successor, Ramiz Ali, was a less powerful figure. A few months before the collapse of the communist regime, Kadaré emigrated to Paris where he has lived with his family ever since. Koncert në fund të dimrit (1988, The Concert) was considered the best novel of the year 1991 by the French literary magazine Lire. The story is laid against Albania's break with China. In exile Kadaré has expressed his disappointment and bitterness. La Pyramide (1992), written in French, was set in Egypt in the twenty-sixth century B.C. and after. In the novel Kadaré mocked Hoxha's fondness for elaborate statutes, the pyramid form also reflecting any dictators love for hierarchy. In 2005 Kadaré was awarded the Man Booker International Prize.

For further reading: Ismail Kadare, le rhapsode albanais by Anne-Marie Mitchel (1990); Eric Faye: Ismail Kadare by Eric Faye (1991); Contemporary Albanian Literature by A. Pipa (1991); Ismail Kadare by Fabienne Terpan (1992); Uviversi letrar i Kadaresë by T. Caushi (1993); Kadareja i panjohur by E. Naumi (1993); Ekskursion në dy vepra të Kadaresë by I. Zamputi (1993); Një fund dhe një fillim by R. Elsie (1995); World Authors 1985-1990, ed. by Vineta Colby (1995); Studies in Modern Albanian Literature and Culture by R. Elsie (1996); Pengu i moskuptimit by S. Sinani (1997); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, vol. 3, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999) - For further information: Ismail Kadare - The Three Acts of Kosove Tragedy by Ismail Kadare - Note: Kadaré's birthdate is in some sources Jan. 28, 1936 or Jan. 26, 1936. In this calendar: Jan. 27, 1936.

Selected works:

* Frymëzimet djaloshare, 1954
* Ëndërrimet, 1957
* Shekulli im, 1961
* Gjenerali i ushtrisë së vdekur, 1963 - The General of the Dead Army (trans. by Derek Coltman)
* Përse mendohen këto male, 1964
* Vjersha dhe poema të zgjedhura, 1966
* Qyteti i jugut, 1967
* Dasma, 1968 - The Wedding
* Motive me diell, 1968
* Kështjella, 1970 - The Castle
* Autobiografi e popullit në vargje dhe shënime të tjera, 1971
* Kronik‘ n‘ gur, Tirana, 1971 - Chronicle in Stone
* Dimri i vetmisë së madhe, 1973
* Linja të largëta, shënime udhëtimi, 1973
* N‘ntori i nj‘ kryeqyteti, Tirana, 1975
* Poezia shqipe 28, 1976
* Koha, vjersha dhe poema, 1976
* Emblema e dikurshme, tregime e novela, 1977
* Dimri i madh, 1977 - The Great Winter
* Ura me tri harqe, 1978 - The Three-Arched The Bridge (trans. by John Hodgson)
* Prilli i thyer, 1978 (published in Gjakftohtësia, 1980) - Broken April - Särkynyt huhtikuu (suom. Annikki Suni)
* On the Lay of the Knights, 1979
* Poezi, 1979
* Buzëqeshje mbi botë, 1980
* Gjakfohtësia, 1980
* Autobiografia e popullit në vargje, 1980 - The Autobiography of the People in Verse
* Kush e solli Doruntinën, 1980 - Doruntine (trans. by Jon Rothschild)
* Nj‘ dosje p‘r Homerin, 1980
* Sjell‘si i fatkeq‘sis‘, 1980
* Viti i mbrapsht‘, 1980
* Krushqit jan‘ t‘ ngrir‘, 1980
* Vepra letrare, 1981-89 (12 vols.)
* Nënpunësi i pallatit të ëndrrave, 1981 - The Palace of Dreams ( Barbara Bray)
* Avril brisé, 1982 (trans. by Jusuf Vrioni) - Särkynyt huhtikuu (suom. Annikki Suni)
* Koha e shkrimeve: tregime, novela, përshkrime, 1986
* Koncert n‘ fund t‘ dimrit, 1988 - The Concert
* Eskili, ky humbës i madh, 1990
* Dosja H: roman, 1990 - The file on H. (translated from the French of Jusuf Vrioni by David Bellos)
* Ftesë në studio, 1990
* Migjeni ose uragani i ndërprerë, 1990
* Ardhja e Migjenit në letërsinë shqipe, 1991
* Ëndërr mashtruese, tregime e novela, 1991
* Ardhja e Migjenit n‘ let‘rsine shqipe, 1991
* Printemps albanais, 1991
* Nga një dhjetor në tjetrin, 1991 - Albanian Spring (trans. by Emile Capouya)
* Përbindëshi, 1991
* Invitation a l'atelier de l'ecrivain suivi de Le Poids de la Croix Paris, 1991
* Pesha e kryqit, 1991
* Nata me h‘n‘, 1992
* La Pyramide, 1992 - The Pyramid
* Oeuvres, 1993-94
* Vepra, 1993-94
* Noël, une anthologie des plus beaux textes de la littérature mondiale, 1994
* L'ombre, 1994
* Albanie, 1995
* La legende des legendes, 1995
* Visage des Balkans, 1995
* Dialog me Alain Bosquet, 1996
* Shkaba, 1996
* Spiritus, roman me kaos, zbulesë dhe cmërs, 1996
* Kasnecet e shiut, 1997
* Kushëriri i engjëjve, 1997
* Poèmes, 1957-1997, 1997
* Kombi shqiptar në prag të mijëvjeçarit të tretë, 1998
* Tri këngë zie për Kosovën, 1998 - Elegy for Kosovo (trans. by Peter Constantine)
* Ikja e shtërgut, 1999
* Qorrfermani, 1999
* Vjedhja e gjumit mbretëror: tregime, 1999
* Ra ky mort e u pamë: ditar për Kosovën, artikuj, letra, 1999
* Breznitë e Hankonatëve, 2000
* Lulet e ftohta të marsit, 2000 - Froides fleurs d'avril (trans. by Jusuf Vrioni) - Spring Flowers, Spring Frost
* Princesha Argjiro, 2001
* Unaza në kthetra: sprova letrare, shkrime të ndryshme, intervista, 2001
* Shqiptarët në kërkim të një fati të ri: sprovë, 2001
* Ca pika shiu ranë mbi qelq, 2003
* The Successor, 2005 (trans. by David Bellos)

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