Ismail Kadare

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Ismail Halit Kadare

Ismail Kadare.jpg
Born (1936-01-28) 28 January 1936 (age 84)
Gjirokastër, Kingdom of Albania
OccupationNovelist, poet, essayist, screenwriter, playwright
Notable worksThe General of the Dead Army

The Siege
Chronicle in Stone
The Palace of Dreams
The File on H.
The Pyramid

The Fall of the Stone City
Notable awardsPrix mondial Cino Del Duca
Man Booker International Prize
Prince of Asturias Awards
Jerusalem Prize
The Order of Legion of Honour
Park Kyong-ni Prize
Neustadt International Prize for Literature
SpouseHelena Kadare
Children2; including Besiana Kadare


Ismail Kadare (Albanian pronunciation: [ismaˈil kadaˈɾe], also spelled Ismaïl Kadaré in French; born 28 January 1936) is an Albanian novelist, poet, essayist and playwright. From 1970 to 1982 he was a member of the Parliament of Albania, at that time known as the Assembly of the People's Republic of Albania,[1] and deputy chairman of the Democratic Front.[2] He started writing poetry[3] until the publication of his first novel The General of the Dead Army,[4] which made him a leading literary figure in Albania and famous internationally. In 1996, he became a foreign associate of the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques of France.

In 1992, he was awarded the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca; in 1998, the Herder Prize; in 2005, he won the inaugural Man Booker International Prize; in 2009, the Prince of Asturias Award of Arts; in 2015, the Jerusalem Prize, and in 2016, he was a Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur recipient. Kadare is regarded by some as one of the greatest European writers and intellectuals of the 20th century and, in addition, as a universal voice against totalitarianism.[5] Furthermore, Kadare has been awarded the famous 2020 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the Park Kyong-ni Prize in 2019.

Life and work[edit]

Ismail Kadare was born in Gjirokastër in Albania, to Halit Kadare, a post office employee,[6] and Hatixhe Dobi, a homemaker. When he was 13 years of age, he read Macbeth and so he was attached with literature. At this age he wrote his first short stories that were published at the Pionieri journal in Tirana,[7] In 1954 he published his first collection of poems Boyish inspirations ("Frymëzime djaloshare"). At 17 years old, he wrote two poems about Stalin, that—according to Noel Malcolm—helped in the process of publishing his collection of poems after a year.[2] He attended primary and secondary schools in Gjirokastër and studied Languages and Literature at the Faculty of History and Philology of the University of Tirana. In 1956 Kadare received a teacher's diploma. He later studied at the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow from 1958 to 1960.[8]

While studying literature in Moscow, he managed to get a collection of his poems published in Russian, and there he also wrote his first novel The City with no Signs in 1959.[9] Two years of study-abroad experience enabled him to catch literature's core and its relationship with politics. He perceived the Pasternak incident and understood the writer's part and the potential dangers of literary creation.[10]

After returning home in 1960 because of the Soviet-Albanian split, he worked as a journalist and then embarked on a literary career.[6] He tried to publish a fragment of his first novel camouflaged as a short story titled "Coffeehouse Days". Upon being published in the literary magazine Zëri i Rinisë in 1962, it was immediately banned by the authorities.[11] He was advised by his close friends not to tell anybody about the actual novel, so it stayed in his drawers for decades until the communist regime fell in 1990.

In 1963, he published his first novel titled The General of the Dead Army, which was not received well by communist critics in Albania at the time.[12] His next novel, The Monster, published in the magazine Nëntori in 1965, was banned immediately. After the success of The General, he was chosen as a member of the People's Assembly until 1982,[1] and was forced to be part of the Party of Labour of Albania.[13] After offending the authorities with a political poem in 1975, as a punishment he was sent to do manual labor deep in the countryside for a period of time, and he was also forbidden to publish any novels in the future. In response, after his return to Tirana, Kadare began to camouflage his novels as "novellas" and publish them as such.[14]

In 1981, he published The Palace of Dreams, an anti-totalitarian novel written and published in the heart of a totalitarian country.[15] The novel was harshly condemned in a Writers’ Plenum and the writer was accused of making allusions to Communist Albania in it, citing several ambiguous passages as proof for these claims. As a result, the work was banned.[16] Kadare was also 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. Western press reacted to the condemnation of the novel and protests mounted in the West in defense of the author.[14] Around this time, the communist ruler Enver Hoxha had initiated the process of eliminating Kadare, but backed off due to Western reaction.[17] In January 1985 his novel A Moonlit Night was published, only to be banned by the authorities a few months later.[18] At that time he wrote Agamemnon's Daughter, and according to his French publisher Claude Durand, he smuggled some of his writings out of the country, concealing them with an attribution to Siegfried Lenz.[19]

At the end of October 1990 he was allowed to go for treatment in France according to a source,[20] according to another he fled with a regular visa for his entire family,[21] and applied for political asylum in France, where after settling he was able to exercise his profession in complete freedom. His exile in Paris was fruitful and enabled him to succeed further, both in Albanian and in French.[22] The official position of the state authorities on the occasion of his escape that "the Act is punishable, the writer remains".[21] In 1994 he began to work on the first bilingual volume of his work with the French publishing house Fayard.[23] During the 1990s and 2000s he was offered multiple times to become President of Albania, but declined.[24] He returned to Albania for the first time after 12 years in 2002.[22]

Personal life[edit]

He is married to an Albanian author, Helena Kadare (née Gushi), and has two daughters. His daughter Besiana Kadare is the Albanian Ambassador to the United Nations, a Vice President of the United Nations General Assembly for its 75th session, and Albania's Ambassador to Cuba.[25] Kadare has been a resident of France since the early 90s.

Relationship with Albanian authorities[edit]

According to his friend, writer and ex-minister Teodor Laço "few could know the pains, troubles and the eavesdropping atmosphere surrounding him, hence Kadare was seen as a privileged man."[21] Genuinely valued for his talent, in the 1960s he was endorsed by figures such as Todi Lubonja[26] and Fadil Paçrami.[27]

After the success of The General in the West in 1970, he was chosen member of the People's Assembly for 12 years in a row,[1] and was mandatory for him to adhere the Party of Labour of Albania.[13] The older generation of Albanian writers and official literary critics became extremely embittered by it: "This novel was published by the bourgeoisie and this can not be accepted", says a report by the Sigurimi.[28]

Critical response[edit]

Critical interpretations[edit]

Kadare on Albania's Postal stamps

For his part, Kadare has stated that he had never claimed to be an "Albanian Solzhenitsyn" or a dissident, and that "dissidence was a position no one could occupy [in Enver Hoxha's Albania], even for a few days, without facing the firing squad. On the other hand, my books themselves constitute a very obvious form of resistance".[29] Henri Amouroux, a member of the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques of France, pointed out that Soviet dissidents including Solzhenitsyn had published their works during the era of de-Stalinization, whereas Kadare lived and published his works in a country which remained Stalinist until 1990.[30] Robert Elsie, an expert in Albanian studies, also stressed the fact that the conditions in which Kadare lived and published his works were not comparable to other European communist countries where at least some level of public dissent was tolerated, rather, the situation in Albania was comparable to North Korea or the Soviet Union in the 1930s under Stalin. Despite all of this, Kadare used any opportunity to attack the regime in his works, by means of political allegories, which were picked up by educated Albanian readers.[31] The London newspaper The Independent said of Kadare: "He has been compared to Gogol, Kafka and Orwell. But Kadare's is an original voice, universal yet deeply rooted in his own soil".[32]


After the success of The General, Albanian writers united against the "darling of the West."[28] Kadare already had some domestic prominence, but three of his novels - The Palace of Dreams, Time of the Dragons, A Moonlit Night - were withdrawn from circulation,[33] despite the fact that the official literary critic during the communist regime presented the works of Kadare as the most representative authors of socialist realism,[34] given that he wrote his books with the regime's support.[35] In an interview in 1979 he asserted that "the socialist realism method, contrary to everything blasphemy that the black propagandas have addressed and ascribe to it, grants the writer boundless opportunities to create literary oeuvres of the highest ideoartistic order". Afterwards in 1990 he expressed that "socialist realism is the last and culminating period of Albanian literature."[36] After the fall of the regime and reevalutions of his literary work, he stated "My work isn't part of socialist realism".[34]

Albanian literary critics greatly differ in their opinions towards the writer's oeuvre. Some depict him as a conformist writer, dutiful towards the national consciousness manipulation, a writer that gave contributed to the development of socialist realism in Albanian literature.[34] Others see in his oeuvres intentional defiance of the rules,[9] or ignoring socialist realism, due to lack of positive heroes and the Communist Party.[37]

Criticism towards Kadare deals not only with his works, but above all with his political attitude towards the communist system in Albania.[38] The American journalist Stephen Suleyman Schwartz labelles Kadare's oeuvre as mere novels worthy of reading during vacations. He highlights Kadare's defamations and insults of pre-communist Albanian intelligentsia and how in doing so he resembles to Enver Hoxha. He quotes Kadare's strive to depict himself a dissident during the communist regime while he held public office during that time.[39] This was asserted even by the English academic Noel Malcolm during a polemic with the writer in The New York Review of Books in the '90s, that he remained a deputy in the Assembly when he self-presumed of being deported.[2]


The first of his works to be translated was The General of the Dead Army, translated into Bulgarian by Marina Marinova for publication in 1966.[40][12] It was translated into Serbo-Croatian by Esad Mekuli in 1968,[41] and into Turkish by the writer, translator and movie director Atilla Tokatlı together with Necdet Sander for publication in 1970 by Sander Editions in Istanbul.[42]

It was the French translation of the book by Isuf Vrioni, published by Éditions Albin Michel in 1970,[43] which led to Kadare's international breakthrough.[44] The English translation by Derek Coltman was based on Vrioni's French version.[45] After Coltman, many of Kadare's works were translated from the French by David Bellos.[19]

Literary themes[edit]

The central theme of his works is totalitarianism and its mechanisms.[46] Kadare's novels draw on legends surrounding the historical experiences of Albanian people, the representation of classical myths in modern contexts, and the totalitarian regime in Albania. They are obliquely ironic as a result of trying to withstand political scrutiny. Among his best-known books are The General of the Dead Army (1963), The Siege (1970), The Ghost Rider (1980), Broken April (1980),[8] The Palace of Dreams (1981), The Pyramid (1992), and The Successor (2003).

The Pyramid (1992) is a political allegory set in Egypt in the 26th century BC and after. In it, Kadare mocked any dictator's love for hierarchy and useless monuments. In some of Kadare's novels, comprising the so-called "Ottoman Cycle", the Ottoman Empire is used as the archetype of a totalitarian state. Kadare's 1996 novel Spiritus, marks a narrative and compositional turning point in his literary career. The influence of this novel will be felt in all of Kadare's subsequent novels.[47] It deals with group of foreigners who are touring Eastern Europe after the fall of communism and hear exciting rumours during their stay in Albania about the capture of the spirit from the dead. As it turns out, the spirit is in fact a listening device known to the notorious secret service as a "hornet".[48]

Awards and honours[edit]

In 1996 Kadare became a foreign associate to the chair left vacant by the death of Karl Popper of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences of France,[49] where he replaced the philosopher Karl Popper. In 1992, he was awarded the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca, and in 2005 he was awarded with the inaugural Man Booker International Prize. In 2009, Kadare was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature.[50] In the same year he was awarded an Honorary Degree of Science in Social and Institutional Communication by the University of Palermo in Sicily. In 2015, he was awarded the bi-annual Jerusalem Prize.[51] He won the 2019 Park Kyong-ni Prize, an international award based in South Korea.[52] The Fall of the Stone City (2008) was awarded the Rexhai Surroi Prize in Kosovo, and was shortlisted for Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2013.[53] In 2019, Kadare was nominated for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature by Bulgarian poet and writer Kapka Kassobova. He was selected as the 2020 Neustadt laureate by the Prize's jury on October 16, 2019.[54] He won the 2020 Prozart Award given by the International Literature Festival "PRO-ZA Balkan" for his contributions to the development of the literature in Balkans.[55]

Religious and political beliefs[edit]

Kadare was born into a Muslim and bourgeois family.[56] On his mother's side of the family, his great-grandfather was a bejtexhi of the Bektashi Order known as Hoxhë Dobi.[57] During the Albanian Cultural Revolution of 1967, Kadare was one of the top intellectuals proned to be a cutting edge against religion.[58] Although coming from a Muslim background,[59] Kadare himself is an atheist.[60]

He declared in 1992 that: “Albanians are among those people who have suffered equally from Communism and from Islam”, causing protests by the Albanian Muslim diaspora in New York as a result.[61] Joining some Christian intellectuals, he argued that in order to get an opening towards Europe it is required to give up Islam, and maybe convert to Christianity.[62]

Modern scholars have accused him of Islamophobia, racialism,[63] Orientalist agenda,[35][64][65] by employing his reputation to interpolate malevolence towards Albania's Ottoman past, doing so in mainstream media habitually.[35] By doing so he equates the reintroduction of the Muslim faith in Albania as a step in a benighted past,[66] labelling it as a by-product of foreign (Ottoman) invasion, and ought be abandoned.[67]

Political background[edit]

In his early verse collections he vehemently expressed his reliance how the leadership of the Party would build up a paradise-like Albania.[10] The poem Përse mendohen këto male (What Do These Mountains Think About, 1963) portrays the Party as the savior of the Albanian people.[68]


Kadare has been mentioned as a possible recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature several times. His works have been published in about 20 languages.[69][70]

The following Kadare novels have been translated into English:

English translations[edit]

Works published in Albanian[edit]

The complete works (except for the essays) of Ismail Kadare were published by Fayard, simultaneously in French and Albanian, between 1993 and 2004.[72] Omitted from the list are the poetry and the short stories. Kadare's original Albanian language works have been published exclusively by Onufri Publishing House since 1996,[73] as single works or entire sets. Being published in 2009 the complete works in 20 volumes.[74]

The dates of publication given here are those of the first publication in Albanian, unless stated otherwise.

Novels and novellas[edit]

  • Gjenerali i ushtrisë së vdekur (The General of the Dead Army) (1963)
  • Përbindëshi (The Monster) (1965)
  • Lëkura e daulles (The Wedding) (1967)
  • Kështjella (The Siege) (1970)
  • Kronikë në gur (Chronicle in Stone) (1971)
  • Dimri i vetmisë së madhe (The Great Winter) (1972)
  • Nëntori i një kryeqyteti (November of a Capital) (1975)
  • Muzgu i perëndive të stepës (Twilight of the Eastern Gods) (1978)
  • Komisioni i festës (The Feast Commission) (1978)
  • Ura me tri harqe (The Three-arched Bridge) (1978)
  • Kamarja e turpit (The Traitor's Niche) (1978)
  • Prilli i thyer (Broken April) (1980)
  • Kush e solli Doruntinën? (The Ghost Rider) (1980)
  • Pallati i ëndrrave (The Palace of Dreams) (1981)
  • Nata me hënë (A Moonlit Night) (1985)
  • Viti i mbrapshtë (The Dark Year) (1985)
  • Krushqit janë të ngrirë (The Wedding Procession Turned to Ice) (1985)
  • Koncert në fund të dimrit (The Concert) (1988)
  • Dosja H. (The File on H.) (1989)
  • Qorrfermani (The Blinding Order) (1991)
  • Piramida (The Pyramid) (1992)
  • Hija (The Shadow) (1994)
  • Shkaba (The Eagle) (1995)
  • Spiritus (1996)
  • Qyteti pa reklama (The City with no Signs) (1998, written in 1959)
  • Lulet e ftohta të marsit (Spring Flowers, Spring Frost) (2000)
  • Breznitë e Hankonatëve (2000)
  • Vajza e Agamemnonit (Agamemnon's Daughter) (2003)
  • Pasardhësi (The Successor) (2003)
  • Jeta, loja dhe vdekja Lul Mazrekut (Life, Game and Death of Lul Mazrek) (2003)
  • Çështje të marrëzisë (A Question of Lunacy) (2005)
  • Darka e Gabuar (The Fall of the Stone City) (2008)
  • E penguara: Rekuiem për Linda B. (A Girl in Exile) (2009)
  • Aksidenti (The Accident) (2010)
  • Mjegullat e Tiranës (Tirana's Mists) (2014, originally written in 1957–58)
  • Kukulla (The Doll) (2015)


  • Stinë e mërzitshme në Olimp (Dull Season in Olympus) (1998)


  • Sorkadhet e trembura (Frightened Gazelles) (2009)


  • Frymëzime djaloshare (1954)
  • Ëndërrimet (1957)
  • Princesha Argjiro (1957)
  • Shekulli im (1961)
  • Përse mendohen këto male (1964)
  • Shqiponjat fluturojnë lart (1966)
  • Motive me diell (1968)
  • Koha (1976)
  • Ca pika shiu ranë mbi qelq (2004)
  • Pa formë është qielli (2005)
  • Vepra poetike në një vëllim (2018)


  • Autobiografia e popullit në vargje (The People's Autobiography in Verse) (1971)
  • Eskili, ky humbës i madh (Aeschylus, The Lost) (1985)
  • Ftesë në studio (Invitation to the Writer's Studio) (1990)
  • Nga një dhjetor në tjetrin (Albanian Spring) (1991)
  • Kushëriri i engjëjve (The Angels' Cousin) (1997)
  • Kombi shqiptar në prag të mijëvjeçarit të tretë (The Albanian Nation on the Threshold of the Third Millennium) (1998)
  • Unaza në kthetra (The Ring on the Claw) (2001)
  • Poshtërimi në Ballkan (Abasement in the Balkans) (2004)
  • Identiteti evropian i shqiptarëve (The European Identity of Albanians) (2006)
  • Dantja i pashmangshëm (Dante, The Inevitable) (2006)
  • Hamlet, le prince impossible (Hamlet, The Impossible Prince) (2007)
  • Don Kishoti në Ballkan (Don Quixote in the Balkans) (2009)
  • Mosmarrëveshja, mbi raportet e Shqipërisë me vetveten (2010)
  • Mbi krimin në Ballkan; Letërkëmbim i zymtë (On Crime in the Balkans)(2011)
  • Çlirimi i Serbisë prej Kosovës (Serbia's Liberation from Kosovo) (2012)
  • Mëngjeset në Kafe Rostand (Mornings in Cafe Rostand) (2014)
  • Arti si mëkat (Art as a Sin) (2015)
  • Uragani i ndërprerë: Ardhja e Migjenit në letërsinë shqipe (The Interrupted Hurricane: The Advent of Migjeni in Albanian Literature) (2015)
  • Tri sprova mbi letërsinë botërore (Essays on World Literature) (2017)
  • Kur sunduesit grinden When Rulers Quarrel (2018)

Story collections[edit]

  • Emblema e dikurshme (1977)
  • Ëndërr mashtruese (1991)
  • Tri këngë zie për Kosovën (1998)
  • Vjedhja e gjumit mbretëror (1999)
  • Përballë pasqyrës së një gruaje (2001)
  • Bisedë për brilantet në pasditen e dhjetorit (2013)
  • Koha e dashurisë (Rrëfim Trikohësh) (2015)
  • Proza e shkurtër, në një vëllim (2018)


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  17. ^ Sadik Bejko (2007). Disidentët e rremë. 55. p. 26.
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  25. ^ "Besiana Kadare ambassador".
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  33. ^ Raymond Detrez (2001). "Albania". In Derek Jones (ed.). Censorship: A World Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 27. ISBN 9781136798641.
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  44. ^ Robert Elsie's comment, 1998 – Jusuf Vrioni: Back to Tirana, 1943–1947
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  50. ^ Price of Asturias awards laureates 2009
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