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Best known as a novelist, this famous Albanian author is also a talented poet and essayist who has been compared to the likes of Orwell and Kafka. Born in Gjirokastra and living between Tirana and Paris, Kadare went on to conquer the global literary scene in his ongoing prolific career.
Ismail Kadare’s name is inextricably linked to Albania and its literary history. This highly prolific author of wide global renown has already been translated into more than 45 languages, contributing in making Albania’s culture and history more accessible to the world. Nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Ismail Kadare’s œuvre is at once great literature and a wonderful introduction to Albania through someone who has experienced its tumultuous history first-hand.
Kadare was born on January 28th, 1936 in the historic southern city of Gjirokastra. Nowadays, Kadare’s city, about which his local favorite novel Chronicle in Stone is written, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Kadare completed his primary education in his hometown before moving to Tirana, where he graduated from the University of Tirana and lived until 1990 with a break for his post-graduate studies in the Gorky Institute in Moscow. For the last 28 years, this Albanian author has been living and writing in France.
It was in Albania that he lived through his most challenging time as an author. Ironically, this was also a time when he wrote many of his masterpieces such as The General of the Dead Army (Gjenerali i ushtrisë së vdekur, 1963), The Great Winter (Dimri i Madh, 1977), Broken April (Prilli i Thyer, 1978), The Palace of Dreams (Pallati i Ëndërrave, 1981), and The Three-Arched Bridge (Ura me Tri Harqe, 1978), among others.
Kadare’s books during Communism were highly allegorical, often describing the Communist system and its leader in such ways as to escape the strict censorship of the time. Yet, his writing put the author in the center of public attention. The writer’s decision to finally leave Albania in the autumn of 1990, only two years prior to the official fall of Communism in the country, represented a symbolic event in Albania’s history when many of the country’s bright minds would begin emigrating abroad.
Though Kadare went on to write about many other subjects, his homeland remained a favorite of his. Regardless of the subject, Ismail Kadare is known for his ability to create an entire new universe in each of his novels. When writing of Albania, the writer explores the world of antiquity and expertly takes the reader through 2000 years of history, through the Middle Ages and the long Ottoman invasion of the Balkans until modern times. Of his writing style, Kadare claims that he has tried to “make a sort of synthesis of the grand tragedy and the grotesque.” For a more extended introduction to this subject and other comments made by the author, you may read Kadare’s interview with The Paris Review.
A novelist, poet and essayist, Kadare has been honored countless times in the international literary sphere for a long time now. As recently as in early 2018, Kadare won the prestigious literary prize Nonino in Italy. In 2016, France granted Kadare its highest honor with the “Commander of the National Order of the Legion of Honour.” He was bestowed with the 2009 Prince of Asturias Award for Literature in Spain. In 2005, along with Amos Oz, Kadare was included in the Man Booker international prize longlist. For many years now, Kadare has been a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature, as well.
Perhaps the best way to become more intimately acquainted with Ismail Kadare is to visit his childhood home in Gjirokastra. This carefully designed house-museum reveals the space where the author lived through his formative years. You can read more about in this list of the great traditional houses of Gjirokastra.
In Tirana, you will also have a chance to see where the author lived during the Communist years. His residence is located right behind the Palace of Culture and, though its interior cannot be visited, it remains unaltered and can be admired from the outside. In the capital’s bookstores, you can find Kadare’s books in Albanian and various translations.
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