The Jerusalem Prize

2015 - Ismail Kadare

Born: 28 January 1936, Albania

Literary Themes: The central theme of his works is totalitarianism and its mechanisms.

Prize share: 1/1

Books Written By Ismail Kadare

About Ismail Kadare
Ismail Kadare (born 28 January 1936) is an Albanian novelist, poet, essayist and playwright. He has been a leading literary figure in Albania since the 1960s. He focused on poetry until the publication of his first novel, The General of the Dead Army, which made him famous outside of Albania. In 1996, he became a lifetime member 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.

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.

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, intentionally defying the rules of socialist realism.

After returning home in 1960 because of the Soviet-Albanian split, he worked as a journalist and then embarked on a literary career. 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. 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 whose French translation by the persecuted Isuf Vrioni, published by Albin Michel in 1970 led to Kadare's international breakthrough. The novel was not received well by the critics in Albania at the time. His next novel, The Monster, published in the magazine Nëntori in 1965, was banned immediately.

After offending the authorities with a political poem in 1975, he was forbidden to publish for three years

In March 1982 The Palace of Dreams was harshly condemned in a Writer's Plenum. The writer was accused of making allusions to Communist Albania in it, citing several ambiguous passages. As a result the work was banned. 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.

Around the time of Hoxha's death in 1985, his novel A Moonlit Night was banned by the authorities. The same year he wrote Agamemnon's Daughter— a direct critique of the oppressive regime in Albania, which was smuggled out of the country with the help of Kadare's French editor Claude Durand.

In 1990, Kadare claimed political asylum in France, issuing statements in favor of democratization. At that time, he stated that "dictatorship and authentic literature are incompatible. The writer is the natural enemy of dictatorship".

During the 1990s and 2000s he was offered multiple times to become President of Albania, but declined. He has divided his time between Albania and France since 1990.

In 1996 Kadare became a lifetime member of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences of France, where he replaced the philosopher Karl Popper. In 1992, he was awarded the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca, and in 2005 he received the inaugural Man Booker International Prize. In 2009, Kadare was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature. 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.
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".


The General of the Dead Army - Ismail Kadare

By Robert C Ross

A week ago I fell into conversation with my waiter at a very pleasant restaurant in New York City. I was reading a book on my iPhone, and he mentioned that he preferred to read hard copies. We then shared our views on various libraries in New York City. I applauded my own New York Society Library about two blocks away, and he was very impressed with the Morgan -- although he complained vigorously about its high admission fees.

We chatted from time to time about books as he served others, and he introduced me to this, "the very best novel ever written by an Albanian. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize and he may still win."

So of course, I had to purchase and read this extraordinary novel; finding a book lover as a waiter is not an everyday occurrence for me, even in New York City.

Set in Albania 20 years after the Second World War ended, an Italian general, accompanied by a priest is sent ,to Albania to locate and collect the bones of his countrymen who had died during the war and return them for burial in Italy. The pair seeks bodies and collects them for re-burial; they find the task overwhelming.

They discuss the futility of war and the meaninglessness of their work. They discover an Albanian general engaged in seeking bodies of fallen soldiers. The Albanian shares their distress at the meaninglessness of the "patriotic duty" that all three are engaged in.

At the same time, native Albanians seeks retribution for their own suffering during the war, retribution felt in very different ways by all three men.

Albania is, of course, isolated, intensely so, and therefor exceedingly strange for most Western readers, certainly this one. The Albanians feel that they have been invaded a second time by this trio, Albanian honor has been impugned, and retribution is required:

The priest: “Their vendetta is like a play composed in accordance with all the laws of tragedy. Their nature requires war, cries out for war. In peace, the Albanian becomes sluggish and only half alive, like a snake in winter. It is only when he is fighting that his vitality is at full stretch.”

At the same time, the general begins to imagine that he commands the fallen Italians: “I have a whole army of dead men under my command now, he thought. Only instead of uniforms they are all wearing nylon bags. Blue bags with two white stripes and black edging, made to order by the firm of ‘Olympia.’ ” And “now we are on our way to completing regiments and divisions.”

The novel ends with the two generals talking in a hotel bar, banal, stupefying talk, anticlimax after an incredible scene at a wedding invaded by the Italian general.

This novel stretched my imagination. After I finished reading, I felt almost a stranger to myself. That Albanian waiter and this book opened a whole new world to me.


Twilight of the Eastern Gods - Ismail Kadare

By Flora S. Greenan

This is perhaps Kadare's most "accessible" book. With it, one gets to know him as a young writer, coming from a small country, with all the challenges that are naturally part of this experience. After reading it, I reread "Doruntine" - his interpretation of the Albanian legend that he talks about in "Twilight". It is wonderfully done. It truly makes one feel proud of being an Albanian.