The 2005 award of the first Man Booker International Prize to Ismail Kadare re-inflated the bubble of his self-perpetuated myth as persecuted dissident under the reign of Enver Hoxha. It immediately prompted a panegyric in the Times Literary Supplement (June 24, 2005) from Robert Elsie, the West's leading Albanologist. Concentrating on Kadare's literary oeuvre, prose and poetry, it largely fought shy of the dissident issue, combining an opening routine compliment ("His courage in attacking literary mediocrity within the Communist system brought a breath of fresh air to Albanian culture in the sombre years of imposed conformity") with the admission, "He was privileged by the authorities. Indeed, he was able to pursue literary and personal objectives for which other writers would certainly have been sent into internal exile or to prison."
In a carefully documented letter to the TLS (July 15, 2005), I questioned Kadare's claims to martyr status. So, quite independently, did Stephen Schwartz, the American expert on Albanian matters, in a Spectator (July 16, 2005) article. We were both vigorously counter-attacked in letters to the same journals (TLS, July 29, 2006; Spectator, July 30, 2006) by David Bellos from Princeton. I responded with a follow-up letter, duly re-attacked by Bellos (TLS, August 12 & 19, 2005). A third, intended final epistle from myself to the TLS was not printed.
Elsie, to my regret, did not enter the debate. Kadare has an artificial advantage in that he is about the only Albanian novelist available in English. There are plenty of others, notably Dritëro Agolli and Neshat Tozaj, respectively Kadare's literary apparatchik rival and protégé from the final communist years (1985-1991) of Ramiz Alia, also the likes of Todo Laçi, Nasi Lera and Dhimiter Shutëriqi, but they have virtually no anglophone presence, apart from the samples in Elsie's Studies in Modern Albanian Literature and Culture (New York, 1996) and Albanian Literature: a Short History (London & New York, 2005).
Do any of the Man Booker judges actually read Albanian? Not an idle question. A substantial number of Kadare's novels, e.g. The Concert and Palace of Dreams, published by Harvill, come at third-hand, being translated by Barbara Bray not from the original but via the French versions of Jusuf Vrioni. The same is true of Kadare's first and still most famous fiction, The General of the Dead Army, re-done (1990) by Derek Coltman via French translations by Vrioni and Albin Michel. His latest two efforts, The Successor and The Daughter of Agamemnon (2005) came out simultaneously in the French of Tedi Papavrami. the former providing Bellos with his English edition. Sometimes, it works in reverse: a Dialogue with Alain Bosquet was translated into Albanian by Emira Topi from the original French. Two novels, Broken April and Chronicle in Stone, were Englished by anonymous (why?) translators. One exception to the rule seems to be Three Elegies for Kosovo, "done from the Albanian" by Peter Constantine, appearing a year after Vrioni's French version.
More fine print on this is provided in Bellos' article The Englishing of Ismail Kadare: Notes of a Retranslator, in the electronic Complete Review Quarterly (vol. 6, no.2, May 2005). Bellos, who admits to knowing no Albanian, transposed Kadare's Dossier H for Harvill from Vrioni's French, observing: "I was initially dubious in the extreme. I also had principles! Enough damage can be done in one language shift to make a double shift seem like a recipe, if not for disaster, then at least for pretty thin gruel." Or, as Albanian writer Blendi Kraja put it in a letter (January 15, 2006) to Bellos: "To translate from a second language is like washing your clothes in the same waters where someone else has washed his own beforehand."
How thin is Kadare's gruel? My present concern is with his personal fictions rather than his literary ones. Hence, I shall not argue the toss at length over whether he deserved to win this prize over such rivals as Margaret Atwood, Saul Bellow, Günter Grass, Milan Kundera, Doris Lessing, Naguib Mahfouz or John Updike. Not all reviewers share Kadare's own high opinion of himself. For easy instance, Savkar Altinel (TLS, December 7, 1990) summed up the "pleasures" of Chronicle in Stone as "by and large conventional ones, without being especially adventurous or innovative," also tracing an unacknowledged debt to Yugoslav film director Emir Kusturica's When Father Was Away On Business. Imogen Foster (TLS, February 12, 1993) found The Palace of Dreams to be "as often with Kadare, elusive and insubstantial, the characters so ghostly, the narrative so flaccid, so sterile and predictable..." Having read the abover novels (and others) in Albanian (which I happen to know), I am on their side.
Here is one example of Kadare's 'art'. A scene in The Concert describes a Chinese committee engaged in the invention of Lei Fen, that famous (in real life) paradigm of all virtues of the communist 'new man'. No review that I have seen (e.g. Julian Duplain in the TLS, September 30, 1994) or Imogen Foster in the New Statesman, October 7, 1994) noticed that this is imitated almost to the point of plagiarism from Winston Smith's fabrication of Comrade Ogilvie, cynosure of Party values in Orwell's 1984. When his job is done, Winston reflects that "it is curious that you should create dead men but not living ones;" Kadare's narrative punchline reads: "His dazed mind realised what he and his committee really had done; they'd just given birth to a dead man."
Kadare's own procedures betray what can happen in translations. In an Albanian Anthology of Greek Poetry (1986), he destroyed the punchline of Cavafy's Waiting for the Barbarians, "And now, what will become of us without the barbarians? Those people were a kind of solution", by omitting the last sentence, causing Elsie in his 1989 review to exclaim "Cavafy would turn over in his grave on hearing the key line missing." When making a worker in his novel The Wedding (1967) ask if it is true that "Yevtushenko has insulted Albania in one of his poems," he changes the Russian poet's actual address to Hoxha as Stalin's most loyal disciple to "Albania." As Arshi Pipa (on whom, more later) puts it (Contemporary Albanian Literature, New York, 1991, p. 54): "By cleverly changing the addressee, Kadare changes the insult into a compliment; he equates Hoxha with Albania. The compliment in turn shields the author from a possible accusation of lèse majesté crime. Kadare knows how to play the game."
Soon after his well-publicised 'defection' from Albania to France in 1990, Kadare (who speaks little English) contrived two major interview-cum-write-ups in anglophone newspapers, one with David Binder (New York Times, December 6, 1990), the other with Robin Smyth (London Observer, April 7, 1991). Taken together, these are shot through with inconsistencies. In the first, Kadare praised Hoxha's successor Ramiz Alia for his softening of the dictatorship as " a man one can talk to and have a dialogue with." Yet he then told Smyth that the reason for his sudden flight from Tirana was that Alia had begun to renege on his promise to establish democracy. To borrow a Kingsley Amis title, You Can't Do Both. In fact, Alia did not renege, since he went on to get rid of Stalin's statue and name from Tirana buildings and streets, restore freedom of religion, begin rapprochment with Moscow and Washington, and finally permit oppositon parties and elections (losing his own seat in the bargain) - all without any help from the absent hero Kadare.
Denying to Binder that he had enjoyed any patronage from the old dictator, Kadare expostulated: "For twenty years they have attacked me continually. Do you believe that someone in Albania could have been attacked in such a harsh manner if he had had the real protection of Enver Hoxha?" When Smythe raised the same issue, Kadare snapped: "What you are really asking is, why didn't I go and get myself shot?" Of course, without Hoxha's protection, Kadare might have got into serious trouble with some well-placed enemies. I don't deny for a moment that he had them - what writer doesn't? To take Kadare's own key example, elaborated in the above-mentioned Dialogue with Alain Bosquet (an old friend of Kadare since the 1970s, who here lobs him only the easiest and most friendly of questions), the supposed brouhaha over his novel Dimri i Madh (The Great Winter) or in Kadare's own preferred title Dimri i Vetmisë se Madhe (Winter of the Great Loneliness), published in 1977. This blockbuster lavishes praise on Hoxha for his clash with Kruschev and other East European leaders in the November 1960 Moscow Conference while defending Stalin. In the Binder interview, Kadare calls Stalin a criminal and enemy of Albania, while insisting that this epic got him into trouble with the bureaucracy in general and Hoxha in particular. This is refuted by at least two sources.
In Lloyd Jones' Biografi (London, 1993, reviewed by myself in the Canadian Association of Intelligence and National Security Newsletter 20, 1994, pps. 2-5), chronicling his search for Enver's supposed double, the following discussion in the still tenuously communist Albania of 1991 is reported: "Of course," I ventured, "Some say Kadare was a propagandist." I mentioned The Great Winter. But Fatos (Director of the State Publishing House) knew both sides of the story. "It's true he glorifies Hoxha, but you must know that if it were not for Hoxha, Kadare would have been crucified. I was a journalist at the time, and there was talk among hardliners that Kadare was in great danger. Of course, Hoxha knew this. He was at Elbasan to open the metallurgy plant. A crowd had gathered, and quite unexpectedly a party functionary stepped forward from the ranks of the workers to ask Hoxha's opinion of The Winter of the Great Loneliness. Did Comrade Enver think it worthy? Hoxha considered. He thought it was a book "not lightly to be dismissed." He went further. "Of course, it has its faults, but Kadare is a good writer." These words saved Kadare's life. Or at the very least saved him from prison. The writers and critics held a meeting to debate the changes Kadare might make to his text. Hours of debate followed, from which there emerged a solitary change - the title was changed to The Great Winter."
In a letter to the TLS, concomitant with Bellos' first riposte, James Pettifer thought me wrong to adduce this from so unreliable a book (for other reviews, see those of A. M. Daniels, TLS, August 6, 1993; Kate Chisholme, London Sunday Telegraph, October 3, 1993; Margarette Driscoll, London Sunday Times, September 5, 1993). I quite agree that Enver's 'double' may be a fiction. However, this does not mean everything in the book is discredited. The Kadare incident is taken from an Albanian eye-witness, and plays no part in the 'double' story, hence there is no a priori reason to disbelieve it. In any case, Lloyd Jones is largely vindicated from another Albanian source. Namely, a revealing paragraph (p. 194) in Jeta në Letërsi (Life in Literature) by Dritëro Agolli (Tirana, 1987), an important writer and literary functionary not mentioned in the Dialogue with Bosquet because of Kadare's vendettas with him. Likewise here (p. 95), Kadare manages to mention the supposedly sensational novel Thikat (The Knives; cf. my review-article 'Albanian Knives: How Sharp?' in the American magazine The World & I (February, 1995, pps. 340-343) about the Sigurimi (Secret Police) without giving the author's name, presumably because the latter (Neshat Tozaj) had, along with Agolli, criticised his emigration to Paris. Although not stinting in his praise for this "work of Socialist Realism" (a genre Kadare is forever boasting he resisted), Agolli was not flattering enough for Kadare's colossal ego - we are constantly treated to accounts of how his books shook the country, how he knew he was of Nobel Prize calibre, and his pretensions to classical erudition, boasting that his (preposterous) theory that Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy could not have been presented in Athens - argued in two books on the playwright - is correcting the errors of a thousand years of scholarship.
Agolli writes: "Comrade Enver inquired after the literary scene, what the writers were busy with, while reviewing their names. At that time, Ismail Kadare had published his novel The Winter of the Great Loneliness (NB: so much for the Kadarean claim that this title was a dangerous one), concerning which all readers had some view on its important theme." "Before it is reprinted," said Comrade Enver, "you should see to it that he has another look at it. This novel has a good subject, the fight against revisionism. Ismail will understand people's reactions. Work together. These days, there are more readers than ever. Look at the popular interest and level of discussion." While this shows Hoxha did not altogether fancy the first version, his assumption of a reprint, about which he shows no reservations, is clear proof that Kadare was in no danger form the top of being martyred over it. He is similarly disingenuous with other of his works and their supposed perils, claiming (e.g.) that The General of the Dead Army got him into the black books of the Party apparatchiks, also Broken April because of its dwelling upon the officially disapproved theme of blood feuds and the Great Canon. Nowhere does Kadare admit that both of these novels were filmed with his name credited by the state-controlled New Albania film studios (I have both on video), nor that the Great Canon (Lek Dukagjini's ancient book of blood feud rules) was not a forbidden topic, getting space in (e.g.) Koço Bihiku's Party-approved A History of Albanian Literature (Tirana, 1980) and the Party's own Fjalori Enciklopedik Shqiptar (Albanian Dictionary-Encyclopaedia, Tirana, 1985). Both in the Bosquet Dialogue and elsewhere (e.g. the Binder interview), Kadare claims he was frequently banned from publishing, above all after The Red Pashas (1975), and then the decade after 1981. Not so.
As Miranda Vickers and James Pettifer observe in their Albania: From Anarchy to a Balkan Identity (2nd ed., London & New York, 2000, p. 120), he "for a time in the late 1970s was a favoured Party writer, producing Stalinist-style verse on approved themes. Kadare, originally more poet than prose writer, was adept at churning out such Socialist Realist stuff as An Industrial Dream and Notes For My Generation, plus a Hymn to Lenin, this last conveniently ignored in his Albanian Spring (1991; I reviewed both Albanian and French editions in Intelligence and National Security 7, 1992, pps. 492-495) where he chooses to condemn "la sécheresse de Marx, l'esprit endroit de Lénine." These effusions are singled out for special praise by Bihiku; his warm endorsement in the Party-Approved Historia e Shqiperisë (History of Albania, vol. 4, Tirana, 1983, pps. 232, 300-301, 351, 428) by the late Professor Aleks Buda is further eloquent testimony to his standing.
The Red Pashas was a poem satirising bureaucracy. Its title looks bold, but according to Kadare (Albanian Spring, p. 243 Albanian text, p. 234 French), this was not his own but one bestowed by "people generally." He also here states that the poem was subsequently "either lost or in the Central Committee's archives." Odd that he didn't keep a copy. Odder still that he claims to be able to remember only the first line plus the second half of the fourth strophe of his supposedly daring broadside. The poem was exhumed in 2002 by the writer Max Velo, and reprinted in the newspaper Shekull (May 27, 2006) - Kadare's own quotation differs slightly from this text. Satirising the bureaucracy was a perfectly safe activity. It was the stock-in-trade of the regime's humorous weekly Hosteni (The Goad), to which I used to subscribe. Bihiku (pps. 253-257) has an approving chapter on it, and it is likewise sanctioned in the Fjalori Enciklopedik Shqiptar (p. 605). Kadare is vehement about the "virulent criticisms" heaped on his effort by a meeting of twenty functionaries. No need to doubt this. Nor to be surprised that his targets should wish to retaliate. As the newspaper story accompanying its reprinting stresses, Kadare was at that time "approved for Party membership by Enver Hoxha himself: to do anything against him would be a slight on Enver."
This poem was composed one year after the great 1973 purge of intellectuals orchestrated by Hoxha. Its chief victims were the writers and broadcasters Todi Lubonja and Fadil Paçrami - Kadare himself was untouched. In any case, he had immunised his harmless humour against possible trouble from above by devoting the entire sixth strophe to adulation of the dictator: "Enver Hoxha with his eagle eye/Was the first to have doubts about them...He bore a red torch in his hand/The very earth quivered...Oh, Comrade Enver, long may you live...With a whip and club/He raised the working class/To make Communism thrive" - the complete poem, along with others, may be read in Elsie's English translation on-line.
In the second period of supposedly enforced silence, Kadare published The Concert (1988) and Dossier H (1990), the latter being singled approvingly signalled in a survey of commendable new fiction by the Party newspaper Zëri i Popullit (Voice of The People, July 27, 1990). He also brought out a collection of short stories, Koha e Shkrimeve (The Time of the Writers, 1986), plus the aforementioned two books on Aeschylus, the second one receiving a full page of eulogy in ZiP (June 12, 1990) and the multi-language propaganda magazine New Albania (no.4, 1990) - Vickers and Pettifer, in general well disposed towards Kadare, admit that in 1988 his "innovative novels received official approval." A noisy silence indeed, and a most dulcet dissidence.
Kadare comes from the Southern town of Gjirokastra, also the birthplace of Enver Hoxha. He studied languages and literature at the University of Tirana, in itself a mark of privilege. More so was his being allowed further study at the Gorky Institute in Moscow. He flourished mightily in both literature and politics, a delegate to the People's Assembly, Vice-President of the Democratic Front ruled by Hoxha's wife Nexmije, ranking member of the Writers' Union which laid down and enforced the Party line, editor of Les Lettres Albanaises and the Party's literary magazine Drita (The Light) whose official mandate was "To combat decadent bourgeois literature and ideology" - no job for a dissident. I read of this last in a eulogy of the archaeologist-poet Moikom Zeqo by Fassli Haliti in the Albanian newspaper Koha Jonë (Our Age, August 18, 2005). Both are friends of Kadare. Zeqo is another slippery customer. He claims to have been banished from Tirana for thirty-two years after the 1973 purge, yet turns up favourably in a conversation with the dictator on April 27, 1979, reproduced verbatim in Hoxha's Two Friendly Peoples (Tirana, 1985, pps. 296-299). The detailed, glowing notice of Kadare in the Fjalori Enciklopedik Shqiptar is proof positive of his favoured position. As he admits in Albanian Spring, in 1978 he received the exceedingly rare privilege of a passport, from Hoxha himself, after which we see him in (e.g.) Frankfurt where Philip Ward, who politely calls him "something of an enigma," met him in 1983 (Albania: A Travel Guide, Cambridge, 1983, p. 99), also Moscow, Oslo, Paris, often with his wife, being exempt from the common requirement that the spouse be left at home to guarantee the other's return.
Not that Mrs Elena Kadare could have been all that confident of her husband's loyalty, since he reveals that his 1990 move to France was at the expense of leaving behind his almost blind 80-years-old mother and a sister whom he had conspicuously failed to defend from charges that she had verbally attacked the regime. With all this a matter of published record, plus the photograph of him in Shekulli (January 27, 2006) enjoying Hoxha's domestic hospitality, how can anyone still believe in Kadare the isolated and valiant dissident?
If anyone still doubts, how about this Kadare pronouncement at the 1982 Third Albanian Writers' Plenum (text in Nëntori 5, 1982, pps. 101-107)? "The ensemble of memoirs of Comrade Enver is a marvellous example of creating complex tableaux involving national and international problems and greaat themes in their whole gamut: dramatic, lyric, and meditative, sarcastic. This is a major ensemble, possessed of an extraordinary breathing space and horizon, and the action of which covers an unparalleled ground. The memoirs of Comrade Enver Hoxha are a very important new factor for the further development of our literature." A little earlier (p. 104), Kadare had seized the chance to dance to Hoxha's literary tune. The dictator pronounced that "the present time demands the enlargement of the gamut of themes in literature and the arts, so that little by little the great tableau of the Socialist epoch in Albania may be completed." Parrotted Kadare: "Our Party's requirements are not for restricting and drying out this art of Socialist Realism, as the enemies say. They are on the contrary for enlarging its possibilities and horizons. Not schematism, but real life; not poverty but richness; not narrowness but breadth." Little sign here of the 'covert criticism' of the regime with which Kadare's admirers usually seek to excuse him.
Readers of Albanian Spring will smile or snigger over Kadare's brutalist dismissals of the "charlatans" and "imbeciles" and "illiterate moronic Ostrogoths" on the Party's Central Committee. But, this is simply the other side of the coin of Hoxha's denouncing of his purged victims as "deformed Trotskyites," "filthy economic saboteurs," and so on. Especially unpleasant are Kadare's racist-tinged attacks on Vlach-born Rita Marko and venomous assault on Lenka Çuko, a rare woman member, as "the most ignorant of them all." In the light of Hoxha's own writings (e.g. volume 7 of his Diary (Ditar), Tirana, 1989, pps. 172-174) and the general communist propaganda, Kadare's claim that the regime tried to orchestrate a belittling of the patriotic writer Fan Noli and the country's 15th-century hero Skanderbeg is a downright fabrication. You only have to look at the size of their entries in the Fjalori. One cognate detail here is suggestively and provably false. Kadare rants that people like Lenka Çuko have bigger notices than Fan Noli. In fact, when I took out a ruler and measured, their snaps were exactly the same size, while Noli (pps. 760-761) gets around 300 lines to 27 (p. 163) for Çuko.
Given all the above, it should now come as no suprise that Kadare's reception in his post-communist homeland and other Albanian enclaves has hardly been that of the beloved hero. Zëri i Popullit, which I read daily on-line, made no huge fuss over his Man Booker Prize. Surveys of popular opinion about this in other newspapers (sent to me by contacts in Tirana: many were posted up at manbookerinternational.com) oscillated between those who thought his writing deserved it and those who objected to such honouring of (to take one sample description) "this puppet of the dictatorship."
Kadare's strings indeed were pulled by the Secret Police, according to ex-Sigurimi Dilaver Bengasi's Enigmat e 2 Korrikut '90 (Riddles of July 2, 1990, Tirana, 2003), a book (I have not yet managed to see it) recommended to me by Robert Elsie (e-mail, July 2, 2005). Reviewing his novel Pasardhësi (The Successor, Englished from a French translation by Bellos, 2005) in World Literature Today (no. 78, 2004, p. 149, available on-line), Elsie observes that Kadare has "suffered from public indifference since his return to Tirana" - this was before the Booker award. Vickers and Pettifer (p. 104) reported a demonstration against Kadare in 1992 by New York City Albanian Moslems for his collaboration with the Hoxha dictatorship. From an interview conducted in Kadare's "luxury villa" at Durrës, published (August 1, 2005) in the Albanian-language Tirana Observer, we learn that when Kadare was given an award by the French Academy of Moral Sciences, the presentation was boycotted by the Albanian President and his senior officials; Kadare's only minion was Tedor Laço, a former Hoxha hack, churner-out of Socialist realist novels, described by Elsie as "highly conformist."
This same interview also discloses that the Albanian ambassador to Sweden formally asked the Nobel Prize Committee not to give it to Kadare, a striking gloss on the accusation routinely levelled by the writer and his Western supporters against his critics that they are involved in a plot to deny him this honour. In his second TLS letter, Bellos denies that Kadare calls himself a dissident. I do not understand how anyone who has read the specified interviews with Binder and Smyth, or his own self-aggrandising claims in Albanian Spring and the Bosquet Dialogue can say that. In this last, Kadare claims to have undergone some kind of internal exile (a common penalty), but on the very same page (42) we find him going off on an official delegation to China. His own current utterances are quaquaversal. In his acceptance speech (August 5, 2005, English translation - by Bellos! - available on-line), we have: "Stalinism was a great success. The line of writers abandoning the Temple grew ever longer, whilst those who kept the faith and stayed put saw their number dwindle by the day. We were only a tiny minority in that boundless, hopeless desert called Socialist Realism. We propped each other up as we tried to write literature as if that regime did not exist. Now and then we pulled it off. At other times we didn't. The idea was that we could create a few mouthfuls of spiritual refreshment for our impirisoned nation filled us with joy." Contrast this with the following statement by Kadare in a New Yorker interview (December 26, 2005 - on-line edition only) with Deborah Treisman apropos his story The Albanian Writers' Union as Mirrored by a Woman, published in its International Fiction issue of that week: "No one ever forced me to write anything political, even during the most ruthless years of the dictatorship."
On this reckoning, the Hymn to Lenin and other such propaganda drivellings were knocked out at Kadare's own choice. A page is found in Albanian Spring for Todi Lubonja who was gaoled for fifteen years in the 1973 purge of intellectuals for 'Liberalism' - I have read his harrowing memoir of life in the Albanian gulag, but no mention of his equally unfortunate literary companion Fadil Paçrami, ludicrosly denounced by Hoxha as 'The Enemy of The People'. Compared to these, and the many brave clergy, Christian and Islamic, imprisoned for daring to oppose the regime, Kadare had it shamefully easy.
Arshi Pipa was an Albanian literary critic and historian. Tortured and gaoled, he was one of very few who managed to escape, finding his way to America where he remained until his death in 1997. It is astonishing that, in his aforementioned piece on translating Kadare, David Bellos could write "an American-Albanian, Arshi Pipa, but I need to learn more about this figure before making any comment on him." Bellos needed to look no further than Albanian Spring and Ftesë në Studio (Invitation to the Studio, Tirana, 1990). The former constantly snipes at Pipa (left out off the Bosquet Dialogue), the latter offers this kindly vignette: "Diabolical; to his misfortune mediocre; a denunciator; an absolute spy; an old hyena; an absolute Salieri; for whom the name Arshi Pipic, when the final consonant is removed, would be a more accurate description of the short unpleasant noise he makes in this life" - 'Pipic' suggests a Serbian word for urination. This eclipses even Enver Hoxha's hilarious dubbing of Pipa as "the notorious CIA agent," in his The Titoites (Tirana, 1982, English tr., p. 624), the volume that attempted to prove that Mehmet Shehu, Hoxha's old guerilla co-leader and deputy until his mysterious death in December, 1981 (murder or suicide? I am writing on this elsewhere; Kadare exploits the episode in The Successor), was in fact a multiple secret agent, the volume so grovellingly praised by Kadare (above).
Pipa himself wrote much about Kadare, often very flatteringly about his writings, but concluded (Albanian Literature: Social Perspectives, Munich, 1978, pps. 184-185) that Kadare is the Albanian Yevtushenko - not a compliment. Kadare is excused in some quarters on the grounds that open dissidence was impossible under Hoxha. Not so. On October 5, 1953, novelist-poet Kasem Trebeshina sent an open letter to him, criticising the dictator's literary policy of Socialist Realism. He was not shot, but spent seventeen years in prison, followed by a twenty-years publishing ban. On December 20, 1953, novelist-poet Mehmet Myftiu openly criticised the regime for its treatment of Trebeshina. He was promptly expelled from the Party and imprisoned without trial for four years. In 1964, his novel Shkrimtar (The Writer) was denounced as "reactionary" by the Party, and he was forbidden to publish for twenty-five years.
One might have expected the 'dissident' Kadare to express some post-communist sympthy for these brave men. Instead, in Invitation to the Studio, he abuses Trebeshina as "a mediocrity of boundless ambition." Reviewing this book, his admirer Robert Elsie admits that "One wonders at the depth of Kadare's vindictiveness." In his collected Essays, Poetry, and Literary Documents (Tirana, 1998, pps. 15-18), Myftiu, a friendly critic of Kadare's novels, contrasts the courage of Trebeshina with Kadare who (I translate word for word from the Albanian) "compromised with, and adapted his writing to, the dictatorship," in return for which "Kadare wrote in favourable conditions. The dictatorship protected and coddled him."
Perhaps to deflect this unavoidable, 64000 Lek question, an extract from Kadare is printed on the back cover of the Bosquet Dialogue: "In a film about the arrival of Shostakovich in the USA, one of the journalists' questions was 'How come YOU survived?' This is a cynical and inhuman question" - is it?
Related Topics: Albanian Muslims, Balkan Muslims, Bektashi Sufis, Kosovo
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