Ismail Kadare: Articulating Albanian Identity

Lindsay Parnell

A luminescent literary presence that has produced compelling work for over 50 years, Albanian author Ismail Kadare is celebrated as a cultural icon in his native country. Lindsay Parnell explores how his works condenses the history and mythology of Albania, focusing particularly on the Balkan region, into a literary framework.

Ismail Kadare is an international literary icon and a cultural ambassador for his country and a recipient of awards such as the Man Booker International Prize, the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca and the Prince of Asturias Award of Arts. He has also been a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature several times. He was first introduced to the international literary scene as a poet in the early 1960s before, after publishing poetry as a student of both foreign languages and literature at the University of Tirana. In the late 1960s and 70s Kadare subsequently established himself as a talented writer of fiction and penned many novels and short stories whilst also engaging himself in politics as a member of the Albanian parliament.
Often considered a literary successor to George Orwell and Franz Kafka, the work of Ismail Kadare is as imaginative as it is philosophical. In its persistent pursuit for truth and justice it engages with history and politics in a radical and dynamic manner. Kadare’s fictional and poetic narratives explore historical and mythological contexts of fables, myths and folklore, while at the same time seeking to represent the social and political history of his fellow Balkan people. Speaking and writing against the tyrannical political establishment of his native Albania, Kadare’s storytelling is stemmed from his passionate interrogation of the injustice in found in the political sphere. His legacy can be found in both his written narrative and his active political involvement in activism in Albania.
In the hands of the Albanian government though, his work was highly censored; this resulted in a self-imposed exile to France in the early 1990s. His work today remains stirring and inspiring in its relentless examination of the corruption and oppression of political hierarchies. However some question his position in relation to Enver Hoxha’s dictatorship, claiming that his political involvement negates any dissenting voices within his literature. Kadare’s work nonetheless displays a dissident quality, refracted through allegory, metaphor and the lens of Albanian identity which he proudly displayed.

Kadare’s debut novel, The General of the Dead Army, was published in 1963 where he began his illustrious career as a fiction writer. It is a poignant narrative of an Italian military general who returns to Albania some years after WWII to gather the bones of fallen Italian soldiers. The General of the Dead Army investigates the endurance of humanity in realms of warfare and violent destruction. Written in 1978, Broken April proved to be another landmark text for Kadare, receiving high critical praise and widespread popularity. A truly modern text that studies determinism and the ever shifting relationship between the present and the past, Broken April is the story of a young man forced to carry out an execution only to have his fate sealed by his own actions.
For many, Kadare’s most acclaimed work is The Concert. Published in 1988, The Concert is a masterpiece that articulates the destructive wake of governmental policies inflicted upon a group of young Albanian friends as they struggle to maintain their intimacy amidst political turmoil. Exploring the disintegrating relationship between China’s communist government and Albania’s totalitarianism regime of the 1970s, Kadare’s The Concert is a brilliant depiction of the tensely stirring narratives that exist in the fusion of the political and the social. Kadare’s most recent literary effort, The Accident, was published in 2010. It is considered a reimagined crime saga of sorts; The Accident is the thrilling tale of an Albanian man and woman who are involved in a traffic accident while staying in Vienna. A truly exhilarating mystery, The Accident challenges, questions and shocks readers as they embark on Kadare’s gripping escapade.
Kadare’s work remains as cherished as ever in Albania and his status as a cultural icon of the Albanian people is confirmed. His work is a testament to the political and social import of literature in times of upheaval, as it both condenses the turmoil of the social sphere and pushes the boundaries of political repression.
By Lindsay Parnell

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