Ismail Cadare

Ismail Kadare (b. 1936) is at present the only Albanian writer to enjoy a broad international reputation. His talents both as a poet and as a prose writer have lost none of their innovative force over the last three decades. Born and raised in the museum-city of Gjirokastra, Kadare studied in the Faculty of History and Philology at the University of Tirana and subsequently at the Gorky Institute of World Literature in Moscow until 1960 when relations between Albania and the Soviet Union soured. He had begun his literary career in the 1950s as a poet with verse collections such as the modest Frymëzimet djaloshare, Tirana 1954 (Youthful inspiration) and Ëndërrimet, Tirana 1957 (Dreams) which gave proof not only of his ‘youthful inspiration’ but also of talent and poetic originality. His influential Shekulli im, Tirana 1961 (My century), helped set the pace for renewal in Albanian verse. Përse mendohen këto male, Tirana 1964 (What are these mountains thinking about), is one of the clearest expressions of Albanian self-image under the gruesome years of the Hoxha dictatorship. Kadare’s poetry was less bombastic than previous verse and gained direct access to the hearts of the readers who saw in him the spirit of the times and who appreciated the diversity of his themes. He soon became widely admired among the youth of Albania for his verse. With candidness and sincerity, Kadare contributed in particular to the evolution of love lyrics, a genre traditionally neglected in Albanian literature.

Poetry,
How did you find your way to me?
My mother does not know Albanian well,
She writes letters like Aragon, without commas and periods,
My father roamed the seas in his youth,
But you have come,
Walking down the pavement of my quiet city of stone,
And knocked timidly at the door of my three-storey house,
At Number 16.

There are many things I have loved and hated in life,
For many a problem I have been an ‘open city’,
But anyway…
Like a young man returning home late at night,
Exhausted and broken by his nocturnal wanderings,
Here too am I, returning to you,
Worn out after another escapade.

And you,
Not holding my infidelity against me,
Stroke my hair tenderly,
My last stop,
Poetry.

(Yalta 1959)

[Poezia, from the volume Vjersha dhe poema zë zgjedhura, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1966, p. 27, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, and first published in English in An elusive eagle soars, anthology of modern Albanian poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 76]

 

In the sixties, Kadare turned his creative energies increasingly to prose, of which he soon became the undisputed master and by far the most popular writer of the whole of Albanian literature. He was thus the most prominent representative of Albanian literature under the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha and, at the same time, its most talented adversary. His works were extremely influential throughout the seventies and eighties and, for many readers, he was the only ray of hope in the cold, grey prison that was communist Albania.

At the end of October 1990, a mere two months before the final collapse of the dictatorship, Ismail Kadare left Tirana and applied for political asylum in France, a move which, for the first time, gave him an opportunity to exercise his profession with complete freedom. His years of Parisian exile have been productive and have accorded him further success and recognition, both as a writer in Albanian and in French. He has published his collected works in ten thick volumes, each in an Albanian-language and a French-language edition, and has been honoured with membership in the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques.

 

Childhood

My childhood – ink-stained fingers,
Bells in the morning,
The muezzin at dusk,
Collections of cigar boxes and old stamps,
Trading one Ceylon
For two Luxembourg.
Thus they passed,
Childhood days,
Chasing after a rag ball, raising dust and cries,
A rag ball,
Made of grey Albanian rags.

(1958)

[Fëminia, from the volume Shekulli im, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1961, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, and first published in English in An elusive eagle soars, anthology of modern Albanian poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 77]

 

And when my memory

And when my fading memory,
Like the after-midnight trams,
Stops only at the main stations,
I will not forget you.

I will remember
That quiet evening, endless in your eyes,
The stifled sob upon my shoulder,
Like snow that cannot be brushed off.

The separation came
And I departed, far from you.
Nothing unusual,
But some night
Someone’s fingers will weave themselves into your hair,
My distant fingers, stretching across the miles.

[Edhe kur kujtesa, from the volume Shekulli im, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1961, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, and first published in English in An elusive eagle soars, anthology of modern Albanian poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 78]

 

Longing for Albania

I was filled with longing for Albania
Tonight as I returned home on the trolley,
The smoke of a Partizani cigarette in the hand of a Russian
Curled bluish, twirled upwards
As if whispering to me, its compatriot,
In the language of the Albanians.

I long to stroll through the streets of Tiranë in the evening,
Where I used to get into mischief,
And through the streets where I never got into mischief.
Those old wooden doorways know me,
They will still hold a grudge against me
And will snub their noses at me,
But I won’t mind
Because I am filled with longing.
I long to stroll through the lanes full of dry leaves,
Dry leaves, autumn leaves,
For which comparisons can so easily be found.

I was filled with longing for Albania,
For that great, wide and deep sky,
For the azure course of the Adriatic waves,
For clouds at sunset ablaze like castles,
For the Albanian Alps with their white hair and green beards,
For the nylon nights fluttering in the breeze,
For the mists, like red Indians, on the prowl at dawn,
For the locomotives and the horses
That huff and puff, dripping in sweat,
For the cypresses, the herds and graves
I was filled with longing.
I was filled with longing
For the Albanians.

I was filled with longing and swiftly journey there,
Flying over the mists, as over desires.
How far and how beloved you are, my country.
The airport will tremble with the droning,
The mists will hang in suspense over the chasms.
Surely those who invented the jet engine
Must have been far from their country once.

(Moscow 1960)

[Malli i Shqipërisë, from the volume Shekulli im, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1961, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, and first published in English in An elusive eagle soars, anthology of modern Albanian poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 79]

Ismail KADARE

Ismail KADARE

 

THE ALBANIAN WRITERS’ UNION AS MIRRORED BY A WOMAN

See: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/12/26/051226fi_fiction

[Historia e Lidhjes së Shkrimtarëve shqiptarë, përballë pasqyrës së një gruaje, from the volume Përballë pasqyrës së një gruaje, Tirana: Onufri 2001, p. 53-112. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, in: The New Yorker, International Fiction Issue, New York, December 26, 2005 – January 2, 2006, p. 112-127.]

 

THE WEDDING PROCESSION TURNED TO ICE

[Selection removed at the request of Editions Fayard, Paris.]

[Krushqit janë të ngrirë, from the volume Koha e shkrimeve, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1986, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie and first published in its entirety in English in Kosovo – in the heart of the powder keg, Boulder: East European Monographs 1997.]

 

THE MALE BEAUTY PAGEANT

[Selection removed at the request of Editions Fayard, Paris.]

[Konkurs bukurie për burrat në Bjeshkët e Namuna, from the volume Vepra, vëllimi i katërt, Paris: Fayard, 1996, p. 487 520. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]

 

SATURDAY AFTERNOON

[Selection removed at the request of Editions Fayard, Paris.]

[Të shtunën pasdite, from the volume Emblema e dikurshme: tregime e novela. Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1977, p. 87-105. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]

 

 

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