Albanian author of Muslim origin wins book fair award
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Albanian author of Muslim origin wins book fair award

Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society goes to 79-year-old dissident writer Ismail Kadare

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

One of the exhibits at the fair, 5,000 quotations of German writers and philosophers translated into Arabic and Hebrew and engraved on wooden blocks in a giant wall (Courtesy International Book Fair)
One of the exhibits at the fair, 5,000 quotations of German writers and philosophers translated into Arabic and Hebrew and engraved on wooden blocks in a giant wall (Courtesy International Book Fair)

There aren’t many direct connections between Albanian writer Ismail Kadare and Jerusalem, where he is currently being hosted as this year’s recipient of the Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society, the biennial award given by the International Book Fair.

While Kadare is known as a dissident writer who has spent the last 50 years writing poems, short stories and novels about the difficult experiences of his native land, Albanian problems are different from those of Israel, said the 79-year-old writer in a Sunday morning press conference.

“Your wars are very specific,” said Kadare, who was born to Muslim parents. “You have wars over land, water, borders, things that are very specific, very materialistic.”

Both countries, however, always face the “threat of disappearing,” he said. “They live with the threat, the anguish, of disappearing.”

Ismail Kadare (photo credit: Lars Haefner/CCA by SA 3.0)
Ismail Kadare (photo credit: Lars Haefner/CCA by SA 3.0)

Kadare’s own history, like that of his country, is complicated. He was born in Gjirokaster, a small village in the mountains of southern Albania, which was also the birthplace of Enver Hoxha, the longtime communist dictator of Albania. Kadare was a member of the communist parliament for more than 15 years before finally seeking political asylum in France in 1990, just before the Albanian communist government fell in 1991.

His political life does not present a clear boundary between the “bad” communists and the “good” dissenters, wrote writer Nina Sabolik in World Literature Today. Instead, in his fiction, “Kadare uses the lens of history to show the constructed nature of political dissent in general.”

As such, he is always asked about liberty, he said on Sunday, but he doesn’t think it has arrived for humanity yet.

“In art, literature, philosophy, you can talk about liberty, but it’s a much higher goal,” he said.

The writer, who first trained as a teacher, has had his works published in more than 40 countries and translated into over 30 languages.

He will speak on Sunday night at the YMCA, at the opening of the International Book Fair.

The annual fair, held February 8-12 at Jerusalem’s First Station, made a major change by shifting from the International Convention Center to the refurbished station, said Yoel Makov, the fair director.

“It’s a place that Jerusalemites come to, said Yael Shefer, who handles press relations for the fair. “We want to appeal to a younger crowd.”

The fair is gearing itself toward different age groups throughout the day, said Shefer, holding culinary events in the mornings, storytelling and comic book events for kids and families in the afternoon and a poetry slam and musical events at night.

Besides the First Station, other events will be held nearby in Mishkenot Sha’ananim, the Cinematheque and the Khan Theater. See the book fair website for program information and schedules.

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