Albania's world-renowned novelist Ismail Kadare dies at 88

Renowned Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare has died after being rushed to a hospital in the country's capital, Tirana

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanian novelist and poet Ismail Kadare, whose irreverent works from inside communist Albania earned him international renown and repression from the country's dictatorship, has died in Tirana, his publishing editor said Monday. He was 88.

Kadare won a number of international awards, and had long been mentioned as a possible contender for the Nobel Prize in literature.

Albanian President Bajram Begaj praised Kadare as the country's “spiritual emancipator.”

“Albania and Albanians lost their genius of letters ... the Balkans (lost) the poet of its myths, Europe and the world (lost) one of the most renowned representatives of modern literature,” Begaj said in a statement released by his office.

Albania's government declared two days of national mourning on Tuesday and Wednesday, when flags will fly at half-staff. A minute's silence will be observed nationwide Wednesday following Kadare's funeral.

Onufri Publishing House editor Bujar Hudhri said the author died Monday morning after being rushed to a hospital.

A nurse at the hospital said he was taken to the emergency room after suffering cardiac arrest. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to talk to the media.

Kadare became internationally recognized after his novel “The General of the Dead Army” — which later inspired a film starring Marcello Mastroianni and Anouk Aimee — was published in 1963. The book told the story of an Italian general who was sent to Albania to find and repatriate the bones of thousands of his compatriots killed there during World War II, and who dwells on the futility of the task and of war.

At the time, Albania was still governed by the communist government of late dictator Enver Hoxha that had turned the small, mountainous Balkan country into Europe's most isolated.

Celebrated for the delicate writing of his novels, Kadare fled to France in the fall of 1990, just a few months before the collapse of the communist regime following student protests in December. He lived in Paris and had recently returned to Tirana, the Albanian capital.

During a visit to Albania last year, French President Emmanuel Macron awarded him the Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor title. France had previously also made him a foreign associate of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences, as well as Commander of the Legion of Honor.

Kadare was awarded a number of international prizes, including the inaugural International Booker Prize in 2005. His works, which included more than 80 novels, plays, screenplays, poetry, essays and story collections, were translated into 45 languages.

Born on Jan. 28, 1936, in the southern Albanian city of Gjirokaster, Kadare graduated from Tirana University's History and Philology Faculty and went on to study at Moscow's Maxim Gorky Literature Institute.

But he was recalled after Hoxha split with the Soviet Union — the first of two great ruptures with major communist powers that was later to conclude with China.

Back in Albania, Kadare won a reputation as a poet and novelist, but soon fell foul of the communist regime, which banned several of his works and briefly exiled him to the provinces.

“The General of the Dead Army” attracted major international attention when it was translated into French and published in the West. This recognition abroad has been credited with shielding Kadare from the more violent retribution Albania's communists routinely reserved for dissidents.

After the fall of communism in Albania, Kadare resisted calls from different political parties or politicians to become the country’s president.

He is survived by his wife, Helena, also a writer, and his daughters Gresa and Besiana.

The funeral will be held on Wednesday.

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Semini reported from Bari, Italy.