Booker Prize winner surprised at award

Ismail Kadare, the Albanian dissident and novelist awarded the inaugural Man Booker International Prize, today spoke of his happiness about his work being circulated globally.

Ismail Kadare, the Albanian dissident and novelist awarded the inaugural Man Booker International Prize, today spoke of his happiness about his work being circulated globally.

He was named as the recipient of the biennial £60,000 prize earlier this month and arrived in Scotland to receive it.

Other contenders included Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Margaret Atwood, Saul Bellow, Gunter Grass, Muriel Spark, Milan Kundera and Ian McEwan.

Speaking in Edinburgh, Kadare, whose books were banned by the Communist regime in Albania, joked that the Booker Man award was more difficult to win than the Nobel Prize.

Speaking through a translator, he said: “When I saw the list of my competitors I thought it would be impossible to get such a prize.

“It was an outstanding group and probably everyone on the list thought it was impossible to win. Several of them already had the Nobel Prize.

“Having been on the Nobel shortlist two or three times, it seemed more difficult to win the Man Booker than the Nobel Prize.”

The work of Kadare, who was born in 1936 in Gjirokaster in the south of Albania, had to be smuggled out of the country by his French publishers during the 1980s.

He was granted political asylum in France in 1990 and his novels and poems have been translated in more than 40 countries.

His best-known novel remains his first, The General of the Dead Army, written in 1963.

It is now hoped the prize will give the writer’s work even more global exposure.

Speaking of the struggle to get his early work published, Kadare said there was a tiny minority of real literature writers in totalitarian countries.

“Totalitarian regimes really like mediocre writers,” he said.

“There is an unending love affair between totalitarian regimes and mediocrity.

“They are in a permanent state of hostility to those writers who are not mediocre.

“Each time we were able to publish anything, even just a page, we got a great moral satisfaction out of it. Each occasion was a great triumph.

“If those triumphs happened a few times in a row then it was a real pleasure. That’s what kept us going throughout this whole period. Otherwise we would have gone mad or we would have just given up.”

Kadare also moved to silence his critics, some of whom claimed his work supported dictatorships.

He said: “It’s the fashion now in the former communist countries of the ex-Soviet Bloc for people to say ‘I could have been a writer but I wasn’t allowed’.

“The people entitled to speak about that period are the people who did something and not the people who kept silent and have retrospective nostalgia.

“It’s very easy to give moral lessons but sometimes those lessons are given by people who haven’t got moral stature themselves.”

Professor John Carey, chair of the judging panel, described Kadare as “a universal writer in a tradition of storytelling that goes back to Homer”.

The Man Booker International Prize is to be awarded every two years to a living author who has published fiction in English or whose work has been translated into English.

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