Sunday, February 6, 2011

Van Christo: On meeting Ismail Kadare

Ismail Kadare Literary Event

Anthony’s Pier 4, Boston
January 29, 2011

On Meeting Ismail Kadare

Van Christo

Mirebrema. Vitin e Ri Gezuar!

Meqenese jam lindur ne Shqiperi, ne Korce, me sollen prinderit ketu ne Amerike kur isha foshnja vetem nje vjecare para Luftes se Dyte Botorore. DMT, jam rritur dhe edukuar ketu ne Boston dhe gjuhen per ditshme kam Anglishte. Pra, sepse eshte me kollaj per mua, do ti bej flalet time sonte ne ate gjuhe.

Greetings! I had the good fortune to “meet” Ismail Kadare for the first time in 1967, and that was in print. Here’s how it happened: I had come across a list somewhere called “Albania Report” published in New York City that advertised books and other publications from Albania in the English language. “How unusual,” I thought. Because it was then the time of the “cold war”, and Albania was part of the Eastern Bloc of nations headed by the Soviet Union, but, nevertheless, I found it surprising that such publications from Albania were available in America.

Also in “Albania Report”, was a list of books from Albania by Albanian authors that were available in the English language, and one of them caught my eye called “The Castle” by an Ismail Kadare that told of the siege of the Kruja fortress in northern Albania by the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century. I ordered the book, and after it arrived, I read it almost immediately as it described, in amazing detail, the siege of that Albanian fortress surrounded by huge Turkish forces having superior weapons and equipment. I was so impressed by the book that, after reading it, I ordered an additional six copies.

I subsequently learned that the publisher of “Albania Report” was a retired American Jewish post office worker - regrettably, I’ve forgotten his name - who was an avowed Marxist and, for that reason, produced “Albania Report.” I informed him by letter how much I enjoyed “The Castle” and what an excellent author I believed Ismail Kadare to be. At a later date, I ordered other books and began an association with the New York publisher by mail.

A few months later, I received a telephone call from my New York acquaintance who informed me that his inventory of “The Castle” was now depleted, and would I be interested in financing the printing of additional copies? I was quite surprised by the request, but because I enjoyed reading “The Castle” so much, I agreed to finance the printing and ordered 100 advance copies. The publisher, appreciative of my generosity, asked me to write a few words about the book for publication in the new edition.

Permit me to read the published words I had written about the book:

“I read THE CASTLE with great interest. Nowhere in my previous readings has the conflict between the 15th century Ottoman Turks and the valiant Albanian forces led by Gjergj Kastrioti-Skanderbeg been described so vividly. Imagine, depicting the siege of the Kruja fortress from the Turkish point of view! Certainly, the novel is the result of major research of Turkish fighting forces and Albanian defenders of five centuries past. Because of its historical importance, “The Castle” should serve as a valuable reference source for Albanians and non-Albanians alike.”

I am proud that now, after so many years and the prominence and international respect of Ismail Karare which has culminated in his recent nomination for a Nobel Prize in Literature, that I was one of the first Albanian Americans to recognize his extraordinary talent.

In 1981, I visited Albania as part of an Albanian-American tour group, accompanied by my wife Jane and our then 4-year old son, Zachary Tomor. Our tourist group was booked into the Hotel Tirana where I became friendly with the manager of the hotel who was quite taken by our son, Zachary, and amused that his middle name was Tomor. On the spur of the moment, I asked if it would be at all possible for me to meet with Ismail Kadare since I enjoyed his book “The Castle” so much and had financed a reprint of the book in America. To my delight, I was contacted by the hotel manager and told that Kadare would come to the hotel to meet with me in one hour.

I was very pleased and expectant as, at the appointed hour, in the hotel lobby, the manger introduced me to Ismail Kadare. I noted that he was small in stature, and I was most interested in his attire. On his head, he wore a green felt hat that had definite European style. In addition, he was wearing a dark green tweed overcoat, and, in his right hand, he carried a rolled-up umbrella. However, it was Kadare’s oversized, black horned-rimmed glasses, that I thought, was unusual and captured his particular style. Accompanied by an interpreter, because I wasn’t sure my knowledge of Albanian would be adequate, the manger led us upstairs to the hotel mezzanine where we were seated in comfortable chairs with a tray of refreshments on a table before us.

I began to ask Kadare about his book “The Castle” which, I informed him, should be available in every major library in the world because of the exactness of his descriptions of the siege of the Albanian Kruja fortress raised by the Ottoman army. I marveled at Kadare’s research describing the fighting tactics of the Turks and reiterated many times my appreciation of the quality of his research. As I continued to express enthusiasm about the book, Kadare nodded frequently and occasionally smiled when I cited various battle scenes between the Albanians and the Turks. My meeting with Kadare lasted over an hour when the manger informed me that Kadare had to attend another meeting.

Many years later, I met with Kadare again in Boston where I interviewed him for the Albanian-American newspaper “Liria” of which I served as Executive Editor after the demise of its longtime founder and editor, the Boston legend, Dhimitri Trebicka.

Kadare was forthcoming as he quickly responded to my many questions, and, I was pleased that he remembered our meeting back in Tirana, and flattered when he thanked me for our connection over the years

I have read most of Kadare’s books; however, I still believe that “The Castle” represents his best work along with “The General of the Dead Army,” which was made into a movie in Italy in 1983 starring Marcello Mastroianni as the General, and Michel Piccoli as the Priest.

The December 26, 2010 edition of The New Yorker magazine published an excellent article about Kadare that also included an unusual painted caricature of Kadare. For those of you who missed The New Yorker story, I’ve brought copies of it with me that you can pick up later.

Thank you. Falemnderit.



At February 7, 2011 at 2:27 AM , Blogger D. said...

Shume interesante

At February 8, 2011 at 3:26 PM , Blogger Van Christo said...

Our talented Keze Zylo posted an excellent review of one of Kadare's much later books at (cut and paste)


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