Siege mentality

This novel by the first Man Booker International prize winner (2005) is also the first fiction I've ever read from Albania. Ismail Kadaré wrote Kështjella, here translated as The Siege, in 1969, when Enver Hoxha -- Mao Tse-Tung's only ally in Europe -- feared Soviet invasion in the wake of the invasion of Czechoslovakia & fomented national anxiety about a possible siege. The idolized 15th-century Albanian resistance leader George Castrioti, known as "Skanderbeg" ("Lord Alexander"), is mentioned frequently but (prudently) Kadaré never describes him directly or lets him appear. Kadaré's strong insistence on the Christian faith of the defenders is probably historically accurate for the period, just prior to the actual Ottoman conquest and conversion to Islam, but was politically uncomfortable in Enver Hoxha's Albania.

In 1990 Kadaré, Albania's most celebrated novelist, left for France & began revising this and other works, expanding this novel with pieces that had been cut by censors in 1969; the French translation, on which this English translation is based, is of that expanded version. Here you can find my plot summary and commentary on Kadaré, Ismail. The Siege. (Original: Kështjella. Roman, 1970.) Trans. Jusuf Vrioni (Albanian to French); David Bellos (French to English). New York: Canongate, 2008.

Photo: Skanderbeg statue in Tirana from Trip Advisor

According to this Wikipedia article, the historical Skanderbeg did not abjure Islam and rebel against the Ottoman sultan until 1443, holding out until 1466, so this novel stretches history in several ways. But the details of siege warfare sound authentic, and even though this particular siege is an invention, the Ottomans did suffer some equally disastrous defeats as depicted here before their final, overwhelming triumph.

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