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Albanian Storyteller Kadare Wins Jerusalem Prize

February 15, 2015

“But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”  (James 1:25) 

Every two years, the Jerusalem International Book Fair (February 8–12, 2015) brings thousands of bound stories to the Israeli capital and rewards a writer who has woven together a narrative emphasizing “the freedom of the individual in society.”

Five of these Jerusalem Prize winners have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, accentuating the caliber of the authors selected.

This year’s winner of the $10,000 Jerusalem Prize is 78-year-old Albanian human rights author and poet Ismail Kadare, whose works have been translated into 30 languages including Hebrew, and who has made a name for himself in Albania’s literary circles since the 1960s.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat presents the 2015 Jerusalem Prize to Ismail Kadera.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat presents the 2015 Jerusalem Prize to Ismail Kadare.  (Source: Jerusalem International Book Fair / Facebook)

Kadare sought political asylum in France after criticizing Albania’s totalitarian regime and resisting the attempts of the Communist authorities “to use his reputation to their advantage,” writes the Times of Israel.

According to the panel that chose Kadare as its Jerusalem Prize winner, “He writes about collective guilt, and especially about the truth’s failure to penetrate.”

“He seeks to expose, while hiding his tracks in layers of myth and metaphor, questions for which there are no answers and crimes for which there is no atonement,” the panel stated.  “Even though his subject matter and his protagonists are generally local, their significance and importance are beyond doubt universal.”  (Haaretz)

Ismael Kadare-2015 Jerusalem Book Fair

Ismail Kadare Speaks at 2015 Jerusalem Book Fair (Source: Jerusalem International Book Fair / Facebook)

Kadare received the Jerusalem Prize from Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat during what was the 27th International Book Fair.  During his acceptance speech, he spoke about Albania’s hand in protecting Jews during the Holocaust.

“When the number of Jews throughout Europe had been drastically reduced—a result of genocide—in Albania the Jewish population had actually increased considerably,” Kadare said.

During an interview with Haaretz, Kadare said that Albania’s ancient moral code called the Kanun prompted the nation to assist in protecting the Jews in their care.  According to Kadare, that moral code originated in ancient Greece. It still guides behavior in Albania and has a “noble side” and a “cruel side.”  The noble side is hospitable, but the cruel side allows people to kill each other over the smallest of quarrels.

“It [the Kanun] resulted in the fact, for instance, that Albania saved a great many Jews during the Holocaust, because the Kanun stipulates that someone who is your guest, who is under your protection, must not be abandoned or harmed.  This code contains a promise of nobility alongside its negative aspects,” Kadare explained.

An Israeli peruses a book at  the 2015 Jerusalem Book Fair.

An Israeli peruses a book at the 2015 Jerusalem Book Fair.  (Source: Jerusalem International Book Fair / Facebook)

Kadare also described the threat against Jews throughout history as being one that demands that “Jewish people should cease to be in order to solve the conflict.”

“This threat continues to this day and must stop.  Before any talk about the problematic nature of the conflict, this threat has to stop, and the world has to stop—not just saying things, but also thinking them,” Kadare said.

Kadare is the author of more than 50 novels, essays and short-story collections, and established that freedom is a paramount theme in his work.

“If you are a serious writer or just a normal one, in one way or another you are writing in the service of freedom,” Kadare told Times of Israel.  “All writers know, understand or dream that their work will be in the service of freedom.”

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

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