Albanian writer Ismail Kadare was born in Gjirokaster, Albania in 1936; his father worked in the civil service. He studied at the Faculty of History and Philology at the University of Tirana, graduating with a teaching diploma in 1956, before moving to Moscow to study at the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute, where he stayed until 1960 when relations between Albania and the Soviet Union soured.
His first collection of poetry was published when he was 18. His first novel, The General of the Dead Army, was published when he was 27.
Although some people viewed him as a dissident during the communist era, he disagrees. In an interview on Albanian TV in 2006 he was asked whether he had ever tried to present himself as a dissident, to which he replied "Absolutely not. Others have said this, and I could not do anything when foreign journalists wrote "The dissident author Ismail Kadare...".
He was a family friend of Enver Hoxha (1908-1985), Albania's dictator for 40 years, and was at one time a delegate in the one-party parliament (1970). He was the only writer in Communist Albania whose writings were not prohibited (although he was forbidden from writing for three years during a crack-down in the '70s) and some of his writings appear to support the regime. One such work is The Great Winter which he describes as "the price I had to pay for freedom". Other works are clearly not in favor, for example What Are These Mountains Thinking About, is said to be one of the clearest expressions of Albanian self-image under the communist dictatorship.
In short, in a society in which all arts were completely and ruthlessly controlled by the state, Kadare trod a fine line. In his own words "dissidence was a position no one could occupy, even for a few days, without facing the firing squad. On the other hand, my books themselves constitute a very obvious form of resistance."
In October 1990, shortly before the fall of communism in Albania, he sought and was granted asylum in France. He now divides his time between Paris and Tirana, the capital of Albania. His work has been published in over 40 countries and in 2005 he was awarded the inaugural Booker International Prize and the Prix Mondial Cino Del Duca (a French literary prize that recognizes an author whose work conveys a message of modern humanism).
Several of his novels have been published in the US, including The Pyramid, The Three-Arched Bridge, The Concert, The Palace of Dreams, The File on H, Elegy For Kosovo and Spring Flowers, Spring Frost.