Albania's best-known novelist Ismail Kadare dies at 88

By Aleksandar Vasovic

BELGRADE (Reuters) -Ismail Kadare, an acclaimed Albanian novelist and playwright who defied his country's longtime Communist rulers through his writing, has died in a Tirana hospital after having a heart attack, local television cited his editor as saying. He was 88.

Kadare, a prominent figure in Albanian and international literature, gained recognition in 1963 with his novel "The General of the Dead Army", which drew praise from literary critics around the world.

Prime Minister Edi Rama paid tribute to Kadare in a message on Facebook, hailing him as a "monument of Albanian culture".

Kadare received numerous global awards, including the Man Booker International Prize in 2005, the Prince of Asturias Prize for the Arts in 2009, the Jerusalem Prize in 2015 and the America Award in Literature for a lifetime contribution to international writing in 2023.

He also produced poems, essays and screenplays, and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature 15 times, once saying that media reports tipping him as a potential winner meant "many people think that I've already won it".

Kadare, who split his time between Albania and France, was the Balkan country's best-known novelist and his works have been published in 45 languages, but he repeatedly irked his homeland's former Communist rulers.

In 1975, after publishing a satirical poem called "The Red Pasha", which took aim at Albania's Communist bureaucracy, Kadare was sent to do manual labour in a remote village in central Albania.

Three of his books fell foul of Albanian censors, and in 1990 he sought political asylum in France after receiving threats following his criticism of the government and calls for democracy.

Last year, French President Emmanuel Macron awarded him the title of Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour.

Born in the town of Gjirokaster in 1936, in the-then Kingdom of Albania, Kadare was the son of a post office employee and a housewife. After World War II, he graduated in languages and literature from the University of Tirana.

He is survived by his wife, the author Helena Kadare, and their two daughters.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Helen Popper)