Ismail Kadare was born in Gjirokastër, Albania in 1936. He first studied at the Faculty of History and Philology at the University of Tirana and later at the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow. His wife, Elena Gushi-Kadare, is also an Albanian writer. In the 1960s, his works reflected the Albanian literature of Socialist Realism and post-communist Albania.
In 1990, immediately before the fall of communism in Albania, Kadare sought asylum in France. During the ordeal, he stated that "dictatorship and authentic literature are incompatible... The writer is the natural enemy of dictatorship." However, during the dictatorship, he had written extensively about the success of socialism and had been part of the communist propaganda. Kadare played the very delicate game of trying to please both the communist government and its critics. Today he is a controversial figure in Albania, considered by many a great writer and by many others a leftover of the communist regime.
Opinions differ on whether Kadare was a dissident or a conformist during the communist period. On several occasions, Kadare has denied that he was a dissident. For instance, in an interview in November 2006 on Albanian "TV Klan", Kadare answered as follows:
Question from Blendi Fevziu: Mister Kadare, have you ever tried to present yourself as dissident, even through others?
Ismail Kadare answering: Absolutely not. Others have said this, and I could not do anything when foreign journalists wrote "The dissident author Ismail Kadare...".
Kadare's works have been published in over forty countries. He has been a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature and in 2005 he received the inaugural Man Booker International Prize.