LONDON – The Albanian dissident and author Ismail Kadare (search) said Monday that his small victories in smuggling work out of his homeland inspired him to continue writing in the face of oppression.
Kadare was in Edinburgh to collect the inaugural Man Booker International Prize (search), which will be awarded every two years to a living author who has published fiction in English or whose work has been translated into English.
Kadare was named earlier this month as the recipient of the $108,000 prize, beating a field that included Colombia's Gabriel Garcia Marquez (search), Margaret Atwood (search) of Canada, American writer Saul Bellow (search), Czech Milan Kundera (search) and Britain's Ian McEwan (search) and Muriel Spark (search).
Kadare's works were banned by Albania's former Communist regime and his manuscripts had to be smuggled out of the country to his French publishers.
He was granted political asylum in France in 1990 and his novels and poems have now been translated in more than 40 countries. His best-known novel remains his first, "The General of the Dead Army (search)," written in 1963.
Kadare told reporters on Monday that totalitarian regimes favor mediocre writers, and there usually are only a few writers of true literature in a totalitarian country.
"Each time we were able to publish anything, even just a page, we got a great moral satisfaction out of it. Each occasion was a great triumph," he said.
"That's what kept us going throughout this whole period. Otherwise we would have gone mad or we would have just given up."
Kadare added that it's "the fashion now in the former communist countries of the ex-Soviet Bloc for people to say 'I could have been a writer but I wasn't allowed,'" he said.
"The people entitled to speak about that period are the people who did something and not the people who kept silent and have retrospective nostalgia.
"It's very easy to give moral lessons but sometimes those lessons are given by people who haven't got moral stature themselves."
John Carey, chair of the judging panel, described Kadare as "a universal writer in a tradition of storytelling that goes back to Homer."