"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Friday, 2 November 2007

Fatos Kongoli: New Albanian Fiction

To Foyle's Bookshop in London for the launch of the first English translation of Albanian novelist Fatos Kongoli's 1992 novel I Humburi/The Loser. Kongoli himself was there, a likeably modest man without any of the trappings of the celebrity writer. He said that he had no desire to write under the Hoxa dictatorship in Albania during which time he had been a mathematics professor. Elsewhere he has written that there are no Marxist theorems in geometry. But with the fall of the dictatorship in 1991 he felt released to write and The Loser - about which I can say nothing because I acquired it only last night - is the product. At question time I asked if he was alone in feeling this sense of lifted restraint. Had there been a sudden renaissance in contemporary Albanian literature? Speaking through his interpreter, Robert Elsie, who with Janice Mathie-Heck translated the book for Welsh publisher Seren's promising new translation series, Kongoli was cautious. He did not seem to wish to speak for anyone but himself. There were many writers in Albania, some of whom, he suggested, thought they were important. The life of a writer is hard, he said, it is economically unrewarding, but one has no choice but to pursue it. This book was directly stimulated by the events of 1991 and the collapse of the regime (we recall those memorable images of Albanian refugees piling onto ships for Italy) and it is, apparently, an exploration of the consequences of state repression. This is the first of Kongoli's books to be translated into English though he has a much higher profile in France. Although he does not speak English he is fluent in French, which enabled me to have a few words with him at the end and to carry off a copy of the book signed: 'bien cordialement, Fatos Kongoli'. I look forward to reading it (Seren, £8.99)


Anonymous said...

I hope it was not Kongoli himself who said that he made his living as a mathematician during the regime. Because it is not true. He did study mathematics in China, but in fact he worked as a journalist, and even tried to become a member of the Party.
And he did publish books before the fall of the regime. At least two. "The Loser" was not his first book, but the third or fourth.

Nicholas Murray said...

Thank you for this clarification. My report was, I hope, an accurate one of what was actually said at the event and I did not draw on any other materials so I am puzzled that you identify discrepancies. If you are willing to identify yourself and send me an email I could see if I can locate my notes or consult what the publisher said in the accompanying handouts.