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Siege Paperback – 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd (2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847671225
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847671226
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,028,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The fact that no reviews have yet been posted to Amazon for THE SIEGE more than three months after its hardcover release is testimony to the misfortune that American readers have not yet discovered Ismail Kadare and his remarkable body of work. Mr. Kadare, often rumored (and deservedly so) as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, is an Albanian whose subject matter is, loosely speaking, Albanian history. However, his work merely uses that history to explore universal themes and (more than occasionally) satirize the foibles and ineffectualities of autocrat government. In that respect, Kadare might be seen as a disciple or descendant of Franz Kafka, although Kadare's works are more firmly, if sometimes fabulously, rooted in Balkan, Albanian, and Ottoman history.

Written in 1970 and first published as "The Castle," THE SIEGE tells the story of a fifteenth century invasion of Albania by the Ottoman Turks under the leadership of Ugurlu Tursun Pasha. At the Albanian border, the Pasha is confronted by a citadel that he must take to begin his conquest of this Eastern fringe of Europe. The fortress appears to be protected by George Castrioti, a real historical figure known as Skanderbeg who died in 1468 but is often credited as having stemmed the advance of the Ottoman Turks into Western Europe.

Skanderbeg is an important figure in Kadare's book, but we never see or meet him. Instead, the author has chosen to tell his story almost exclusively from the Turkish side, making the citadel as impenetrable and unknown to the reader as it appears to the Pasha and Skanderbeg as ghostly a force for the reader as the Ottoman army perceives him to be.
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Format: Hardcover
Originally published in Albania in 1970, and then translated into French in the mid-90s, this excellent novel has finally made it into English. It tells the story of a fictional 15th-century siege of an Albanian castle by an Ottoman army. The details of this appear to be largely drawn from accounts of the 1474 siege of Shkoder, as well as the exploits of Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg (aka The Dragon of Albania), who led the resistance to the Ottomans for about twenty years, until his death in 1468.

The siege is mainly told from the Ottoman perspective, as we are taken into the Pasha's tent for discussions of strategy, wander around the camp with the hapless scribe/historian sent to chronicle the impending great victory, and listen to the monologues of the quartermaster who has to keep the siege logistically afloat. There are also occasional brief interludes written from the perspective of the Christian defenders trying to conserve their water until the arrival of the rainy season that would effectively save them.

The mechanics and psychology of the siege are wonderfully brought to life, as the Ottomans struggle to bring their superior manpower and technology to bear in an effective manner. In that sense, it's a gripping, effective, and often bloody, work of historical fiction which will appeal to fans of that genre. At the same time, the story appears to function as allegory for the plight of Soviet-dominated Albania during the Cold War. The Ottoman army -- cowering under an absolute ruler abetted by a pervasive secret police, riven by internal factions (warlords, mystics, technocrats, etc.
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Format: Hardcover
In the Seige, Kadare writes a disconcertingly modern and exquisitely detailed account of medieval warfare and nation-building. Most of the book focuses on the Ottoman Turks' command as they encircle a medieval Albanian fortress and, over a long and frustrating summer, fail to breach the walls. There are interstitial passages between the chapters giving a glimpse of the thoughts of the Albanians within during the seige. The parallels between medieval and modern nations and conflicts lie constantly under the surface.

This may be the most overtly politicized Kadare that I have read. It was first written in Albania at the height of Hoxsa's regime, and then subsequently rewritten and rereleased in Paris. This translation is of the later French version. Kadare's messages are playfully ambiguous; the entire heroic drama of the Albanian stand plays out in the shadow of what we know to be the ultimate Turkish conquest, and Kadare reminds the reader continually during the book that it is only a question of whether this army or the next brings the fortress down.

A wonderful book, and as good a fictional version of the Ottoman period in the Balkans as The Bridge on the Drina (Phoenix Fiction Series).
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Format: Hardcover
Kadare is, one reads, often on the list of nominees for the literature Nobel. This very satisfying and thought-inspiring book suggests that he'd deserve his prize, if he gets it. It has plenty of gravity, depth, and subtlety, while still being very engaging to read. I echo many of the other reviewers' praises. But I was particularly struck by his highly original choice of telling the story from the viewpoint of Ottoman non-combatants (astrologers, poets, historians, ladies of the pasha's harem, and logistics and munitions experts among them). From personal experience I know how tough it is to structure even a non-fiction book. So I'm knocked out with admiration at the imagination it took to structure this novel as Kadare did, especially when the subject matter (to say nothing of ambient political pressures) would suggest several more obvious alternatives.

I read the French edition on which this English translation is based. An unsigned introduction sets Kadare's historical context as the 1960 Albanian-Soviet conflict, during which the Warsaw Pact nations enforced an economic blockade of Albania. It's unclear to what extent this historical reference was a cover story to disguise Kadare's intended criticism of the regime in Albania, and to what extent it was a sincere inspiration. The book was published in Albania in 1970 and the French edition first published in 1979, so Kadare may have been feeling some need to keep up pretenses if the Albanian government really was his target. OTOH, favoring the sincere interpretation is that this story is set in the era of Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg, who resisted the Turks for 25 years, and who remains the Albanian national hero; the country didn't fall to the sultanate until after his death.
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