Friday, September 30, 2005


Nobel buzz, The Pipa Report

In anticipation of next week's Nobel Prize announcement, we have this piece by Nina Larson (via Literary Saloon) about the leading contenders. The usual suspects are duly trotted out: Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, Amos Oz, Tomas Transtroemer, Milan Kundera. (I've also heard that the Syrian poet Adonis is a possibility.) But according to Eva Bonnier, who runs Sweden's Bonnier publishing house, the judges may steer clear of a poet or novelist this time around: "The Academy has spoken of wanting to broaden the prize, which could open the door for instance for literary journalists like Polish Ryszard Kapuscinski." I'll drink to that. Kapuscinski is a formidable and inventive writer, with at least two permanent books (The Emperor and Shah of Shahs) under his belt. But he still seems like a long shot to me. So does Orhan Pamuk, rumored to have made the short list for the first time. At age 53, he's viewed as a relative youngster, who will have to wait his turn.

Another contender, at least during the past few years, has been Ismail Kadare. Which brings me to a bizarre footnote. Last weekend I was reviewing Kadare's latest novel, The Successor, which is based on a historical event: the death of Albanian politician Mehmet Shehu in 1981. Shehu, who had been groomed as the heir to Enver Hoxha, was found in his bedroom with a bullet in his skull. The official verdict was suicide. Many, however, suspected a state-sanctioned hit. As I prepared my review, I wondered whether Hoxha himself ever committed to one version or another. Lo and behold, the jolly dictator wrote a political memoir, The Titoites, the complete text of which happens to be available online. Not surprisingly, he opts for the suicide scenario. He also makes clear his disdain for Shehu (who he branded as a spy), sprinkling his account with sardonic quotation marks:
The "bold" Mehmet Shehu thought all night about how to escape from the tight spot, worked out and applied a plan of his own. Apparently, he judged matters in this way: "I am as good as dead, the best thing is to save what I can," and he decided to act like his friend Nako Spiru, to kill himself, thinking the Party would bury this "statesman," this "legendary leader," this "partisan and fighter in Spain" with honours, would not sully his reputation but would say that "the gun went off accidentally" (as he suggested in the letter which he left), and thus, at least, he would not lose his past and his family would not suffer.
What happened in Shehu's bedroom is still a matter of conjecture. Hoxha, who applied his jackboot to Albania's collective neck for nearly four decades, doesn't strike me as a reliable witness. But what also caught my eye was this sentence: "Mehmet Shehu arranged the engagement of his son to the daughter of a family in the circle of which there were 6 or 7 fugitive war criminals, including the notorious agent of the CIA Arshi Pipa." Arshi Pipa! The anonymous translator of Kadare's Chronicle in Stone, and later a participant in the Pipi-Kaka Quarrel! Small world indeed. (As far as I can determine by poking around the Internet, he wasn't a CIA agent.)

I never imagined Ismail Kadre to be a candidate for the nobel prize although I admit I really liked The Successor.
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