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Ismail Kadare's contentment

Ismail Kadare's contentment

The Albanian novelist Ismael Kadare was recently in Israel to pick up the Jerusalem Prize ‘for work which best expresses and promotes the idea of the freedom of the individual in society’. Previous winners include Arthur Miller, Haruki Murakami and 1998 Man Booker winner Ian McEwan. During his stay he was asked the now familiar question, about the Nobel Prize and his chances of adding that to his list of triumphs. ‘The press has spoken about it so much that many people think that I’ve already won it,’ he said. ‘I am already part of the family of those who have been tipped, and that is very important. It would be petty and silly to become resentful over that. You won’t become divine if you win it. And it’s not a disaster if you don’t.’ His insouciance is easier to understand when you remember that Kadare already has the inaugural Man Booker International Prize (2005) on his mantelpiece.


When this year's Man Booker International judges gather at the University of Cape Town on 24th March to announce their list of finalists there will be one grand South African writer, a professor at the university, missing from the celebrations: André Brink who has just died aged 79. Brink, twice shortlisted for the then Booker Prize (1976 and 1978) and longlisted for the Man Booker as recently as 2012, was a novelist and lifelong anti-apartheid campaigner. Such was Brink's facility that while he wrote in both English and Afrikaans he spoke against apartheid in the language his adversaries (the authorities banned or held up publication of several of his books) would best understand – Afrikaans. Brink's death comes a mere seven months after that of his fellow South African novelist-activist Nadine Gordimer, who was joint winner of the Booker Prize in 1974, along with Stanley Middleton.


If you think that the Man Booker judges have a tough assignment having to read 150 plus  novels, spare a thought for the judges of the its sister prize, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. That prize's shortlist of six has just been announced. It was the result of whittling down a whopping 180 submissions. The winner of the $50,000 cheque will be announced on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair on Wednesday 6 May. The judges, from all around the Gulf and Middle East as well as one from Japan, should be easy to spot – they'll be the ones with bags under their eyes.


A damehood for Hilary Mantel was announced in last year's Queen's Birthday Honours List but the Man Booker heroine has only just received her medal. The investiture was performed by Prince Charles and Dame Hilary was asked afterwards what they spoke about while she received her honour. ‘We talked about the television series of Wolf Hall, which he’s enjoying very much.” The remark shows the royal sense of humour: Catherine Mayer's new biography of the Prince – Charles: The Heart of a King – describes his squabbling, ‘treacherous and opportunistic’ household as being like . . . Wolf Hall. It was left to the Dame to note dryly: ‘I think there may be an element of exaggeration there.’

Ismael Kadare