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An author who deserves to be discovered by the English-speaking world is Dritëro Agolli, considered by many Albanians to be their country’s finest novelist and poet. Like his more famous compatriot Ismail Kadare, who has been extensively translated into English, Agolli was born in southern Albania (five years before Kadare, in 1931). Agolli and Kadare are generally considered Albania’s foremost writers of the modern era, but of the two, Agolli was the greater bestseller before the fall of Enver Hoxha’s brutal dictatorship in 1991, which had isolated and sealed off Albania from the outside world for many decades. During the darkest years of the dictatorship Agolli was the president of the Union of Writers and Artists and a deputy in the People’s Assembly, positions that have subsequently haunted him. His prestige during an era when many Albanian authors were sent to brutal prison camps is still an issue. But what is most remarkable in the writings of both Agolli and Kadare is that during the years of the harshest and most restrictive censorship they both managed to write deep and powerful novels, despite having to avoid an endless list of unmentionable and untreatable topics. The first Agolli novel I would propose for translation is Njeriu me top (“The Man with a Gun”), which was in fact brought out in a weak and incomplete version by the Albanian State’s 8 Nëntori Publishing House in 1983. Other important Agolli novels are Shkëlqimi dhe rënia e shokut Zylo (“The Rise and Fall of Comrade Zylo”), and Komisari Memo (“Commissar Memo”), which also appeared during the dictatorship era in what is more of a paraphrase than a translation published by 8 Nëntori Publishing House as The Bronze Bust. Dritëro Agolli’s works deserve a wider readership and a translation that captures the elegance and power of his prose.
Peter Constantine has received a PEN Translation Prize and a National Translation Award. His translations include Machiavelli, Voltaire, and Tolstoy.
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