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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking narrative of a siege to the death
The story revolves around the siege of an unidentified castle in Albania, as the Turks were beginning their invasion of the Balkans. Given that they eventually won and hung around for about 350 years, the result of this particular skirmish - win, lose or draw - doesn't really matter in the long run, but the author focuses on what it means to the people involved, and for...
Published on 7 Mar. 2011 by davidT

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but writing wise a bit one dimensional
I was looking forward to reading this, personally enjoying historical fiction. But after finishing it I felt a bit underwhelmed. The story centres on the Ottaman Turks who go on a conquest of Albania lead by Pasha who besiege an unnamed citadel. After constant bombardment and depleting the besieged of food and water, the Albanians continue to resist.
The subject is...
Published on 30 Dec. 2012 by deano c


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking narrative of a siege to the death, 7 Mar. 2011
By 
davidT "Omnivore" (Hildesheim, Germany) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Siege (Paperback)
The story revolves around the siege of an unidentified castle in Albania, as the Turks were beginning their invasion of the Balkans. Given that they eventually won and hung around for about 350 years, the result of this particular skirmish - win, lose or draw - doesn't really matter in the long run, but the author focuses on what it means to the people involved, and for all of them, it's a matter of life and death.
The view of the besieged is given only by an unidentified occupant of the castle, who tells how they prepared for the assault and fought off the ferocious attacks of the Turkish army, right up until the end.
Far more time is spent with the attacking force, and this is where the story really comes to life.
It's easy to think of an army - espcially a historical one - as a single unit, but here we see how it consists of different groups and individuals. There's the official chronicler, who has to record the whole thing, producing an account almost like poetry. There's the 'caster of spells' who is supposed to curse the castle, and when that doesn't work is accused of sabotage and sent to work digging under the fortifications.
In overall charge is the Pasha, and he is well aware that if he fails he might as well commit suicide, because there will be no mercy if he returns home defeated. His harem, which he has brought with him, is also concerned in this, as they will be up for grabs by another man if their current husband dies.
Peraps the cleverest trick is to focus on the Quartermaster, not normally at the forefront of battle narratives, but a very sensible choice here, as he is the one who is most aware of the overall state of the army - how big it is, what it requires, and how much needs to be sourced from the surrounding area in the way of provisions. At one point he even advocates an immediate attack, since if some more men are killed it will take a little pressure off the supply problem!
The accounts of the attacks are breathtaking and shocking, in the way they show the suicidal fury of the waves upon waves of attackers. This is literally true in the case of one division, the 'serden gecti' whose code forbids them to come back from an attack except with a victory. This means that the Pasha has to be sure, when deploying them, that they are certain to be successful, otherwise he has thrown away a division of troops. The accounts of the succeeding waves of attacks have a filmlike quality, as we cut from the distant view of the Pasha to the individual murderous man-to-man combat, taking place under a rain of boiling pitch which we can almost smell.
The casual attitude to loss of life permeates the whole attacking force - a small army of men is caught out by an explosion while they are digging a tunnel, and the last we see of them is as they resign themselves to death underground, knowing that no one is going to save them. Also, in a quiet period, to stop the men getting restless, a party is sent off into the surrounding countryside to capture some women. These are then traded from one man to another, and by the end of a single night not one is left alive. Brutal, but one fears representative of warfare at the time, if not now.
The feeling I came away with from the book is that no one, not even the Pasha, is really in control, because the forces unleashed are so great that everyone is simply caught up in them. In this respect, it's interesting to compare with the superficially similar novel 'Eclipse of the Crescent Moon' by Geza Gardonyi, which deals with the siege of Eger in Northern Hungary at about the same time. In Gardonyi's story, however, the day is saved by the ingenuity of one of the besieged townspeople, in an almost Boys' Own display of individual heroism. There is no scope for that in Kadare's book, and I regret to say Kadare's is probably the more realistic view of warfare.

(Can I just also add that the translator deserves credit for producing a version which comes across as if we're reading it in the original language. It can't be easy finding an Albanian translator, let alone one so skilful!)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Classic of the Communist Era, 9 Feb. 2011
This review is from: The Siege (Paperback)
The Siege tells the story of Ottoman expansion into Europe in the 15th century, or more specifically Kadare's Albania. It does so in simple and descriptive language. The Sultan's forces lay siege to an unidentified citadel in an ultimately futile attempt to take control. The novel is epic in scale. The cast is impressive, from the Commander-in-Chief or Pasha with his hareem of wives and eunuch who reside within his pink tent. His War Council of various members and interests, and religious and civil dignitaries, official historians, doctors and poets and gun-smiths and so on. And then a colorful array of the almost endless Ottoman forces. The besieged Albanians or defenders rarely appear, occasionally as corpses. Their leader Skanderbeg is referred to throughout though does not appear except as perhaps an idea. The chapters are interspersed with short accounts from the Albanian perspective written it would appear by a christian scribe. The story deals with a clash of civilizations, aggressive Ottoman expansion into Christian Europe. It was written shortly after Russian tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia in 1968 to quell the encroaching liberalism of that country. The hard line government in Tirana panicked and thousands of concrete pillboxes were hastily constructed all over the small state in order to quell an attack that never came. Paranoia reigned. The parallels are clear. This is a novel set in the 15th century but it is very much a classic of the communist era. Though veiled it absolutely resonates today. Ismail Kadare is a wonderful writer. He is finding a new and appreciative audience outside his homeland and this is to be greatly welcomed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but writing wise a bit one dimensional, 30 Dec. 2012
By 
This review is from: The Siege (Kindle Edition)
I was looking forward to reading this, personally enjoying historical fiction. But after finishing it I felt a bit underwhelmed. The story centres on the Ottaman Turks who go on a conquest of Albania lead by Pasha who besiege an unnamed citadel. After constant bombardment and depleting the besieged of food and water, the Albanians continue to resist.
The subject is interesting but there is no description in the writing, the book coming off as procedural with the reader continually informed of what happens next and left me feeling rather cold.
All in all not a bad novel but there could have been more drama included to captivate the reader.6\10
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent book, 1 Aug. 2008
By 
J. S. Davies (Caerphilly, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Siege (Hardcover)
This is an easy read. It's a great story too. I'm pretty sure that, were I to be an intellectual, I would find a lot more in this book. I'm not- I just want to be entertained and this book did not disappoint.

I read this in 3 days and that was only because I had to waste time going to work and sleeping.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding as Both Historical Fiction and Allegory, 2 Oct. 2009
By 
A. Ross (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Siege (Paperback)
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.), and subject to show-trials and cruel and unusual punishments -- bears striking similarities to Albania under the rule of Enver Hoxha. Meanwhile, the castle's desperate defenders take on the role of freedom-loving intelligentsia within that same society. The symbolism is stark, since history tells us that the Ottoman Empire does eventually conquer Albania, and the castle does fall.

The translation is very good, as the camp comes alive on every page, and the battle scenes resound off the page. But it's to Kadare's immense credit that the story remains gripping while conveying its densely layered message. Well worth reading if you have any interest in the Ottoman Empire, Albania, military history, or simply excellent world literature.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book to read many times, 5 July 2011
By 
D. O'Reilly "Dom O'Reilly" (West London, forever) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Siege (Paperback)
It's an anti-war novel. It's an anti-totalitarianism novel. It's a book of ideas rather than characters. It's all those things and much more.

I love the way that none of the besieged Albanians are mentioned by name and that they seem an anonymous, faceless immovable object to the Turks. It sums up the way, like a beehive, an army becomes a being of its own, rather than a collection of individuals.

I've just finished this for the first time. I'm going to read it several more times and I fully expect to discover more with each reading.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A chronicle for all time, 19 Feb. 2010
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This review is from: The Siege (Paperback)
This book was chosen for the book group that I belong to, and to be honest, I wouldn't have chosen to read it otherwise, and if I hadn't been on a lazy holiday, with plenty of time to read uninterruptedly, I wouldn't have got into it and finished it. This is mainly because it's basically a war story, even though it's also a metaphor for Albania's plight in the late 20th century, after the invasion of Chechoslovakia by the Soviets in 1968. It's worth reading the 'Afterword' by the translator first, as this gives one an understanding of the historical background and context in which the author wrote it, which helped my appreciation of the book as I was reading it. I did enjoy the characteristions, and the insight which the book gave to the early history of the Ottoman Empire, and the use of the chronicler as a way of commenting on the story. If you find the Turkish/Ottoman element of the book interesting, you may enjoy even more Louis de Berniere's 'Birds without Wings' which chronicles in novel form the closing years of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 19th/ beginning of the 20th century.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good novel basically, but felt a bit flat in places, 15 Oct. 2011
By 
John Hopper (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Siege (Kindle Edition)
A well written historical novel set at a time when the author's homeland Albania was under attack from the Ottoman Empire. Because of this backdrop, he was able to get it published in his home country in 1969, though it contains subversive messages about the nature of an arbitrary and authoritarian political system. I must say I found much of it rather unengaging and a little flat, though perhaps in part that may be down to the double translation into French then English.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not a Historical Novel, Not Quite as Great as Some Reviewers Say..., 26 Jun. 2009
By 
wolf (East Midlands, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Siege (Paperback)
On the surface this appears to be the story of the siege of a medieval Albanian fortress by the Ottoman Turks. In fact it is firmly about the contemporary concerns of the author.

As others have said, Kadare uses the fifteenth century siege as a way of exploring issues occupying the Albanian of the 1970s. Although parts of the story do effectively capture something of the lost world of the Albanian resistance leader Skanderbeg and his Ottoman opponents (the mixture of Christianity and older beliefs of the Albanians is nicely portrayed), one is struck by anachronisms in the attitudes of the characters. Even more tellingly, however, the battle scenes, of which there are several, are told at a distance or reported by observers. We are never - even when the Turkish commander joins his troops in a final push - put into the heart of the action - the troops storming a breach, those scrambling over the parapets - as it happens. Kadare simply isn't interested.

The mechanics of the siege are only touched on. Damage inflicted by cannon fire on the castle walls is mentioned, but the breaches caused are not ever discussed by the besieging war council, which seems a trifle odd, given their importance to getting in. Nor do we hear of the defenders trying to patch them up. A mine dug by the Ottomans manages to get under the castle walls yet, rather than try and bring the walls down with it, they dig on to get inside the castle - an odd and unexplained decision. The castle, and therefore the siege, exists in the story only as an implacable obstacle: a literal symbol that the lives of the Turkish soldiers and their commanders' ambitions can be dashed against, in a confused maelstrom, belying the Ottomans apparent meticulous planning.

So what we have instead of a historical novel is a way that Kadare can discuss things that, presumably, communist Albania would not have let him talk about openly. The Turkish army, with its internal divisions, its secret intelligence on its own attitudes, its paranoid tendency to turn on its own, creating its own enemies, worse than those it really faces, its lightless labour camp and its strongman leader, whose main aim is to preserve his own position, is a pretty clear portrait of communist Albania. There are digressions about the nature of national identity, the progress of science and the durability of culture and language. For a short book there is a lot of intellectual ballast. Ideas are packed in.

The problem - for me, at least - is that this is too much a novel of ideas. As well as the lack of interest in the surface story of the battle, there is a lack of interest in the characters that people it. The kind reviewer might call them archetypes, but more accurately, they are ciphers, whose characters often develop little beyond their job descriptions.

Overall, good, but not great.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent novel, 17 May 2013
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This review is from: The Siege (Paperback)
An excellent novel from one of my favourite Albanian writers. It takes you back in the dark times and it introduces you into the world of two opposing armies/cultures/civilizations. A must read.
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The Siege
The Siege by Ismail Kadare (Paperback - 5 Mar. 2009)
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