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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 25 July 2017
nice book good price quick delivery
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on 1 August 2008
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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on 7 March 2011
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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on 9 February 2011
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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on 30 December 2012
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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 2 October 2009
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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on 5 July 2011
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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on 19 February 2010
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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VINE VOICEon 15 October 2011
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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on 24 September 2015
Interesting book! Written in 1979 based on Latin chronicles of the siege of an Albanian Catholic fortress by the Ottomans. It resembles ISIS today, especially the bit on sex slaves. I wonder whom the Ottomans resemble themselves on! Good book. Disturbing facts. Essential for those who want to understand why Muslim countries are what they are today.
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