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The Siege

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  1,965 ratings  ·  208 reviews
In the early fifteenth century, as winter falls away, the people of Albania know that their fate is sealed. They have refused to negotiate with the Ottoman Empire, and war is now inevitable. Soon enough dust kicked up by Turkish horses is spotted from a citadel. Brightly coloured banners, hastily constructed minarets and tens of thousands of men fill the plain below. From ...more
Hardcover, 328 pages
Published May 15th 2008 by Canongate Books (first published 1970)
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Average rating 3.96  · 
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 ·  1,965 ratings  ·  208 reviews

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Bob Newman
Feb 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A Distant Mirror*

Ismail Kadare left Albania in 1990, just before the final days of the “Communist” tyranny that had held the country in its fist since 1944. He had survived while continuing to write throughout. He had become expert in couching his ideas in the past or in mythology. When you read his novels, you have one foot in Albanian history, the other in disguised portrayals of the ugly dictatorship that ruled Albania. This took considerable genius. He produced a series of brilliant, many-la
Sep 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
The author claims that this is not a historical novel, and yet the story is set in the mid 15th century and is a primer on the methods of warfare used at the time. It is also a metaphor for Albania during its Communist rule in the 20th century, for although the invading Ottoman empire circa 1474 is portrayed as the bad guy, the implication and insinuation is that this totalitarian empire is a reflection of later day Albania itself.

In a nutshell, an Albanian fortress is besieged by an invading Ot
Jul 02, 2019 rated it liked it
"The Siege" is an historical novel by the great Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare involving the defeat of the Ottoman army to capture a rebel city, with many details taken from the attack on Krujë in 1450. Krujë was part of a larger rebellion led by George Castriot, who used the mountainous terrain to harass the besiegers and deprive them of local supplies. That predatory nature of invading armies is part of Kadare's point; the novel was written in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslo ...more
Sep 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, history
A real treat, an Albanian authors account of a Turkish siege has it all. Good history, great writing, dread, historical detail wrapped into a subtle political scream of anger.
Neal Adolph
Oct 31, 2021 rated it really liked it
I'm part of an online forum where we all share book recommendations, talk about authors and novels that we have liked and that we feel have wasted our time, and where we have started, in the middle of a pandemic, playing this game of selecting who we think should be the recipient of the Nobel Prize. We collectively select 3 to 4 authors that we would like to review in our considerations, and then engage in deliberations and voting, and the winner is "announced" the week before the Nobel is revea ...more
Apr 26, 2020 rated it liked it
Realizing that 3 stars for Ismail Kadare’s The Siege is counted as a negative, the short version is that it is not a bad book, it is not that great. This is a 320+ page book about how siege warfare was conducted by the Ottoman Empire in the 1500s. By coincidence the siege is against a Christian citadel in Albania. Some describe this as a Muslim versus Christian thing but there is virtually no discussion of either religion in anything close to a comparative way. The religion of the beseiged and t ...more
Dr. Cristina Bettencourt
Jul 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
My favorite book by this author. He seems to be able to recreate the mentality and the perspective people may have had in those times. He makes me "feel" with them regardless of the fact that I am submerged in my zeitgeist, and in principle a bad neutral observer. This combined with a compelling writing style. ...more
Ignore the afterword and the author's comments on this. Yes there are obvious parallels to living in a paranoid authoritarian state, but what makes this book great is the part that's clearly well thought out historical fiction. You're here to think about the Ottomans, not Enver Hoxha. ...more
Mar 30, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In The Siege, Ismail Kadare succeeds in telling a story that is at once a fictionalized piece of history, a believable what-if about the Ottoman invasion of 15th-century Albania, and a subtle commentary on modern politics and war.

As with other armies throughout history, the Turks led military campaigns from late spring to early fall. The Siege begins as the Catholic Albanians, having sent the Ottomon envoys packing, prepare for the coming of the invading force. The tale is told in two perspecti
Hakushi Hamaoka
Dec 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
I came to feel like visiting Albania :)

According to the Afterword by the translator, Ismail Kadare's one of the main themes in his novels is the intricate relationships between the obvious other (the influences of the Ottoman Empire) for the Albanians and who the Albanians are. Since Albania was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, people there were affected by its culture, politics, and other social institutions. The Albanian are, however, still Albanians, who are supposed to have rather actively a
Dec 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-tour, temp
Ismail Kadaré often used Albanian history and legends as the setting for his novels. This one is about attempts to withstand a siege by Ottoman forces and shows the inhabitants of the beleaguered town. It may be an allegory of modern times, but it is not clear exactly what it might be an allegory of. Albania was a Maoist communist country caught between the powerful Soviet powers and their allies and the capitalist force of Europe and US global trade. Who did Ismail Kadaré see as the aggressive ...more
Oct 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lauren Albert
May 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I imagine it is difficult to write about sieges since they are mostly boredom sometimes alternating with brief periods of horrific violence. Kadare manages to make the story compelling perhaps because of the feeling of anxiety and uncertainty that hangs over each character but all for differing reasons--you want to see how events proceed for them. Kadare shows his unsurprising bias in favor of the Albanians yet manages to show great pity for the Muslim soldiers who die at their leaders' whim. He ...more
Nov 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: in-translation
This may seem like a straight forward historical novel about a citadel in Albania under seige from the mighty Ottaman Empire, but it is so much more than that.

Written originally in 1970 in Albania just after the Soviets had shattered the Prague uprising in Czechoslovakia, it is one of the best critics of hostile invasion and control you will ever read.

Considering the original was Albanian and it was updated in french in the mid 90s a big congratulations to all the translators involved.
Thomas Hübner
Sep 11, 2013 rated it really liked it

Albania in the middle of the 15th century. Gjergj Kastrioti, called Skanderbeg, is resisting the advance of the Ottoman armies and is fighting a kind of hit-and-run guerrilla war from his fortresses in the Accursed Mountains. This is the historical backdrop of the novel The Siege by the Albanian author Ismail Kadare, a permanent candidate for the Novel Prize and Winner of the Man Booker International Prize.

A huge force of the Ottoman army is advancing to this r
Ciprian Dobre-Trifan
A very realistic chronicle of war, focused on the ottoman side, during their seige of an Albanian fortress.

Brings up all the unseen, predominant faces of war and the people caught in it, in a presentation that removes the glorification and dramatization of the conflict.

I wish the Albanian side had been presented more vividly.
Jerry Pogan
May 01, 2022 rated it it was amazing
What an extraordinary writer Ismail Kadare is. Why he has not been awarded the Nobel Prize yet is beyond me. Most of his writing career was spent in Albania under the control of one of the most ruthless dictatorships and so he had to carefully choose how he wrote in order to get past the censors. However, he evidently used metaphor and allusion to hide the meaning of much of his writing in order to bypass the censors. According to what I've read, this book was the best example of that, but, unfo ...more
Oct 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had set this book aside as I'm not a big fan of pre 19th Century historical fiction which iswhat I took it to be. Of course once I started reading it I realised as usual how wrong this particular personal bias can be. This is not just any historical fiction for a start, this is Ismail Kadare who writes to perfection. On one reading this is a historical novel about the siege of a Christian fortress by an expansionist Muslim Ottoman Empire. On another reading it is a novel about those things whi ...more
Feb 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I read Kadare’s The Palace of Dreams in 2005, and thought it was an excellent book, but this is even better. At face value, it’s the rivetting story of a C15th siege – the Christian Albanians in the besieged citadel and the Ottomans camped outside. The chapters alternate between these two POV but the Ottomans tell most of the story in what appears to be a straightforward 3rd person narrative. However, there are deliberate anachronisms such as show trials and biological warfare which jolt the rea ...more
Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009
Story of the siege by the Ottoman army of the first castle they encounter on invading Albania – the story which describes the horrors of siege warfare in detail is written mainly from an Ottoman viewpoint with a variety of characters mainly non-directly military but seen from the view point of the confused official Chronicler. There are interim shorter chapters written more as a chronicle by the defending Christians and which provide good summaries of what has actually happened.

Main characters
Sadiq. PhD
Nov 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
The ability of Ismail Kadare to narrate a story in a way that you will feel like you are moving between the tents and battalions of the Ottomans soldiers and units, and sharing the same feelings portrayed by the fifteenth century besieged Albanians did.
The novel is mainly narrating the story of an Albania Christian portress when it was being attacked by the Ottoman Turks, and the heroic Albanian leader Skanderbeg was still actively fighting the attackers. This may seem like a straight forward h
James F
Jan 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in the early fifteenth century, this novel recounts the story of an Albanian castle which is unsuccessfully assaulted and then beseiged by an army of the Ottoman Empire. Although the castle is unidentified and the action is probably not meant to be a particular historical incident, the siege is typical of the events of the time when the Ottomans conquered Albania from the Christians led by the Albanian national hero, Skanderbeg (who is referred to frequently but does not actually appear in t ...more
Saul Chan Htoo Sang
Aug 18, 2020 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Geoffrey Fox
Jun 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
In the summer of 1429 the greatest army ever seen, under command of Tirsun Pasha, attacks the citadel that is the first line of defense of Christian Albania, expecting to conquer it by rapid assault — but every stratagem (repeated assaults, undermining, infestation with diseased rats, and finally discovering and cutting the city’s aqueduct) fails, and when the rains come (saving the city from surrendering to thirst) the remains of the vast army withdraw in disorder from the now half-ruined town. ...more
This novel by the Albanian author Ismail Kadare is set during the 15th century when Albania was being attacked by the Ottoman Turks, and the heroic Albanian leader Skanderbeg was still actively fighting the attackers. The edition that I have read was originally written between 1969 and 1970 when albania was being ruled by the repressive dictator, and friend of Stalin, Enver Hoxha. The version that I read was modified by the author between 1993 and 1994 when Enver Hoxha's regime was over. The ori ...more
Sep 12, 2015 rated it it was ok
Kadare has depicted a subtle commentary on politics and war through a fictionalised period in history.
Although definitely not my favourite type of story to read, as it is about a siege, as the title states, and the descriptions of the attack on the citadel were long and repetitive, there were a few sections that were truly a pleasure to read. I particularly liked reading the Quartermaster's "heretical" confidences to the chronicler who pushed such thoughts away and insisted on describing the sei
fictional account of the Ottoman attempt of invasion of Albania, written by a native Albanian from the viewpoint of the Ottoman soldiers duty-bound to expand their realm. It was beautifully and meticulously written, and through this book one can get a sense of life in military camp during that period-- long stretches of boredom and doubt relieved only by a tagging cultural performer of poetry or dance, and short-lived sudden assaults that end with a lot of casualties. However, a huge and unignor ...more
Jun 04, 2013 rated it liked it
I read this one and The Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Farrell within a short time frame, and they complement each other well. There the focus is on the besieged, here the focus is on those besieging. There the subject is tackled focusing on the material experience, here more symbolic and historical/spiritual lenses are used. I highly recommend reading the two together to see how two authors tackle the same subject in vastly different ways.

If you can only read one, though, this is the better of th
Oct 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Not one of his best books, although there are moments when the poker-faced irony shines through and of course the details of the little people as well as the important people. He is such a clever writer too, criticising the society he was living in but in such a way that nobody could ever prove it. In the army which is carrying out the siege, there is a huge cast of officers, soldiers, secret police, engineers, magicians, chroniclers - some of them jostling for power, others at the mercy of the ...more
Szimonetta Csóka
Mar 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Read the world: Albania

This book was an unusual choice for me, but I’m so glad I decided to read it. What a great book! It‘s strange that the Albanian writer writes about the siege from the Turkish perspective, but does not portrays them monsters. He portrays them as "average" people, who are in war. And in war everyone becomes cruel. The book contains views from both sides, but I think that the Albanian narrative was totally unnecessary. In spite of this, it was a pleasure to read.
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Ismail Kadare (also spelled Kadaré) is an Albanian novelist and poet. He has been a leading literary figure in Albania since the 1960s. He focused on short stories until the publication of his first novel, The General of the Dead Army. In 1996 he became a lifetime member of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences of France. In 1992, he was awarded the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca; in 2005, he wo ...more

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“I lodhur nga medyshjet e linte nganjehere veten te binte ne enderrime pa kuptim. Mendonte se sa mire do te ishte sikur pas shtatorit, te vinte jo tetori me nentorin, por korriku me gushtin. Enderronte nje ere te marre qe te mund te ngaterronte muajt e stinet e vitit, ashtu si era e vjeshtes gjethet e thara.” 14 likes
“Ata nuk kishin menduar kurre se ajo mund te qeshte ,dhe sic do gje qe permbys nje mendim te pergjithshem, kjo e qeshur zgjoi tek ata nje fare shqetesimi , gati gati frike” 5 likes
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