Today, Kadare is a somewhat divisive figure. Whilst he is widely revered for his literary works such as Broken April, Chronicle in Stone, The Siege, The General of the Dead Army, and my favourite, The Palace of Dreams, he draws criticism for the privilege he experienced during a time when so many others suffered. During the oppressive communist rule when many other creatives were being ruthlessly censored, imprisoned, and even killed, he was allowed to travel extensively outside of the country whilst living a relatively easy and charmed life.
That aside, it does not detract from his work, nor does it mean that a visit to this museum is not interesting and well worth your time.
The building is typical of communist architecture and was designed and built by architect Maks Velo in 1972. Known also as “the palace of cubes” due to its protruding rectangular design, it is situated on Rruga Dibra- what was once a bohemian and vibrant part of old Tirana. But this building was home to not just Kadare but other prominent writer Dritero Agolli who lived on the floor above. Both men enjoyed the privilege of having a large spacious apartment with many rooms, whilst the general population lived in small, 2 or 3 roomed properties.
Whilst Kadare left the apartment around 29 years ago, when you go inside you feel as if you have stepped back in time. It looks almost as if he just left and the decor and interior has been carefully curated by a team of Italian and Albanian architects and designers.
Many original features still remain including the wooden window frames and air conditioning unit, beautiful paneled bookcases, and a minimalist stone fireplace- something that was almost unheard of at the time.
Many of his book collection still remains but are tellingly split into two- the “public” collection in the reception room containing approved works, and the “private” collection in his study, containing literature from Russia, America, and all over the world.
Visitors are invited to open some of the draws and doors in the large wooden cabinet sitting in the front room. Within it are photos, manuscripts, letters, and other artefacts detailing his life during this time. One of the most curious objects is his “little black book” with a list of his 21 sexual conquests during his time in Russia.
But this is not just a museum, it is set to serve as a place for scholars and students to research and study his work. All of the manuscripts and books are being digitised and they will be available to all via computers set up in what was once, the master bedroom.
Chief architect of the project, the renowned Elisabetta Terragni, who also designed The House of Leaves, said her aim was to preserve the atmosphere of the house to better help visitors understand the mindset of Kadare as he worked there.
Throughout the walls of the museum, as well as in one of the books available to read are a number of wonderful photos of old Tirana. They show the demolition of a number of buildings, the forgotten backstreets, and how many parts of the city used to look, decades ago.
The museum is open Tuesday-Saturday 9am-7pm and from 10am-5pm on a Sunday. Visitors can choose to explore themselves, or experience a tour from the knowledgeable and multilingual guide. It is situated on Rruga e Dibres, near the Tirana International Hotel.
This article was originally published on The Balkanista.