A fascinating meditation on Soviet Russia, authoritarianism, power structures and a period of great writers. Translated from Albanian by John Hodgson.

In June 1934, Joseph Stalin allegedly telephoned the famous novelist and poet Boris Pasternak to discuss the arrest of fellow Soviet poet Osip Mandelstam. In a fascinating combination of dreams and dossier facts, Ismail Kadare, winner of the inaugural International Booker Prize, reconstructs the three minutes they spoke and the aftershocks of this tense, mysterious moment in modern history. Weaving together the accounts of witnesses, reporters and writers such as Isaiah Berlin and Anna Akhmatova, Kadare tells a gripping story of power and political structures, of the relationship between writers and tyranny. 

A Dictator Calls was longlisted for the International Booker Prize 2024, announced on March 11 2024.


The International Booker Prize 2024
Published by
Harvill Secker
Publication date

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 Ismail Kadare

Ismail Kadare

About the Author

Ismail Kadare, born in 1936 in Albania, is the country’s best-known poet and novelist.
More about Ismail Kadare
John Hodgson

John Hodgson

About the Translator

John Hodgson, who was born in 1951, taught at the Universities of Pristina and Tirana after studying English literature at Cambridge and Newcastle.
More about John Hodgson

What the International Booker Prize 2024 judges said

‘The core of this brilliant exploration of power is an analysis of 13 versions of a three-minute telephone conversation between the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and the novelist Boris Pasternak in 1934. Each of these is an attempt to understand or justify Pasternak’s troubling, ambiguous response from a slightly different point of view. The book begins with what seem like autobiographical memories of Kadare’s time as a student in Moscow, setting a tone which hovers continually between fiction and non-fiction, between what is real and what is invented. Kadare explores the tension between authoritarian politicians and creative artists – it is a quest for definitive truth where none is to be found.’  

Group photo of the International Booker Prize 2024 Judges; Romesh Gunesekera, Natalie Diaz, William Kentridge, Eleanor Wachtel and Aaron Robertson.

What the critics said

Rebecca Abrams, Financial Times:

‘What gradually becomes clear is that Kadare is using the Stalin/Pasternak conversation as an extended metaphor to explore the nature of power and the interplay between political power and artistic power. A Dictator Calls is a thought-provoking consideration of the relationship between writers and tyranny, with John Hodgson’s translation gracefully rendering Kadare’s imagination.’

Laura Hackett, Times:

‘The book is not really a novel. It’s more like a cross between memoir, dream diary and historical investigation, in which Kadare trawls through reported versions of what was said during the phone call, with meditations on truth, creativity and tyranny. … Seasoned [Kadare] fans will be enthralled by this very personal meditation on the circumstances in which, against the odds, he still managed to thrive.’

Orlando Bird, Telegraph:

A Dictator Calls is slim, but its themes are not. There’s a fine line between uncertainty and obscurity, but the riddles of this novel are still ringing in my mind.’

Cory Oldweiler, Los Angeles Review of Books:

‘There are moments of real brilliance in Dictator, but overall it lacks the sustained highs and dramatic pacing of Kadare’s best later work. Part of this inconsistency is due to the fact that the novel seems unable to fully settle on what it is trying to be, slewing between intense introspection, literary theory, fictionalised autobiography, and historical sleuthing.  It is, however, a fitting (possible) coda to a remarkable career, and considering its subject matter, it just might win Kadare the Nobel Prize for Literature, the one major award that he has never received.’

Other nominated books by Ismail Kadare

The Traitor's Niche

Other nominated books by John Hodgson

The Traitor's Niche