Author: Ismail Kadaré
Original Title: Prilli i Thyer
Original Language: Albanian
Translation from Albanian by New Amsterdam Books
Rating: 4 out of 5
“His suspicion that he was not going in the right direction tormented him more and more. At last he had the conviction that he would never go anywhere but in the wrong direction, to the very end of the handful of days that was left to him, unhappy moonstruck pilgrim, whose April was to be cut off short.”
“Two or three times it occurred to Gjorg that all these men had killed, and that each had his story. But those stories were locked deep within them. It was not just chance that in the glow of the fire their mouths, and even more their jaws, looked as if they had the shape of certain antique locks.”
I was about to write my review of “Chronicle in Stone” a couple of days ago. That was before Ismail Kadaré became my new craze and I decided to read more of his writings. This is how I found this literary gem, “Broken April”. Although “Chronicle Stone” is an amazing book, full of witty humor, I felt a stronger connection with “Broken April” because it arose in me many more feelings than the first one did.
I liked the dark, cold and mistful atmosphere and how Kadaré describes the feelings that reflect on people’s faces.
Although I was born and lived most of my life in an Eastern European country (which is why I can understand very well the intricate humor of “Chronicle in Stone”), I admit to not knowing much about Albania before this literary journey. While “Chronicle in Stone” sets Albania in the beginning of World War II, “Broken April” is out of time, you’re not quite sure where you are in terms of history.
The book tells the story of Gjorg Berisha, a young man in his twenties, living on the high Albanian plateau, who, after his brother is killed by a neighbor, is forced to commit a murder under the laws of the Kanun and then be killed by a member of the opposing family, as part of a seventy-year old blood feud between the two families. After shooting his brother’s killer, young Gjorg is entitled to thirty days’ grace, not enough to see out the month of April.
The Kanun is a set of traditional Albanian laws that existed only in oral form and was first written by the prince Lekë Dukagjini in the 15th century. It has been used mostly in northern and central Albania and surrounding areas – Yugoslavia, where there’s a large ethnic Albanian population; Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia. The code applies to both Christian and Muslim Albanians.
The Kanun dictates many facets of the mountainous life. An important part deals with how murder is supposed to be handled, which often in the past and sometimes still now leads to blood feuds (gjakmarrje) that last until all the men of the two involved families are killed (yes, you’ve read that correctly… not one, but all the men). Women are only seen as producers of offspring and are not considered worthy targets. These rules have resurfaced during the nineties in Northern Albania, since people had no faith in the local government and police. There are organizations that try to mediate between feuding families, but often the only resort is for men of age to stay in their homes, which are considered a safe refuge by the Kanun, or flee the country. There are many famous examples of men that tried to do that, but to back down from a blood feud brings dishonor upon the family. And gjakmarrje is about honor rather than vengeance.
According to the Kanun, the guest is seen like a demigod, like a sacred being. “A mountaineer’s house, before being his home and the home of his family, is the home of God and of guests”. He’s shown the highest respect and given the best the family has to offer. In Gjorg’s family, the blood feud had its origin in the killing of one of their guests by a member of another clan, at the borders of the village. According to the code, if the victim falls with his face towards the village, the duty of revenge lies upon his host, while if he falls away from the village, it is upon his family. The victim had fallen with his face to the village and so, over the last seventy years, the young men of both families have killed one after another in sequence, in accordance with the rules of the Kanun.
On a second plan, “Broken April” tells a bittersweet love story. Diana and Bessian, a honeymoon couple, visit the plateau. Diana and Gjorj, although their eyes meet only for a short moment, fall for each other. Diana becomes a mountain nymph or fairy, while Gjorg finds, through love, hope in his last days.
I absolutely loved this book and with it, Kadaré has occupied a high place on my list of favorite writers.