Blood feuds have existed in many parts of the world throughout history. The USA, with its Hatfields and McCoys, is no stranger to the custom either. The practice seems to run most deeply in remote, mountainous areas where tribal societies cannot provide a universal system of justice to cover everyone. The code of the blood feud develops to handle murder cases. Nowhere (that I ever heard of) did the system evolve into such an intricate traditional code of laws as in the mountainous highlands of Albania. There, the Kanun, or Law of Lek Dukagjini spread throughout the lawless region now lying in northern Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro, a region that largely maintained its own identity and customs throughout the centuries-long period of Turkish rule, to emerge in 20th century Europe with the blood feud still flourishing.
Kadare, Albania's premier writer, has written a vivid, dark novel that not only captures the details of highland Albanian life in the 1920s, but also shows the ultimate tragedy for a society that allows murder to follow murder, inexorably and unchallenged. A couple from the more urbanized, less-traditional lowlands go for their honeymoon into the highlands, riding in a horse-drawn carriage--a great luxury for the highlanders. The man, a writer, tends to romanticize the blood-soaked traditions of his country's remote regions. At the same time, Gjorg, a young highlander, who has killed a man in revenge for his brother, is given a month's truce before he in turn will become a target. He can expect a bullet at any moment after April 17, hence his April is broken into safe and dangerous parts. His fate intersects with those of the literate travellers and the book comes to its inevitable ending. For a novel that explores seldom-seen territory, written in a terse, but beautiful style, please read this book. Since the end of communism in 1991, the blood feud has returned to Albania, still largely lawless in its mountain areas. This book is no fossil.
on May 24, 2000
How can a people live without an organized government? The northern Albanians seem to have found an answer, but it's not necessarily one we'd want to emulate. Throughout years of cursory rule by the Ottomans, King Zog, and Hoxha's Communists, the highlanders have observed only the law of their ancestors: the Kanun of Lek Dukagjinit (an excellent translation of this is available on Amazon). At the center of this law stand two concepts: hospitality and honor. Both are protected by a system of revenge killings. A killing demanded by honor, however, demands a revenge killing in return, and the feuds spiral out of control until whole families have been eliminated.
It all sounds very romantic in the abstract, but Kadare resists the temptation to exploit this quality. His novel is based on the contrast between a young man obliged by the Kanun to kill another man, and a young married couple from Tirana, urban intellectuals who have come to the north for their honeymoon and to study the blood feuds. The tension between their two points of view (the northerner who feels trapped within the Kanun, and the southerners who see it as a marvelous bit of local color) drives this novel.
Kadare is a wonderful writer, and this is one of his finest efforts. It's also a very dark story, and its concerns can seem a bit obscure to the non-Albanian reader. Ultimately, though, this is probably the best novel I've ever read about a culture wholly alien to my own.
Kadare is a writer of subtlety and irony, capable of powerfully saying what he thinks without ever actually saying what he thinks. I guess you must learn to do this when you grow up in a strict communist dictatorship. The first and main character of the book, Gjorg, steps into the ages-old tradition of bloodfeud, and begins the ending of his own life. Kadare masterfully tells this from Gjorg's viewpoint in a dark, terse but poetic style that feels as desperate as his character. Then the irony kicks in, as he introduces a writer and his new wife, who are from the city, who is fascinated with Northern Albanian culture. Bessian is wrapped up in the terrible romance of the blood feud, and a conscious reader must identify him/herself in this curious character, wanting to watch, both fascinated and horrified, as people destroy each other for the sake of tradition. And the to turn the screw one notch further, we briefly meet the Blood Mark, the government officer responsible for tracking the blood killings and receiving the blood tax. A look inside his almost-normal mind is eerily frightening, as death becomes life and life becomes death. I'm afraid I'm too un-Albanian in thought-patterns, however, to grasp the climactic motion of the novel. I don't want to give away the end of the novel, but I must say it seems to build and build towards a particular event... and then just narrowly miss that event. It is difficult to identify the climax of the novel, and difficult to be satisfied with the progression. Maybe this is simply because my mind is quite Western, and my sense of things is different. But I'm not totally unexperienced at reading non-Western works...
Anyway. A wonderful, if dark and intense, novel. An education, as well.
on February 19, 2003
I started reading and finished this book in one day--I've owned it for a few years but never read it, admittedly. But I picked it up yesterday and couldn't put it down.
Admittedly, I was a bit shocked that this book made it to the printing presses (assuming as I am that Kadare lived in Hoxha's Albania in 1982 when this book was written). Hohxa was a Tosk and tried to stamp out all vestiges of the Kanun and the gjakmarrje (blood feud). But, in a special way, this book transcends the customary law and the Northern Albanian Alps: it tells a time-honored tale of honor, obedience to one's father, and hospitality.
The metaphors used by Kadare to describe the honored role of the guest in the Albanian home are true to this day. His depiction of Albanian mannerisms, knowledge of the Kanun of Leke, and interplay of the main 3 sets of characters make for a worthwhile read.
This is the fourth book by Ismail Kadare that I have read. I have come to look forward to his insight into a very different world. As a youth, I became fascinated with the hidden world of Albania where Stalinism still thrived and the outside world was essentially forbidden. What secrets were there that were hidden in a 20th Century European country with a discredited form of government and a 19th Century approach to the present. When the Hoxa government finally fell and a little light creeped into Albania, even weirder things began to emerge. For a while, the economy of the country was based on pyramid schemes. Unfortunately, it was the fall of Tito that unleashed the centuries-old hatreds of the region that plunged the Albanians into yet another tenuous existance. Out of all the newspaper and magazine articles I could get ahold of, nothing gave me the clarity of perspective better than the writings of Ismail Kadare.
"Broken April" is the grimmest picture of Albania while also seeming to be the most illuminating as well. This is a portrait of a society in the high plains of Albania where the code of vendettas is so fundamental that its' laws supercede all others. It is the story of a man trapped by the code and an man and a wife who, as outsiders, become trapped as well. It is a story of a society that is fueled by death and leaves no one untouched. In the explanation of the systematic rules and regulations of the "Kanun" we understand the futility that life must present to these people. Whether or not this is an allegory to the Hoxa government or an attempt to share the reality of an actual society in the recent past, I cannot say. For me the story ends with a message that people aren't victims of their society; they ARE their society. Terror exists only where it is permitted to exist.
I highly recomment "Broken April" to those who would like a Kafkaesque experience in literature. For me, Kadare has written another excellent book but not quite up to his proven potential.
on April 24, 2005
Other reviewers have described very well what this book is about and the spell it casts on the reader. I would add only this: it seems to me that the travellers, Bessian and Diana, represent two sides of the author himself. Bessian is fascinated by the majestic primitivity of the mountain people; he finds a rationale in the blood-feud enjoined by the Kanun, and, because so many people are involved with it, he sees fatalist acceptance of an early and sudden death giving a kind of intensity to life. In some of his other powerful novels (The File on H, The Three-Arched Bridge, The General of the Dead Army), Kadare shows a similar Romantic fascination with a society of Noble Savages - savage, it need hardly be said, in a violent sense that is a million miles away from their peaceful Rousseauesque prototypes! Only the laws of hospitality redeem this society somewhat, though even here the Kanun seems positively to glory in its extremism and irrationality. Then, in Diana, Kadare shows, I suspect, the other side of his personality: perhaps some sense of guilt about this very fascination. In his treatment of Diana, Kadare is still a Romantic: she cannot or will not find the words with which to confront her husband's obsession. But her muteness conveys better (and more artistically) her sense of horror than any more articulate and rational exposition of it could do.
on October 2, 2008
>> Blood feud Albanian style, a cautionary tale for intellectuals venturing into unknown territory armed with ignorance and hazy romantic notions.
Actually, the same laws that regulate the vendetta, gjakmarrje (literally the taking the of the blood) in Albanian, provide the guest unparalleled protection, no matter who that guest is. In theory you could die protecting the person you tried to kill an hour before and WILL try to kill him again tomorrow. However, if that person came into your property or near you asked for help, he is automatically under your 'besa' and everyone else knows it. If his enemy attacks him while he is with you, they have one more family and eventually a clan to deal with. Also you are obligated to take the person under your protection to his next destination. Anyone who dared to touch him incurred blood with the host--and his entire clan. It was a matter of honor (the most important thing) so even if every single male died, it was a noble deed.
Writes Noel Malcolm in his book, Kosovo:
"Since honour is of the essence, there are strict rules for every step of the feud: one who `takes blood' to satisfy his (or his family's) honour must announce that he has done so; a formal truce or bese for a set period must be agreed to, if requested for a proper reason (this is a special use of `bese', the general term for a man's word of honour); and so on. The person who has the right to claim satisfaction for a killing is known as `Zot i Gjakut', `Lord of the Blood': in some clan areas there were procedures to enable him, with the encouragement of the bajraktar or other elders, to settle a feud in peace.
But such procedures, though urged by both Ottoman administrators and Catholic priests, were of limited popularity. At the end of the Ottoman period it was estimated that 19 per cent of all adult male deaths in the Malesi were blood-feud murders, and that in an area of Western Kosovo with 50,000 inhabitants, 600 died in these feuds every year. One mid-nineteenth-century vendetta in the Malesi began when two men quarrelled over four cartridges which one had promised and not delivered: within two years it led to 1,218 houses being burnt down and 132 men killed. This is an extreme example, of course, and the days of entire clans becoming involved in such wholesale feuding are unlikely to recur. "
It seems horrible and in a sense it is, but there was no other justice or law. Turks never got up there and when they did they learned quickly to leave the people at their own devices or face rebellions. The idea is more to save your honor than for the killer to meet his justice. Even if the killer dies in a accident, the blood is not cleansed, and his brothers, children or cousins were fair game. The idea is "how dare he to kill one of my..." (or call me a liar in front of people, or sleep with my wife, or insult my guest etc.)
on January 24, 2004
This is a book you must read. It gives you a convincing picture of a completely alien culture and way of life, and death. From the opening lines it draws you deep into the deadful world of the Kanun, the ancient rituals which govern vendetta in Albania. It leads you through the corrupting influence which greedy men have had on a set of unofficial laws which, I believe must have been originally merciful in nature, set up to regulate the mass revenge killings endemic in ancient Albania. Blood money is paid to a powerful war-lord after each killing. He employs a factor to gather this money, and the factor is tormented by the problem of how to increase his lord's income from this practice so that he (the factor) can retain his position in the lord's household. Shudderingly horrifying!
on June 28, 2011
With its spare yet resonant prose, and the rythmic cadence of its internal arguments, Broken April resembles Theodore Weesner's The Car Thief although Gjorg, Ismail Kadare's youthful protagonist living in Albania's remote northern highlands, has stolen more than a automobile; he's taken a human life. While stalking his quarry, Gjorg observed all of the social rules in effect for ritualistic murder. He is allowed one shot, nothing more. The shot must kill. Wounding causes a fine and Gjorg has already been fined - another fine will cause his family financial ruin. The corpse must be turned over on its back, and any weapon carried by the deceased must be placed close to the body. It's a matter of permanent family disgrace otherwise. Even the government gets its due, demanding a blood tax be paid by the murderer's family.
Kadare demonstrates how the strict social code limits life in Albania's northern regions where adherence to the Kanun was practiced. Instead of an open ended set of possibilities, life became a pre-ordained script handed down for generations under circumstances few understand.
Broken April is an early book in the Kadare oeuvre. The novel has an existential quality and, as befits its subject, is tightly constructed with nary a loose end of the type that seem to pop up in the novelist's later work. Gjorg discovers early on another social custom. With his one murder, his days as the hunter are over and, as prescribed by the Albanian code of customary law in the Kanun known as "hakkmarje" - revenge killing, he now becomes the hunted. When Albanians talk about Broken April, they use one word. Kryëveper. Masterpiece. It is deserved praise.
on October 30, 2014
While excellent and written by an internationally acclaimed author, this book may not be for everyone. Broken April is translated from Albanian and is, at its core, about love and honor, individualism and the collective good. These themes are explored through the eyes of a young man caught up in an ancient blood feud and a newly married, beautiful bride whose groom has taken her on a wedding trip to see the ways of the mountain people. Her reaction to the inhumanity of blood feud transitions from that of a curious spectator to a changed and more mature woman. This is a fascinating look at a country that is an enigma and for many years a complete mystery under communist rule. It can be tough going sometimes as the author attempts to explain the intricacies of blood feud but fascination soon takes over as he touches on not only the cultural aspects of these laws but the economics and psychology of it. For the reader who is truly curious, this is a wonderful book