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The Successor: A Novel Hardcover – October 5, 2005

4.1 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1981, on a December night, the designated successor to Albania's tyrannical "Guide" died of a gunshot wound; the Albanian news reported it as a suicide, but rumors spoke of murder. The search for the story of that night spirals inward from the speculations of foreign intelligence analysts to the posthumous and fragmentary recollections of the successor himself. Through those, we see his daughter twice forced to abandon love that conflicted with her father's ambitions, and his son clapped in irons when doctrine required it. As Kadare explores the perspectives of those caught in the successor's orbit, past and present, it becomes apparent that he is investigating not only the fate of a man, but the nature of truth when the symbol one becomes outweighs the human one is. Kadare (Broken April) was awarded this year's Man Booker International Prize, given for a body of work rather than a single book; Arcade will re-release six other Kadare novels simultaneously with this one. The successor is based on Mehmet Shehu, destined to take over for dictator Enver Hoxha, and Kadare infuses his character with magical realist horror. Even in this clunky translation (from the French, as opposed to the original Albanian), Kadare stands with Orwell, Kafka, Kundera and Solzhenitsyn as a major chronicler of oppression. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Albanian novelist Kadare received the first Man Booker International Prize, an outgrowth of England's prestigious Booker Prize. May the award draw more readers to this sublimely disquieting artist. Kadare here expands upon an incident late in his nation's Communist era. The designated successor to the Guide (dictator Enver Hoxha) is shot to death in his bed one night. "Suicide or murder?" is the question in everyone's mind. In seven chapters laced with the blackest comedy, Kadare plumbs the souls of those most affected: the successor's daughter (whose engagement her father had recently squelched), the minister of the interior (the nation's ultimate police chief), the architect who remodeled the successor's elaborate house (and knew of a secret passage to the Guide's nearby home), the Guide (who rather relishes skulduggery), and the successor himself as a spirit. Oh, yes, also intelligence agencies everywhere, which must begrudgingly dust off the Albania files. Answers are found to the big question, but not, perhaps, solutions. Meanwhile, the heart's ineradicable darkness is exquisitely, painfully reconfirmed. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing; Tra edition (October 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559707739
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559707732
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,496,414 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon.

"It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." That was how Winston Churchill described the Soviet Union. If Churchill found the USSR mysterious he would have been totally perplexed by life in Albania during the isolated, despotic regime of Enver Hoxha. Ismail Kadare's "The Successor" captures that inscrutable mystery in a masterful fashion.

Ismail Kadare is an Albanian poet and writer. He is also the winner of the first Man Booker International Prize in 2005 and was selected from a list of nominees that included Saul Bellow, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Naguib Mahfouz, Milan Kundera, and Gunter Grass. His latest work published in English, The Successor, is a remarkable book that provides the reader with evidence that Kadare's award was well-deserved.

The "Successor" of the title is Mehmet Shehu. Shehu was, until shortly before his death, Enver Hoxha's right-hand man. Shehu was a commander of a Communist-led partisan brigade during the Second World War and had a reputation for brutality that led to his promotion to a division commander of the National Liberation Army. After the communist takeover of Albania Shehu led a purge of those party members suspected of being aligned with Yugoslavia's Tito after Tito's break with Stalin and the USSR. Hoxha, referred to as "the Guide" throughout the book, took Shehu under his wing and Shehu was known throughout Albania as "Number 2". As is often the case being "Number 2" was a precarious perch to sit on in regimes where aging tyrants (Stalin and Hoxha both come to mind) often struck out at those closest to them as their own mortality seemed to weaken them. Shehu was no exception.
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Format: Hardcover
Ismail Kadare's THE SUCCESSOR, winner of the Man Booker International Prize for 2005, lays bare with devastating intensity the nightmare of life under the totalitarian regime of an aging and merciless dictator. This short novel will grab you by the throat and refuse to let go until you've finished, leaving you breathlessly contemplating how life can be lived on such impossible terms.

In Kadare's horrifying world, nothing is fixed - truth, reality, even time are all relative, subject to the manipulation and caprice of a single individual. Kadare's story revolves around the mysterious nighttime death of the Successor, the man designated as Number Two in the Albanian government and modeled after the real-life Mehmet Shehu. Number One is known only as the Guide, a solitary and all-powerful dictator (modeled on Enver Hoxha, the country's former dictator) whose growing sightlessness is mirrored by his growing paranoia. What really happened on the stormy night of the Successor's death? Did he commit suicide as first thought, or was it murder? What about that rumored tunnel running from the Guide's residence to the Successor's and the surprising discovery that its door could only be opened from the Guide's side? What of the role of Hasobeu, the minister of the interior and presumptive successor to the Successor, who was seen twice after midnight outside the Successor's home on the night of those fateful events? What did the Guide actually want of Hasobeu? As well, what was the role of the Successor's over-reaching architect, who surely knew of the tunnel's existence and blames his artistic vision for the Successor's death?

The entire capitol holds its collective breath for the Guide's decision - suicide or murder, and if the latter, who would be the designated perpetrator.
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Format: Hardcover
This novel is based on actual events: the Albanian communist dictator Enver Hoxha ("the Guide" in this book) denounced his long-standing premier and presumed heir, Mehmet Shehu ("the Successor"), who then was said to have shot himself. Whether he was murdered or committed suicide is the question at the centre of this book, and Kadare offers an ingenious answer in the last chapter. The whole book is suffused with the fear and paranoia prevailing in a country ruled by suspicious and devious tyrant: the terror felt by those near to him and by their families; the sycophantic rivalry for his favour; the dread felt by people like doctors or architects asked to work for someone in the government in case their work is dangerously caught up in some unpredictable political manoeuvre; the cautious and nervous gossip of the population; the attempt of foreign governments to make sense of what was happening in that hermetically sealed country.

Kadare has been fortunate in his translators. Most of his books have been translated from the Albanian into French and then from the French into English - in this case by David Bellos. This is the eighth novel of Kadare's that I have read and between them there have been at least seven translators - but they all capture Kadare's unmistakeable clean and simple style.
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Format: Paperback
I was reminded of the Kremlinologists, looking for clues in nods and gestures. This book succeeds in illustrating what it is like to live in this kind of environment within a smaller totalitarian state. While the average people look for clues, the leaders of the state are also in the dark and even more desperately look for clues. This is the book's strength.

The good beginning depicts the paranoia the system produces, but the narrative is weakened by dwelling on side topics. For instance, the daughter's story fits the story line, her full sexual exploits do not. Also, for the plot, the Successor's relationship with this daughter and how he came to go out on a limb for her, (celebrating her engagement to an "unapproved" family) are not developed in a way that makes them seem to be real.

The ending is unsatisfying. There is some symmetry in the empathy of the "Guide" and the "Successor". The allusion to Lin Biao is interesting, but, perhaps, should have been shaded by some prior theme to not seem as an add on. There is a vague tie up about the Successor's youth and his daughter's. There is a long (in proportion to the book's length) mental dialog of the architect.

This short book has its highs and lows, unlike Kadare's The Palace of Dreams, which covers similar turf. In "Palace" every page and every incident supports the thesis, which is not the case in here.
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