“Broken April” by Ismail Kadare

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“Broken April” by Ismail Kadare is one of the most beautiful and interesting titles of Albanian literature, able to make you fully discover the Kanun, the legendary local code of laws

Broken April

Gjorg lives in the north of Albania, between mountains and villages frozen in time. When his brother is killed by a neighbor, the young man’s life changes radically: according to the ancient code of the Kanun, Gjorg will have to kill the culprit in the murder of his brother and accept to be murdered in a month’s time. in turn from those who want to take revenge on him. The thirty days that Gjorg has before him, until mid-April, could be the last of his life, so he decides to flee to try to live them as fully as possible. In the meantime, a young couple left Tirana on their honeymoon: Besun and Diana want to reach the northern highlands to study the traditions and laws that have remained intact from the Middle Ages, despite modernization. Along their path they cross the path of the fugitive; the bride, at first glance, falls in love with Gjorg, forever changing the fate of the three protagonists.

Small but fundamental premise

Before starting to talk about the book, a fundamental premise is urgent: the Kanun is not something so widespread in Albania, so much so that the protagonists themselves have to go into some of the most remote places of this splendid country before finding it. I wanted to underline it because nowadays there are many who consider this practice as a practice, when in reality it is something now linked only to a few and specific territories; do not expect in any way to stroll around Tirana or Vlora and come across something similar.

“Kanun”, the law of blood

The whole novel is a pretext to make us travel to the north of Albania in places that, between fog, kulle (typical Albanian houses like towers) and millenary traditions, really manage to make the reader and the visitor travel to another era, when taverns were still a place to rest and tell stories. Obviously in this landscape the Kanun plays a master role, the legendary local code of honor that de facto regulates every aspect of life, especially matters of honor, which in this magical land are not just words, but something concrete and weighed. with blood.

Broken April
A kulla

The thing that stands out most from this text is how this code is really something extremely precise and complex, not simple customs but a law refined in every detail and with so many nuances that you have real experts ready to go village by village . Here blood and death are treated as commodities with precise value and rules, an aspect that could strike the average reader, but which is rendered by Kadare in an almost bureaucratic way, giving everything an aspect of macabre reality.

A sentence is forever

To make you understand what I mean, I’ll explain why Gjorg’s family, the Berisha, entered this hellish game, the cause of 22 tombs per family: 70 years earlier a mysterious nameless traveler had requested hospitality for the night to their family who, according to the Kanun, should not only welcome him, but also supervise his life. The next morning, once he accompanied the guest to the edge of the village, he was killed by a mysterious blow.

Broken April

By the law of the Kanun everything would have ended there but, unfortunately for them, the latter falling was still observing the village and therefore it would be of the Berishas the task of avenging his death, it does not matter that they had no idea or who the guest, they should have avenged him for honor. Particularly striking is the fact that they do not wash the clothes of the victim until his death has been avenged with blood. In the midst of all this fog and murders Besian and Diana will arrive, two more “standard” citizens who will be functional to show the reader the contrast with this environment and make us discover some peculiar aspects.

A journey between macabre and legend

Kadare’s book is one of the most beautiful I have read in 2021 and is able like no other to transport the reader to remote and magical territories, where legend merges over and over again with blood and reality; hard, harsh places, but which, precisely because of these aspects, make one perceive a unique warmth. It is a novel that resembles that magical feeling of being at home when it is raining outside, the fog envelops everything and prepares the image for fantasy and amazement; sensations so particular and incredible that they alone give meaning to the text.

Broken April
Ismail Kadare

Kadare’s work is also very useful for purely informational purposes, as it really contains many details about the Kanun and at the end of the reading you will have a much more precise and accurate look at its bases. Essential book for those who want to delve into Albanian culture.

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