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1001 Book Review: Broken April

Broken_April

Broken April by Ismail Kadare
First Published in: 1978
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by: Jen
Find it/Buy it here: Broken April

In the last three weeks I’ve been reading a lot of books set in the Balkans, but none have stood out as much as Broken April. Ismail Kadare is Albania’s most well-known author and in 2005 he became the first winner of the International Man Booker prize. Broken April is a powerful novel about Albania’s tradition of blood feuds.

The novel presents the intersecting stories of two men: Gjorg, a mountaineer from Northern Albania who has been forced by his family to kill another man, and Bessian, a writer who is honeymooning with his young wife in Northern Albania. The book opens with Gjorg lying in wait for the man he has been bound to kill in order to avenge the murder of his own brother. Because of the blood feud’s laws, Gjorg must avenge his brother’s death despite his reluctance to take another man’s life. By killing the other man he also is sacrificing his own, because the blood feud is to continue until no men are left in the family.

All kinds of rules govern the blood feuds. The murderer must confess his crime, must attend the funeral of the victim, and then his family must apply for a 30-day truce, and pay blood tax to the government. The 30-day truce allows the murderer to settle his affairs before the other family hunts him down and kills him in return. In the meantime, the victim’s family hangs bloodstained garments out for all to see as a reminder of the required vengeance. If the bloodstains turn yellow, it means too much time has passed without the necessary vengeance. The process repeats again and again until all the men in the family line are killed. It is cruel and brutal and is reinforced by both those in the villages and those in power who benefit financially from the blood taxes.

The Kanun was stronger than it seemed. Its power reached everywhere, covering lands, the boundaries of fields. It made its way into the foundations of houses, into tombs, to churches, to roads, to markets, to weddings. It climbed up to the mountain pastures, and even higher still, to the very skies, whence it fell in the form of rain to fill the watercourses, which were the cause of a good third of all murders.

Gjorg’s story was by far the most interesting of the two intersecting narratives. The second narrative follows Bessian and his wife as they travel through Northern Albania on their honeymoon. As they travel, they cross paths very briefly with Gjorg but the experience leaves a lasting impression on Bessian’s wife. This narrative shows a different Albanian perspective on the blood feuds through her questions and doubts about the process.

I found this to be a really interesting book and I looked up the Kanun (the ancient law dictating the rules for blood feuds) and it is terrifying. It was hard for me to understand how families would be willing willing to sacrifice their own children in order to maintain the family “honor.” As a parent I can’t understand it. As a human being, the idea of killing someone else to maintain a sense of honor is also not something I can understand. This book was an interesting exploration of these old traditions in Albania and the emotional toll they took on individuals involved. The writing was excellent and the story exposed me to something that I had little knowledge about prior to reading the book. I enjoyed it very much.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: Broken April

Here’s an interesting article from the Guardian that discusses these blood feuds.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Have you read any other books by Ismail Kadare.

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