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Ismail Kadare: Aksidenti (Accident)

Unusually for Kadare, much of the action in this novel takes place away from Albania. The accident of the title takes place at the beginning of the novel on an autobahn in Vienna. A couple are in a taxi when, for no apparent reason (according to witnesses in cars behind), the taxi veers off the road and smashes through a crash barrier. The taxi driver is injured (but recovers) but the couple are both killed. But, as this is Kadare, are they killed? The Austrian police can find out little about what happened, only that the taxi driver saw the couple in his mirror trying to kiss one another. What did he mean? Why didn’t they kiss? What prevented them? After all, they were lovers so there should have been no hesitation or embarrassment. But the police can find no further explanation so they put the cause down to inexplicable reasons. Then the Serbian authorities, followed by the Albanian authorities start to take an interest in the matter. Why? Were their governments involved? Then an independent researcher finds out much more and manages to more or less (and quite improbably) give a detailed account of the forty days of the couple prior to the accident. What he finds out is that things are not always as they seem.

The couple were both Albanian citizens, though he was born a Slovak. She was called Rovena and was an intern in the Archaeological Institute in Vienna while he was called Besfort and worked for the Council of Europe on Western Balkan affairs. What we find out is that they had a seemingly tempestuous affair. They were both in love with one another but yet tried to hurt one another. He proposed to her by asking her to be his ex-wife and frequently referred to her as a call girl. She had a Lesbian affair with a violinist called Liza Blumberg. He hit her and may even have shot her. In short, their relationship mirrored the tempestuous situation in the region. Kadare makes much of this and shows us examples over and over again. Almost as important, things are often not what they seem. This is illustrated by Besfort having Rovena read the story of Lothario from a story in Don Quixote, in which Anselmo’s wife, Camilla, is considered unfaithful when she is not being unfaithful and saintly when she is being unfaithful. This happens in their on-again off-again relationship but also in other incidents. Who is Liza Blumberg and why is she called Lulu Blum, as well? Why is Rovena pretending to be in Denmark when she is in the Netherlands? Are the photos Besfort has of murdered children really photos of victims of either Serbian or NATO atrocities which he has because of his job or is he a child murderer and, if only the former as he claims, why is he afraid of going to the Hague?

Of course, this duality extends to the accident. Liza/Lulu has a theory that Besfort murdered Rovena. She has various theories about this, both as regards how (he was so keen on killing her that he was prepared to kill himself at the same time or he killed her before the accident and someone (or something) else was involved in the crash) and why (he was psychotic or he did it for political reasons). Naturally, Kadare is not about to give us any easy answers. Indeed, he will give us several often conflicting answers. This is not one of his best novels but, as always, it is a gripping and fascinating story.

Publishing history

First published 2010 by Onufri
First English translation 2010 by Canongate
Translated by John Hodgson