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Ismail Kadare: Prilli i thyer (Broken April)

More of the legends and the customs of Albania. This one has Kadare condemning his countrymen as it is about the ancient custom of vendettas. We follow two stories. The first concerns Gjorg, a young mountaineer, who has a duty to avenge his brother’s death and kills a man. We learn that this dead man is the forty-fourth to be killed as part of this vendetta, which all started when a guest of Gjorg’s family was killed by someone from the victim’s family. Technically the guest – a casual passer-by – was outside the village when killed but, as he fell in the boundaries, Gjorg’s family has to avenge him, according to the code of Kanun and so they have done for many years. Gjorg wants out – he is the last male in the family line – and his aunt wants him not to do it but he has to. The second story is a young couple who come to this remote area to study this custom. Their study has a profound effect on them and their marriage.

Kadare skilfully dissects the whole custom, with particular emphasis on the Keeper of the Blood, the sinister, Kafkaesque official who tracks all the vendettas and makes sure that they are carried out (and that his boss gets his vendetta tax). But he also focuses on the victims, particularly the women who are left behind. When we first start reading we assume that all this is happening many years, even centuries ago, but as we follow Gjorg on his journey to pay the blood tax, he sees a plane flying overhead and we realize that this is the present. Of course, Kadare’s skill is to condemn the practice, while showing just a glimpse of fascination with an ancient tradition and custom. And, of course, we are always wondering – will Gjorg be killed in turn?

Publishing history

First published 1978 by Naim Frasheri, Tirana
First published in English 1990 by Saqi Books, London, New Amsterdam, New York
Translated by John Hodgson