Ismail Kadare: Lulet e ftohta të marsit (Spring Flowers, Spring Frost)
Mark Gurabardhi is a not very successful artist but fortunately has a day job working for the Arts Centre. He is used by Kadare as the representative Albanian man, struggling to cope with the world post-Communism. In many respects things are better. He thinks of his friend Gentian who was arrested under the old regime and charged with immoral art. Subsequently, he was accused of gambling, something he had never done. Mark had been worried that he too would be arrested but he was not. But, despite this, under the old ways, everyone knew where they were. For example, we learn early on of an armed robbery of a bank. That would never have happened in the old days. Moreover, the police do not seem to be too keen on investigating, even though Mark himself has a good idea who was responsible. And then there is his boss who is keen on new ways of doing things, such as using computers and the Internet.
But it is in the area of myth and legend where the old ways area creeping back in. In particular, Kanun, the old law involving blood feuds, seems to be creeping back, having been completely suppressed under the Communists. There is a problem, however. People are not following the traditional rules of Kanun. As one character says, you cannot use a Kalashnikov for Kanun. Mark’s girlfriend decides to have a talk with him and he turns his head away and barely listens, thinking that she is telling him about another man. However, what she is telling him is that her uncle is back in town and, apparently, intent on pursuing the family blood feud. Mark thinks a lot about the blood feud. He recalls the legendary Book of the Blood, which had a list of all the blood feuds. The Communists had burned down an old castle where the book was, thereby destroying it. But did someone get it out? And, if so, where is it? Maybe it is in the secret vaults which may well be in the neighbouring hills. Apparently when Enver Hoxha died, Ramez Alia, his successor, hurried to the secret vaults but did not seem to find what he was looking for. (Incidentally, neither man is named.)
But it is not just the recent Albanian myths that are seeping back into the present day. Mark thinks a lot about Tantalus, Prometheus and other more ancient myths and legends. In short, the mythic is coming back as well as the modern-day world coming in. It all becomes more complicated when Mark seems to change roles. His father and grandfather had been police officers and his father had determined that Mark would be one, too. Mark had refused but, suddenly, in the second part of the book, he seems to, at least in part, assume that role.
It is not as good as his earlier novels, which focus more on myths and legends – actual or imagined by Kadare – of the past but his story shows a troubled Albania, with political turmoil, unsure if it is still living in the past or moving towards the future, unsure if it is in tune with Western Europe. As ever, Kadare tells his story well.
First published 2000 by Onufri, Tirana
First English translation 2002 by Arcade