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Ismail Kadare: Pasardhësi (The Successor)

A satire on the latter days of the Hoxha regime as well as a philosophical crime novel, this book is Kadare telling a disguised version of the death of Mehmet Shehu, who did or did not commit suicide. The book starts with his suicide but, immediately, there are questions. Internally, people wonder whether he killed himself or if he was murdered and, if so, why and by whom. Abroad, Kadare has a go at the foreign intelligence service who wonder the same thing but show themselves woefully ignorant of Albania – does it have one million population or six million? They are not sure. What is known is that the daughter of the Successor (he is never named), Suzana, was engaged to young man called Genc, son of a seismologist, who had ties with the old regime and was therefore unsuitable. But, by the time the Successor realised his mistake in allowing his daughter to become engaged to this man, it was too late. But was that why he died? The Minister of the Interior had allegedly been seen lurking around the Successor’s residence the night of the suicide as had other figures. Had they killed him? His wife, who normally could not sleep, had slept like a log and had heard nothing. Suzana had seen her father’s light on in his study at 2 a.m. but assumed that he was working.

Kadare goes on to tell the story from the perspective of various key players. There is the architect of the house who, after designing the house, sees that a hidden door had been built in the basement. It can be opened only from the other side, which probably is a tunnel leading to the house of the Guide (the name used for Hoxha), and which can be used for a murderer to creep in. The architect was worried that, like the architects of the pyramids, he may well be killed once the building is complete but it does not happen. He is now worried that he will be blamed for the door, though he is innocent. However he is surprised to find, a couple days after the death of the Successor, that the door has gone. Other viewpoints are those of the Minister of the Interior who quickly goes from being the next heir apparent to being an outcast; Suzana and her mother; the pathologist – what is he meant to find when an autopsy is finally ordered?; and the Guide himself.

As it is part mystery, Kadare keeps us guessing as to what really happened and even the ending is somewhat ambiguous. In other words, is the truth being told? But his main aim is to focus on the strange world of Albanian politics and the fact that you can be on top one day and on the scrapheap for no apparent reason, except for the whim of the Guide. And, if the Successor did kill himself, why did he do it and if he was murdered, why and by whom? It is not Kadare’s best book but still very entertaining.

Publishing history

First published in 2003 by Shtëpia Botuese “55”, Tirana
First English translation in 2005 by Arcade
Translated by Tedi Papavrami (Albanian-French) & David Bellos (French-English)