Broken April is about the Kanun, an ancient Albanian ritual of the blood feud which for centuries has claimed thousands of lives. It is about honour rather than vengeance. One murder must be avenged with another – and then that murder must to be avenged and this can go on until every man from that family is wiped out. After most killings, the murderer is granted a thirty day Bessa where they are able to walk freely without fear of being killed.
It is Gjorg’s time to finally fulfil his family’s honour and kill a member of the other family and then await his fate.
At the same time, a newly married couple arrive in the Albanian mountains for their honeymoon. Bessian is a writer who romanticises the Kanun, seeing it as something which is exotic, beautiful and the magic of myth and legend. His wife Diana, innocent when she arrives becomes exposed to the mechanisms of the Kanun.
The story feels like a vehicle to present what the Kanun is and explain it to people as well as to criticise it. Due to this, the book lacks a true story or character development. Gjorg is our unfortunate young man who has become caught in the mechanism of the blood feud. Bessian and Diana represent outsiders who at first do not see the reality, seeing only the romanticised form, like something out of a picture book. There is another point of view for a single chapter, from the ‘Steward of the Blood’ the man who looks after the blood tax – the money each family has to pay to the Lord in the tower of Orosh.
Kadare has something to say and this novel provides the means for that, making it less of a novel you read for enjoyment but for interest and to learn something about another culture. Unfortunately, this tradition has not quite died out as of yet and there are those who still live by these rules.
It seems so absurd, why people would go on behaving and believing in something like this. You would have thought the prospect of wiping out your entire family would stop people from doing anything that would lead them into such a state. However, no, according to this book they pretty much invite it and stubbornly refuse to let it go.
In fact, I admit I felt kind of annoyed at the whole thing. Not the book – just these people who follow these rules like idiot lambs to the slaughter. Part of me thinks they are welcome to it. I probably shouldn’t judge the entire culture, or way of life of these people based on one book I suppose.
Whilst not a book to enjoy, a very interesting novel and well written by Ismail Kadare.