Broken April by Ismail Kadare is mostly a description of Blood feuds in Albenian highlands, bound by the laws of Kanun. It starts of as a story about a man, Gjorg Berisha, who is bound in a blood feud, spanning several decades and almost 70 deaths between two families. Now it is his turn to avenge the blood of his elder brother. The situation is much more serious now as he had failed an earlier time, whereby as per the laws his family ended up paying for the injury, not withstanding the insult that incident brought to the village and the family. So he afraid as he is, but nonetheless bound and obliged to his family and the bessa , the honor code of the Kanun, also reminded by his brothers blood dried shirt hanging over the house, he needs to kill. Which he eventually succeeds in. But this success brings in the last days of his freedom as after about a month its he who will be hunted now by the latest victims family. And since it was March he committed the murder, his April is now broken.
Then as per the law he has to pay the death tax for the killing he made. And to pay that he travels to a distant land. Kadare then, while writing about Gjorg journey to the castle where he has to pay the tax talks about various blood laws governing the land. Story then shifts towards the Tax collector, who works for the prince in the castle, talking about his impressions over the whole affair, the tax figures, how the collection system has been working for years bringing the revenue, about the threatening brought in the killings, how in older times killings never touched single digit in a single bay, but sadly or rather great fully Gjorg saved the day as late in the evening he rescued for happening the first bloodless day in the entire history of Kanun. But his musings, apprehensions, thoughts are bit tedious to go through, at parts boring and long drawn.
And after that Kadare throws another angle of a writer traveling with his newly wed wife in the highlands. The writer is a scholar about kanun ways and with the intention of showing his wife the rituals of the Kanun, comes on sort of honeymoon there. Kadare keeps on giving the bits of trivia here and there about the Kanun, like how the death (dead body) in a field in land feuds decides the boundary. How interpretors of the Kanun are highly sought after in the reigon.
Broken April borders over territory which works like Kafka’s The Castle and The Trial covered long ago and also quite commensurably. Like The Trial nothing happens after the killing, story doesn’t moves a bit, Gjorg keeps waiting to pay the tax and is eventually killed. The laws are there for the ages and people religiously follow then without knowing much. Even ways are there to avoid the feuds, like buying of the killings but at the cost of pride, or if one who is sought for a kill ends up as a guest in someones place and is killed then the host family has to avenge the blood and the actual family to which the latest victim belongs is now out of the feud cycle. Kadera tries to be more ambitious as he tries showing the system from three angles. One being the victim’s, Gjorg, then the Tax collectors, which is from where the system is operated and finally the third view from outside. But somehow in trying to do this it looses its much desired nightmarish quotient, or the intended mechanical environment. And also the sequence of the three angles is much to blame, as after showing the most personal angle the narration keeps moving outwards.
Broken April, incidently, is Kadare’s most famous work helping him get the Man Booker International Prize in 2005, among other praises.