Saturday, September 24, 2016



I wasn't too far along in Ismail Kadare's bleak Broken April before I felt the need to stop reading and do a little Internet research to find out whether the book was allegorical or whether the situation facing one of the main characters was rooted in reality. The plot turned out to be based on very real practices mandated by the Kanun, a code of traditional Albanian laws. Thus forewarned, I settled in to read Kadare's dark novel about the Kanun's decrees concerning blood feuds in the High Plateau region of Albania.

The beginning of the story follows the unfortunate Gjorg Berisha, who, to avenge his brother's murder, must kill the murderer. Zef Kryeqyqe, the man who killed his brother, had done so to avenge the murder by Gjorg's brother of a man in Zef's family, who had been killed for having murdered someone in Gjorg's family. This had been the pattern for the past seventy years, leading to 22 deaths in the Berisha family and 22 deaths in the Kryeqyqe family. Having killed Zef, Gjorg knows that his remaining time on earth is very limited. The logical conclusion to this blood feud is likely to eventually be the extinction of both families. 

The book also follows a young couple, Bessian and Diana, who have come from the Albanian capital of Tirana to visit the High Plateau for their honeymoon. Bessian, a writer, is particularly fascinated by the tradition of blood feuds in the region, viewing the practice as Homeric and even majestic. As he tells Diana with a smile, "We are entering the shadow-land, the place where the laws of death prevail over the laws of life." Diana, on the other hand, "felt as if something were collapsing inside her." Their travels in the High Plateau affect them in ways they could not have predicted, especially after their path crosses Gjorg's for a brief moment.

As you might have surmised, this was not an uplifting book, but it was fascinating to read about a practice that is apparently still followed in some parts of Albania. As Kadare explains through the thoughts of one of his characters, "Successive generations had been accustomed to the feuds from their cradles, and so, not being able to conceive of life without them, it never entered their minds to try to free themselves from their destined end." Here's hoping that the practice fades away and that the young men of the High Plateau may someday travel the roads freely without watching over their shoulders for death's approach.


There wasn't much feasting in Broken AprilPeople were poor from having to pay the blood tax when it was their turn to kill (since, of course, someone profits from all of this death), or saving up in anticipation of the day when it would be their turn to kill and have to pay the blood tax. Bessian and Diana, who appeared to have plenty of money, ordered fried eggs, cheese, and yogurt for their meals, but those items were beyond the means of Gjorg as he traveled to Orosh to pay his blood tax.  When he stopped at an inn along the way, the innkeeper asked him if he'd like to have something, and Gjorg replied, "A plate of beans. How much will it be? I've got my own bread."  So for my Albanian meal, I made beans and bread from recipes I found on an Albanian food blog. The only ingredient I had to change in order to make the beans vegan was to substitute Earth Balance spread for the butter the recipe called for.


In researching Albanian organizations, I came across one recommended by Anne F. Cunningham, whose husband was the U.S. Ambassador to Albania from 2010 to 2014. The Organization for the Support of Albania's Abandoned Babies (OSAAB) provides a safe haven so that mothers who want to give up their unwanted babies know that the babies will receive proper medical attention and loving care until such time as they can be moved to an orphanage to await adoption. More information about this organization is available on their website at


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