"Broken April" is a haunting story with an out of time charm. There are not many novels around with such a simple and yet powerfully evocative style. More than the plot in itself what counts here is the atmosphere Kadare is able to recreate.
I actually perceived the mist and the cold as well as the brightless nights and the wind-swept landscapes where the novel takes place with an uncommon intensity.
As a reader who gets easily distracted, "Broken April" meant an unusual business to me: this book never lost its grip over me from the very first to the last page.
I don't know that much about Albania apart from being aware that Italian fought a useless and aggressive war there ("We will break the kidneys of Albania!" barked Mussolini back in 1939) and that the country hosted one of the most senseless dictators - even for the crazy communist standards - in the world, Enver Hoxha.
For a striking majority of Italians, contemporary Albania is a God-forsaken country, a place good for ruffians, pimps, prostitutes and hosting bogus universities where our dull politicians get their fake degrees.
Besides, the massive waves of desperate immigration coming from the coasts of Albania which reached Italy in the 1990s didn't help in the way our neighbours are perceived. It's true how there are Albanians involved in criminal activities in Italy, but then again it's always the bad guys who get all the news. Just like it happens with Romanians - who share a similar bad reputation in Italy and had a megalomaniac dictator too - there are thousands of good, honest, hardworking and considerate Albanian immigrants between the Alps and Sicily. But this is pretty obvious, isn't it?
"Broken April" deals at the same time with backwardness and cultural heritage of Albania introducing the equally wonderful and terrifying "Kanun" an ancient code to settle arguments and controversies in the remote Albanian plateaus.
A code where vengeance through family feuds under brutal but strict rules is a focal point and that reminded me quite a lot the way disputes were handled in some parts of southern Italy and Sardinia. The Albanian Kanun, however, seem to be more structured and taken more seriously by the local inhabitants than its Italian less official counterparts.
This novel speaks about the Kanun and the people living (and quite often dying) according to its principles, but it's also an excellent cross-section of the Albanian mountaineers, a people able to welcome the Church and the Islam without losing most of its peculiar habits and with a fascination for towers.
There is a distinct beauty in the uniqueness of "Broken April" and this quality more than compensates the slight disappointment of a plot and an ending which could have been a bit better. Not that it really matters as what makes this novel very good is not its storytelling, but where the story itself happens.
This is the first book by Ismail Kadare I've ever read and most likely the first of a long series. Here we have an author who definitely has something to say and somewhere to speak about. I'd like to listen more of it.