The multiple narrative perspectives in Ismail Kadare’s Broken April
by Nefeli Brandhorst Kapernekas
“Not a single dictator can change the literature. Even the worst governments in situations cannot suppress literature.” (Poolos, Alexandra.) Ismail Kadare’s words are echoed in his novel Broken April, written during the time when dictator Hoxha was in power. Kadare is bringing an awareness to the Albanian laws of the Kanun by indirectly showing struggles and conflicts through characters living in these affected regions of Albania. In educating the reader about the blood vengeance, money and corruption within this system of rules and traditions, he brings a new perspective to the Albanian regime. Through the use of different narrative perspectives within the novel, Kadare is representing the different approaches the Albanian society has towards the Kanun. These multiple approaches reveal how rules and traditions impose an ultimatum for Albanians between pride and honor.
The novel begins through the perspective of Gjorg Berisha whom Kadare characterizes as acquiescent towards the rules and traditions of the Kanun. His characterization highlights the domination the Kanun holds, by building an ultimatum for Albanians, between revenge and honor. As Gjorg awaits Zef Kryeqyqe, the man he must kill, Gjorg wishes to himself “…that dusk would come swiftly, that night would race on after it so that he could run away from this accursed ambush.” (p.8) Kadare personifies the night racing off after dusk, meaning for nightfall to come, to describe what Gjorg is secretly wishing. Gjorg wishes for the night to come, as it would enable him not to kill Zef Kryeqyqe. Although Gjorg does not want to kill Zef Kryeqyqe and is skeptical towards the assassination required from the Kanun, he still continues with the killing and without protest. Later in the novel, when Gjorg is waiting to pay his blood tax, he is surrounded by pouring rain and it brings him to the thought “…wet grain is heavier. He remembered having carried a sack of corn once in the rain from the storehouse at subprefecture all the way to his village.” (26) Here, Kadare symbolizes the rain as the Kanun. With Kadare’s use of visual imagery, he illustrates the rain being a heavier load for daily chores, such as carrying a sack of corn. The heaviness of the rain symbolizes the heavy burden of the Kanun on daily lives. Under the heaviness of the Kanun, it is more difficult for Albanians to free themselves, as there is a significant weight that all Albanians under Kanun laws, must carry with them in their day to day lives. Gjorg is a representation of the newer Albanian generation who questions and sees that the Kanun as a never-ending bloodshed. Thus, seeing brutality and the facade of tradition the Kanun brings, the younger Albanian generation stay true to their family. However, there are some that question what they see and are in a state of rebellion towards old customs, in this case, the Kanun. Kadare conveys the disability, stress, and controls the Kanun has on the lives of the Albanians. Hindering them from being free and be under their own authority, instead, the Kanun leaves Albanians with the only option, either to take action in vengeance or lose family honor and pride.
The fourth chapter of the novel is written from the perspective of Mark Ukacierra, the man involved with the economic and political sides of the Kanun. Through Mark Ukacierra’s perspective, Kadare reveals the monetary and misogynist manners of the Kanun, which is seen when Mark is recalling his encounter with Diana and Bessian and describes Diana as “a witch” rather than “a woman”, however “beautiful as the fairies of the high mountains, but evil.” (134). In the novel, Kadare portrays Diana as a symbol of strength and courage that Mark Ukacierra is unable to grasp as a result of his manly pride. Therefore, he associates Diana’s strength as something evil because his pride feels threatened by it. Mark is comparing Diana to a witch rather than a woman because his pride depicts women as weak, which is why he also compares her to a weaker mythical creature, the fairies of the high mountains. In the comparison of Diana to fairies of the high mountains, Kadare is also elevating how Mark is familiar with women who, in the literal sense, are from the high mountains (high plateaus). The women from the high plateau Mark is familiar with are weak yet beautiful like fairies, rather than threatening and powerful like witches, thus highlighting the pride of Albanian men’s effect on Albanian women’s suppression. However, later as Mark reflects on the fall in blood vengeance and the negative impact it has had on the Kanun he “thought of mad things he dared not confess to anyone.” which is “…if only the women as well as the men were subject to the rules of blood-letting.” (144) Kadare is using diction of “mad things” to characterize Mark having pride, as well as “dared” and “blood-letting” to illustrate how the ones involved in the Kanun, are so fixated on the blood tax and view the Kanun as a merchandise that they would sacrifice the rules and their pride to keep up the Kanun. Mark is trying to preserve the honor of the Kanun by getting more people to kill. However, by not allowing women into the laws of the Kanun, as Mark views them as “mad things”, he is putting his pride before the honor of the Kanun as he “dared” not express his thoughts. As he is enforced and under the influence of the laws and traditions of the Kanun.
In the novel, the different narrative perspectives reach different ethical and moral approaches towards the Kanun. Rules and traditions are seen to create internal conflicts within the different characters as honor is put at risk by either revenge or pride. Kadare’s aim in writing his novel through different narrative perspectives is to create an understanding of the different sides to the Kanun’s killing and capital. Kadare himself said “People read my work because they want to read literature. And at the same time, they gain an understanding of the country itself.” (Poolos, Alexandra.)
Poolos, Alexandra. “Albania: Millennium Voices — Albanian Writer Ismail Kadare.”
RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, 9 Apr. 2008,