By Carolyn Emerick
Published Online (2013)
Introduction: The Albanian Plateau is a rural area that is largely outside of the reach of the central Albanian government. Because the country has been subject to domination by external factions for hundreds of years, the people of the Plateau developed their own laws and customs as a means of maintaining a semblance of stability. Their tribal codes are recorded in a Medieval text known as the Kanun. The Kanun dictates many facets of life, one of which is the custom known as “blood feud.” Broken April, by Ismail Kadare, follows an unlikely murderer named Gjorg Berisha as he avenges the death of his brother according to Kanun law. Through Gjorg’s experience, Kadare examines the Kanun’s influence on rural Albanian life, especially as it pertains to the blood feud.
Kadare never explicitly states when his story takes place. There are no references to major world events or historical political figures to place the events in a recognizable time line. The only mention of technology is of guns, automobiles, and a single airplane flying overhead. These items are referred to generically, so there is no way to date the story by car or gun model. The closest we can assume is that the story takes place sometime in the 20th century, probably after the 1930s and prior to 1990 when the book was published. This ambiguity may have been intentional to demonstrate the stagnant, slow moving nature of time in the rural plateau of Albania. It may also serve to highlight that the events depicted in the story could just as likely have occurred in 2011 or in 1941. In other words, this ambiguity demonstrates that while time moves on for the rest of the world, it stands still on the Albanian Plateau. Recent articles from international online news sources highlight the continued presence of the Kanun and blood feud in rural Albanian life. Contemporary stories of blood feud participants and interviews with modern Albanian families entangled in blood feud demonstrate that the experiences depicted in Broken April are not only accurate, but still occurring today.
In Kadare’s novel, Gjorg’s family is ensnared into the trap of the blood feud cycle quite by chance. Rather than starting a feud by murdering someone in a fit of impassioned anger, as many feuds begin, the Berisha family became involved after giving shelter to a stranger who was then shot dead upon leaving their home (Kadare, 31). “According to the Kanun, when the guest whom you were accompanying is killed before your eyes, you are bound to avenge him” (Kadare, 32). Thus the Berisha family was sucked into a blood feud that would transpire over generations. Because the blood feud involves avenging blood with blood, families engaged in it can potentially continue the feud indefinitely, or until one side runs out of male family members. To back down from revenge brings dishonor upon the family (Kundera, 46). Although Gjorg would like nothing to do with the feud he is pressured into it by his own parents who are still grieving for his murdered brother.
Want more medieval? Take a look at our digital magazine – The Medievalverse – Click here to see our latest issues