The first Kadare that I read was the political thriller The Successor, which I liked but did not fall in love with. mainly because I felt that an important element of the story was missing. In these cases I tend to blame the translation.
In contrast Spring Flower, Spring Frost is much more satisfying and bizarre in places as well. If The Successor was a dour adult then this novel is the teenager that has has one trip too many. Yet both feature politics and quite heavily.
Albania is now a democratic state (so I guess we’re in 1991) and Mark, a painter hears, about a bank robbery and sees two kids unearth a hibernating snake. This takes him by surprise as such events would never happen under Communist Albania. While he obsesses about the robbery and the snake he starts going on other mental tangents. Within the very brief 180 pages we get musings on Albanian Folklore (which figures snakes) , The theft of immortality via ancient Greek mythology, The Kanun – the Albanian code of laws regarding blood feuds and the iceberg that sunk The Titanic. On top of this he has to finish painting a nude portrait of his girlfriend ( The Kanun and her are entwined). Cleverly enough Kadare manages to mesh all these disparate musings altogether and tie them to the fall of communism. As one can expect the final chapter is the big enlightening one and is the ‘grand finale’
As I finished Spring Flowers I instantly started to make mental comparisons and this is indeed the better book. I already repeated the reasons above so I won’t go into them before but this felt like a fresher read. If there is another Kadare on this list (and I hope so) then it should be completely bonkers. We’ll see.
After reading The Successor (as an off comment this is my first Kadare) I was wondering if this was some sort of political allegory but after some research the events in this book actually did happen, so I guess there’s a more historical aspect to the novel.
The premise is simple but at the same time complex. The successor to the Albanian government is found dead in his room with a gun next to him. This triggers (no pun intended) mass speculation on whether the Successor was murdered or committed suicide. A lot of the book focuses on the events leading to this action and the reader is in for a mighty plot twist towards the end of the novel.
But this is almost secondary.
The real emphasis here lies on how The Successor’s death affects certain people, namely his daughter Suzane who was engaged to a person that could have created a civil Albania, The Successor’s pathologist and the architect who built his house. All of these three people feel that they contributed to his death and wonder how the state would react when faced with the evidence that they indirectly killed The Successor.
The other focus is on Albania’s political history. As we all know politics is a dirty business and Kadare shows no prudence in revealing corruption and the workings behind certain decisions. This is exemplified through Suzane’s memory, which takes place early one in the book.
Despite all these happenings, I felt vaguely unsatisfied when reading the book. I cannot say I loved it or will embrace it as on of my top books. Mainly because I felt that something was missing, it felt like a novel that didn’t want to engross you, rather create a barrier (except in the Suzane chapters.Those are fully realised). People have said that Kadare is Kafkaesque, which in a way is right but whereas Kafka could engross you with his intricate webs, I felt that The Successor didn’t manage completely.
However it still is worth a shot (argh I promise the pun was not intended) Mainly because the information about Albania’s history interested me . Just a bit of a soul and this would have been the perfect novel