Last year, I made a goal of “reading around the world,” an effort to read at least one book from every country. I'm not working down the list regionally or alphabetically. I'm not oversaturating my reading list all at once with these titles. I'm just making a conscious effort to explore the world through books as I'm able.
Broken April is perhaps the most eye-opening view of a world I knew nothing about. Set in mountains of Albania, Broken April is the story of a man bound to an extremely strict set of rules called the Kanun. The Kanun is a “code of conduct” that focuses on honor and hospitality, dictating the everyday actions of a person. It makes the American west of the 1800s seem very tame, the Levitical law lenient. Once one has become ensnared by the rules of the Kanun, there is no escape.
Initially, I imagined that these rules were a product of the author's imagination. If nothing else, they had to have been exaggerated. No group of people would willingly live under such rigorous regulations century upon century. Sadly, they're all true. Though I hate to knock on the beliefs and cultures of another group, these rules are ridiculous and very dangerous. It's a wonder that those who subscribe to the Kanun as a rule for life have not gone extinct by now.
As far as a novel goes, Broken April is a bit uneven. When the story focuses on Gjorg, it is riveting and breathtaking. I felt his anxiety. He is a marked man and though the reader must know it's impossible for him to escape, you hope there is a way. Also, I was enraptured with Diana, a newlywed who does not live under the Kanun, but who is similarly held captive by the authority of her husband. But the novel spends far too much time on the boring, ridiculous Bessian and on characters such as Mark, who merely provided a different visual perspective. Without these interruptions, I likely would've made my way through this novel in very little time; unfortunately, I felt too much of what Diana must've felt: God, I wish Bessian would just shut up.
There is a haunting atmosphere to Broken April, especially as we follow Gjorg around. It reminds me of John Steinbeck's time in Mexico. There is a similarity in theme and setting to both “Flight” and The Pearl, though there is a feeling of timelessness in Broken April. It is this timelessness, this sense that these rules will continue until everyone is finally dead, that give this novel its most grievous quality.