Prose Study: Broken April

By Ismail Kadare

In The Land of Vendettas That Go On Forever by Molly Crabapple


The Charter of Paris for a New Europe (also known as the Paris Charter) was signed in 1990 by 34 participating nations – including every European country except Albania. This powerful novel reveals that Albania remained a closed country, haunted by the ghosts of the past and locked in a semi-medieval culture of blood and death. Broken April is one of several novels by Ismail Kadare that has been translated from the Albanian into English and it’s simple style and power has lost nothing when read in translation

The novel describes the way life is lived in the high mountain plateaus of the country, where people follow an ancient code of customary law called the Kanun that has been handed down from generation to generation. The code demands men to take the law into their own hands. Insults must be avenged, family honour must be upheld – and blood must be spilt.

At the opening of Broken April, at some unspecified time in the 20th century, a young man is waiting in the dusk to avenge his older brother’s death. He adjusts the sights of his weapon, getting ready to kill his family’s enemy. The gun barrel sweeps over patches of snow toward the wild pomegranates on both sides of the road. The victim comes into view, carrying a rifle over his shoulder. The killer fires, praying silently that his bullet does not simply wound his victim. Under the code, a wound requires payment to the victim’s family; only death is free of compensation. Luckily for the killer, the bullet strikes home…

IB Learner Profile: Open-Minded

“We critically appreciate our own cultures and personal histories, as well as the values and traditions of others. We seek and evaluate a range of points of view, and we are willing to grow from the experience.”

IB Learner Profile

Culture is a broad topic and, thanks to a process called enculturation, it is very difficult not to judge other cultures through reference to what is usual in your own culture. When reading Broken April, it is important to keep in mind this cultural bias. Try to be open minded and judge the culture in the text objectively. Of course, Kadare is trying to reveal something about Albanian culture, and blood feuds, ritual revenge, and the narrowness of this patriarchal society are all criticised by Kadare. But a sharp reader will recognise the plurality of voices in his work, and be able to find the nuance in his presentation of this strange and twisted culture.

Lang and Lit Concept: Culture

Culture describes the values, goals, beliefs, convictions and attitudes that people share in society. Broken April describes a culture that may be very different to your own – or may share surprising similarities. While you’re reading this work, keep in mind the principles of internationalism that the IB is founded upon, and ask how reading literary works can give us insights into and appreciation of people in cultures that may be very different.

Areas of Exploration: Time and Space

  • How do we approach texts from different times and cultures to our own?
  • To what extent do texts offer insight into another culture?
  • How can texts offer multiple perspectives of a single issue, topic or theme?

Towards Assessment: Higher Level Essay

Students submit an essay on one non-literary text or a collection of non-literary texts by one same author, or a literary text or work studied during the course. (20 marks)

The essay must be 1,200-1,500 words in length.††

In the first chapter of the novel we witness a ruthless and cold-blooded act of murder though the eyes of a killer, George Berisha. But, as the chapter and novel progress, we find out that Gjorg is not a cold-blooded killer at all, simply a young man caught up in the machinations of a peculiar code of customary law called the Kanun.

Exploring this contradiction would make a good starting point for the essay all Higher Level students must write. Over the course of this fiction study, you’ll learn characterisation techniques and narrative perspective, both of which are crucial to the relationship Kadere forms between Gjorg and you, the reader. An essay like this would also address the Language and Literature Concept of Perspective:

  • The concept of perspective suggests that works and texts have a range of potential meanings. The potential can arise, for example, from authorial intent, reader bias, and from the time and place in which a work or text was written. Students should be encouraged to express their perspectives, motivate them, and be prepared to have them challenged by other (different) perspectives.

Chapter 1: a death

“What have you brought me? A wound or a death?”

The answer was short and dry. “A death.”

Broken April Chapter 1, p12.

Broken April opens as a young man is waiting in the dusk to avenge his older brother’s death. He adjusts the sights of his weapon, getting ready to kill his family’s enemy. The gun barrel sweeps over patches of snow – the victim comes into view, carrying a rifle over his shoulder – the killer fires, praying silently that his bullet does not simply wound his victim. Under the code, a wound requires payment to the victim’s family; only death is free of compensation. Luckily for the killer, the bullet strikes home.

Emotionlessly, the killer tells his father that the victim is dead. In Albania, vengeance is a dish best eaten cold, without remorse. Members of both families, and all the villagers, are informed that a duty has been done. Now, the killer has 30 days in which to hide before he, too, must be hunted down. But first the code requires the killer to attend his victim’s funeral to show respect.

In this section you’ll meet Gjorg Berisha, the ‘hero’ of the tale, and take a glimpse into the mind of a young killer. You might be surprised to find out that he doesn’t seem like the killing type – and we’ll discuss how and why he might have been driven to such an extreme act of vengeance.


Learner Portfolio

In chapter 1 we are presented with an unusual and disturbing scene – the killing of one young man by another. As the chapter unfolds, we find out more about Gjorg, the killer, and the society he lives in.

After reading and discussing chapter 1, write a one-two page journal entry about Gjorg: why he killed Zef, what external pressures he was under, and whether you think Gjorg should be judged by this action alone.

For examples of how you might approach your Learner Portfolio in different or original ways, take a look at these three great examples of student work.

Chapter 2: the blood tax

“For hours on end he looked scornfully at the snow-covered ground, as if to say, yes, I’ll go out there to spill that bit of blood. The thought haunted him so much that sometimes he thought he really saw a small red stain take shape in the heart of that endless white.”

Broken April Chapter 2, p52.

Gjorg travels across the rrafsh, the High Albanian plateau, towards the Kulla of Orosh in order to pay his blood tax, a payment killers are obliged to pay to the Prince upon the death of their victims. Anticipating paying the tax upon his arrival and returning back to his village the next day, he is surprised to discover several young men, all wearing the symbolic black armband of the gjaks (ritual killers) waiting to make their own payments.

A flashback of Gjorg’s great grandfather and a stranger chronicles how the blood feud started: seventy years before, a stranger had knocked at the door of the killer’s grandfather and asked for shelter. After a night’s rest, a man from the other family had killed the unknown guest because of a supposed slight in a cafe. Under the code, though, when a guest is killed before your eyes, you are bound to avenge him; so the cycle of revenge had begun.

In this section, you’ll find out more about the strange code of honour that binds the young men of Albania to their awful wheel of revenge, and study the importance of setting when reading prose fiction.


Learner Portfolio

In this section, Gjorg walked from his village to the Castle of Orosh, high in the Albanian plateau known as the rrafsh. Amongst other things, this chapter deepens our appreciation of setting – the time and place in which the story is set.

Following a close reading of chapter 2, write a journal entry about the setting of the novel. In what ways does it function as more than simply the background for the events of the plot?

Chapter 3: visitors

“Diana, her face pressed to the window, delighted, could not take her eyes from the costumes of the women. How beautiful, Lord, how beautiful, she repeated to herself, while, leaning against her, Bessian recited in a caressing voice the clauses of the Code dealing with the krushks.

Broken April Chapter 3, p74.

This chapter introduces a second set of characters into the story: Diana and Bessian, a young couple on their honeymoon have come to study the age-old customs, including the blood feud, of the people living in these mountains. To the bride, the habit of obligatory murder is repugnant. The story takes a personal turn when Diana glimpses Gjorg waiting for his month-long truce to end, and with it his life. For a brief time, the destinies of the killer and the honeymooners intersect.

In this section, you’ll learn about narrative perspective and why it is so important in this novel. You’ll also consider how different points of view are being encouraged by the literary work.


Learner Portfolio

Compare and contrast Bessian and Diana. In what ways are they similar and different? Do they present a unified face to outsiders, or can you detect the cracks between them? In what ways do they compliment or conflict with one another?

Write your thoughts as a one-two page Learner Portfolio entry.

Chapter 4: the Steward of the Blood

“This was the blood book. For some time he leafed through the stout pages filled with dense script in double column. His eyes took in nothing, merely skimming coldly the thousands of names, whose syllables were as alike as the pebbles of an endless beach.”

Broken April Chapter 4, p136.

Once again, the point of view shifts and we see the world from behind the eyes of Mark Ukacierra, Steward of the Blood. Mark spends this chapter considering the events of the night before – the meal between the Prince and his guests (Bessian and Diana) – and his attitude towards these unwelcome arrivals. Through Mark’s thoughts we learn more about the way the Kanun is administered, and its impact on the people, both high and low, of this remote mountain kingdom.


Learner Portfolio

Described by Bessian and Diana as ‘repulsive’, chapter 4 takes us into the mind of Mark Ukacierra and lets us see for ourselves the thoughts and feelings of someone forced to steward the workings of the Kanun. Write a piece about your reaction to Mark Ukacierra. You might like to consider:

  1. How your response to Mark’s character is shaped by elements of the novel;
  2. Mark’s attitude towards the lands and people under his Stewardship;
  3. How Mark’s thoughts about the Prince and his guests represent the vestiges of a dying culture.

Chapter 5: spring

“Don’t forget… your truce is over on the seventeenth of April.”

Broken April, chapter 5, p160



Learner Portfolio

Write this Learner Portfolio in the style of a practice Paper 2 response. You can use one of the prompts below, or another prompt given to you by your teacher. Although Paper 2 requires you to write about two literary works, for the sake of this exercise you should focus only on your response to Broken April. Choose one of the following prompts (or use another prompt from the resources from chapters 4 and 5), talk with your teacher about how to approach and structure your writing, then complete your portfolio entry:

  1. The time and place where a literary work is set are of crucial importance to understanding the work as a whole. Discuss with reference to at least two literary works you have studied. 
  2. With reference to at least two works studied, consider how the point of view shapes our understanding of the story. 
  3. Referring to at least two of the works you have studied, discuss both how and why the text invites the reader to identify with situations, characters and/or ideas. 

Chapters 6 and 7: tragedy



Learner Portfolio

Throughout chapter 6, Bessian and Diana are holed up in an inn. It would be fair to say that the honeymoon did not go as Bessian might have planned. Something seems to have changed in Diana – but Bessian’s previous confidence has been shaken as well. At the end of the chapter, they leave the High Plateau, and their part in the story is done.

What do you think happens to the Vorpsis after this? Do you think their marriage can survive the changes wrought by this journey? Write one-two pages for your Learner Portfolio in which you examine their behaviours throughout chapter 6 and present your ideas about Bessian and Diana’s future together – or apart.

Towards Assessment: Higher Level Essay

Students submit an essay on one non-literary text or a collection of non-literary texts by one same author, or a literary text or work studied during the course. (20 marks)

The essay must be 1,200-1,500 words in length.

Kadare wrote this novel to illuminate aspects of Albanian society that were still governed by the customary Code called the Kanun. Much of the novel is concerned with exploring the impact of the Kanun on communities and individuals caught up in its murderous cycles of vengeance and blood.

If you would like to write your HL Essay on this text, you could examine the role of the Kanun in traditional Albanian culture and society. You might consider the idea of anachronism, where certain traditional rituals from the past are still practiced in the present day. You could write about chapters 3 and 4 in more detail, and uncover the suggestions that even this stubborn way of life is gradually slipping into the past. An essay like this would address the Language and Literature concept of Culture:

  • Culture is a notoriously complex concept. Its meaning is contested and has been used to mean different things at different times and in different places. In the English A: Language and Literature course ‘culture’ may refer to contexts of production and reception, and to the interplay of values and beliefs that exist in and may influence how texts are written and received.

Categories:Prose, Time and Space

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