Prose Study: Broken April by Ismail Kadare

FRom the pRL / translated work (albanian) / C20TH / Europe / albania

From the outset of his career as a novelist, Kadare’s interest has fastened on the distinct, cruel traditions of the Balkans, where nobody forgets anything and revenge is eternal.

Julian Evans, Living with Ghosts: an interview with 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 its 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.

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: 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.

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. The essay must be 1,200-1,500 words in length. (20 marks).††

Please find suggestions here; but always be mindful of your own ideas and class discussions and follow the direction of your own programme of study when devising your assessment tasks.

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 might 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 Kadare’s novel. You could use these lessons as a starting point for your essay. Questions you might try to answer include, but are not limited to:

  • By what methods does Ismail Kadare create sympathy for Gjorg Berisha in his novel Broken April?
  • What is the importance of narrative perspective in Ismail Kadare’s novel Broken April?
  • Why is Diana such a crucial character in Broken April by Ismail Kadare?
  • What is the significance of Mark Ukacierra’s chapter in Broken April as a whole?
  • Explore the relationship between Gjorg and his father in Ismail Kadare’s Broken April.

Chapter 1: A Death

“What have you brought me? A wound or a death?” The answer was short and dry. “A death.”

Page 12

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 thirty 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.


Learner Portfolio: Can we empathise with Gjorg?

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.”

Page 52

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.


Learner Portfolio: Practise for Paper 1 (Literature students only)

If you are a Language A: Literature student, at the end of your course you will sit Paper 1: Guided Literary Analysis. This paper contains two previously unseen literary passages. SL students write a guided analysis of one of these passages; HL students write about both passages. The passages could be taken from any of four literary forms: prose, poetry, drama or literary non-fiction. Each of the passages will be from a different literary form.

Here are two passages taken from Broken April; as this is a novel the literary form is ‘prose’. Each passage is accompanied by a guiding question to provide a focus or ‘way in’ to your response. Choose one passage and complete this Learner Portfolio entry in the style of Paper 1: Guided Literary Analysis.

Chapter 3: Visitors to the High Plateau

“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.

Page 74

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.


Learner Portfolio: The Vorpsis

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: 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.”

Page 136

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: Understanding Mark Ukacierra

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.

For this Learner Portfolio entry, after reading and discussing chapter four, write a piece about your reaction to Mark Ukacierra. You might like to consider:

  • How your response to Mark’s character is shaped by elements of the novel, including descriptions of Mark and his effect on others;
  • Mark’s attitude towards the lands and people under the kanun as revealed through his thoughts;
  • How Mark’s thoughts about the Prince and his guests, education, women and so on represent the vestiges of a dying culture;
  • Whether or not you have any sympathy for Mark.

Chapter 5: Spring

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

Page 160



Learner Portfolio: Practise for Paper 2

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 could focus only on your response to Broken April (visit this post for more help with Paper 2 literary compare and contrast skills).

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 the literary works you have studied. 
  2. With reference to literary works studied, consider how the point of view shapes our understanding of the story. 
  3. Discuss the means as well as the effectiveness with which power and authority is exercised in the literary works you have studied.
  4. Referring to literary works you have studied, discuss both how and why the text invites the reader to identify with characters and the situations they are in?

Chapters 6 and 7: Broken April

As the novel reaches its conclusion, tension begins to mount between Bessian and Diana. Profoundly moved and disturbed by her journey to the High Plateau – and especially her encounter with Gjorg – Diana draws further and further away from Bessian. On his part, for all his learning there are some things he still doesn’t know, and he finds himself unable to break through Diana’s increasingly icy demeanour.

The final chapter returns to Gjorg’s perspective, bringing the novel full circle. As the time of his bessa runs short his thoughts become increasingly frantic. The scenery takes on a sinister atmosphere at the end of the novel, as any dark shape on the horizon could herald the approach of a vengeful member of the Kryeqye family – and death could strike at any moment.


Learner Portfolio: What Happens Next?

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. The essay must be 1,200-1,500 words in length. (20 marks).

Please find suggestions here; but always be mindful of your own ideas and class discussions and follow the direction of your own programme of study when devising your assessment tasks.

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. One of the great achievements of Kadare’s novel is revealing the truth about the Kanun to an international audience.

Questions you might like to consider tackling are not limited to, but might include:

  • Explore the role of shame in Ismail Kadare’s Broken April. By what methods, and to what purpose, does Kadare conjure the feeling of shame in the novel?
  • In what ways, and to what purposes, does Kadare present authority figures in Broken April?
  • How and why does Kadare make the setting of Broken April so formidable?
  • Explore the symbolism of blood in Broken April by Ismail Kadare?
  • In what ways does Ismail Kadare develop the significance of the title of his novel Broken April?
  • Explore images of death and ruin in Ismail Kadare’s Broken April.
  • Explore the symbolism of rocks and stones in Broken April by Ismail Kadare.

Towards Assessment: Individual Oral

Supported by an extract from one non-literary text and one from a literary work (or two literary works if you are following the Literature-only course)students will offer a prepared response of 10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of questions by the teacher, to the following prompt: Examine the ways in which the global issue of your choice is presented through the content and form of two of the texts that you have studied. (40 marks)

Broken April would be a good choice to discuss in this oral assessment. Once you have finished reading and studying Kadare’s work, spend a lesson working with the IB Fields of Inquiry: mind-map the novel, come up with ideas for Global Issues, make connections with other Literary Works or Body of Works that you have studied on your course and see if you can make a proposal you might use to write your Individual Oral.

Here are one or two suggestions to get you started, but consider your own programme of study before you make any firm decisions about your personal Global Issue. Whatever you choose, remember a Global Issue must have local relevance, wide impact and be trans-national:

In 2020, Kadare won the Neustadt International Prize for Literature because “no one since [Franz] Kafka has delved into the infernal mechanism of totalitarian power and its impact on the human soul in as much hypnotic depth as Kadare.” In revealing the truth about the kanun and its impact on the lives of young men in Albania, Kadare opened an international conversation about human rights and the importance of social change.

As a system of control, the kanun shares much with propaganda texts. It is insidious, appealing to emotions such as pride and shame. Authority figures in society – Ali Binak, Mark Ukacierra, Gjorg’s father – work, consciously and unconsciously, to perpetuate the tenets of the kanun and keep further generations following its bloody code.


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