Wednesday, September 26, 2012

S is for Successor by Ismail Kadare

He turned the switch further, until the light was at maximum strength, then laughed again, ha-ha-ha, as if he'd just found a toy that pleased him. Everyone laughed with him, and the game went on until he began to turn the dimmer down. As the brightness dwindled, little by little everything began to freeze, to go lifeless, until all the many lamps in the room went dark.

Each time she thought back on that turning out of the lights, which had amused the company at the time, she felt overcome with anxiety. Sometimes it seemed to her as if that had been the precise moment when the wind had turned.




Years ago, my sister Nitu di had brought a book from her college library. I had never heard of the author (and cannot recall his/ her name now) so was excited about discovering a new writer. I don't remember much about the plot except that it was regarding a scientific experiment about prolonging life or something of that sort. The hero was a scientist with a girlfriend who was actually a CIA agent and spying on her lover as instructed by the agency. What I remember most distinctly is that the duo travelled to Albania.

Albania! Where the hell was this? Had never heard of it. Was surprised to read that it was a European country. And had a dictator with the rather impressive name of Enver Hoxha.



Years later, all these memories came crowding back to me when I picked up Ismail Kadare's
The Successor from the library.

The novel is a fictional unravelling of the mystery shrouding the death of Mehmet Shehuu, for years the second most-powerful man in Albania after Hoxha, and the eponymous Successor of the novel. Found dead in his bed on the morning of Decemebr 14th, his death was officially proclaimed to be suicide. But soon tongues started wagging, prompted by Yugoslav Radio's broadcast of it as a murder.



But who could have murdered him? Kadare sets up a delightful premise and then starts to look at the suspects. Adrian Hasobeu, the Minister of Interior and in charge of the country's secret service. As Shehu fell out of favour with Hoxha, it was Hasobeu who grew close to the latter. And wasn't it his silhouette that was seen slipping into Shehu's home during the night of the 13th?

Or was it Enver Hoxha himself? Did he enter the secret passage that connected his house with that of his successor? Not many people were aware of this passage and weren't all the doors of Shehu's house bolted from the inside? So how could anybody have entered the house except from that passage?

Or did the murderer have an accomplice inside the house? The one whose hands opened the doors for him and then closed them once again when the murderer slipped out after committing the deed. Could it have been Shehu's wife? The one whose devotion of Hoxha and loyalty to the party could no longer accommodate a man who had fallen from grace as a husband. And if yes, was she merely an accomplice or the one who perpetuated the deed herself? After all, Hoxha did call her Comrade Clytemnestra...

Or was it incredibly enough the architect of Shehu's new home. The almost palatial like structure that many people said had a curse on it. But how could the architect do it?

To me the most interesting was how the architect could have done it. And when he concluded his confession with these lines:

Khaany mori zurgaan... He didn't need a six-in-hand or a coach. It was not a long way from one house to the other, from the Guide's to the Successor's. But it was far enough. -

A chill went down my spine.

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I also learnt many things about Albania, the literal meaning of which is "Land of Eagles". It seems the mountain tribes of Albania have male beauty contests where the winner is often killed for reasons of envy. Also Hoxha is actually a corrupt version of the name Hodja which is pretty commonplace and quite took the shine out of Hoxha's name.:)

But the passage that most touched my heart was regarding an ancient belief among the Albanians regarding meeting the dead ones:

For the ancients encounters with the dead were unavoidable. It didn't matter so much where the encounter took place - it could be in a dream, in the hereafter, or in our own conscience...

He took his time trying to describe in the least lugubrious terms possible, the wasteland that, in the imagination of the Ancients, separated this world from the shadow world, where, as on some station platform or in an airport arrivals hall, the dead by the thousands stand around in little groups waiting for their nearest and dearest. Some are overwhelmed with longing to clasp in their arms those from whom they have been separated, but there are others who with somber and resentful visage display their wounds, waiting for an explanation. As they hold open the gashes in their bodies, so they turn the pages of law books, gospels, proclamations, the Kanun, autopsy reports and ancient hymns.


A wonderful book. Highly recommended.

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First Line: The Designated Successor was found dead in his bedroom at dawn on December 14.

Title: The Successor

Author: Ismail Kadare

Original Title: Pasardhesi

Original Language: Albanian

Translator: David Bellos (translated from the French of Tedi Papavrami)

Publication Details: NY: Arcade Publishing, 2005

First Published: 2003

Pages: 207

Trivia: Winner of The Man Booker International Prize 2005

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The book can be easily purchased online. I borrowed it from Dyal Singh Public library at ITO [823.K114 S]

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Submitted for the following challenges: Back to the Classics, Books in Translation, A Classic Challenge, European Reading, Merely Mystery, Mystery and Suspense, New Authors, Support Your Local Library.

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Entry for letter S in the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme.


7 comments:

  1. Oh, this one sounds terrific! And I don't know enough - at all - about Albania or its history. I really like books where we get a strong sense of place and this one certainly sounds like one of those. Thanks for profiling it.

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    1. It is terrific. The chequered history of Albania plays an important role in this book. Do read it. I'd love to read your views.

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  2. Albania is an unknown for me as we'll. this sounds like a page turner. I'm adding it to my to look for list. Thanks!

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    1. Do read it Peggy. Some of the passages are so haunting. Looking forward to your comments on it.

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  3. Never read a book based in Albania. Crime fiction in Albania is fascinating. My local library has one of his books, not this one. I will pick it up.

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    1. Unfortunately the library I borrowed this from had just this book of his. Would love to read about his other books but do try to get this one too.

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  4. Neere,

    Reading this book now. I am liking it quite a lot so far.

    Interesting to see a reference to me in the entry. I wonder which library book from my college library you are referring to.

    - Nitu

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