In Broken April, a novel written in the late 1970s but set half a century earlier, Ismail Kadare describes the last thirty days of the life of a young man.[*] On the evening of 17 March, on a road through the mountains of northern Albania, Gjorg Berisha shoots Zef Kryeqyqe dead. The killing is an act of vengeance: a year and a half earlier, Zef Kryeqyqe had shot Gjorg Berisha's brother. That murder too was motivated by revenge: Gjorg Berisha's brother had killed a member of Zef Kryeqyqe's family. The Berishas and Kryerqyqes have been taking it in turns to murder one another for seventy years: 22 men from each family have been killed in the feud, and Gjorg will in due course be the 45th to die. But these two families from the village of Brezftoht are not especially bloodthirsty or irascible. Their feud is one among hundreds, and the killings have all been undertaken strictly according to the arcane and intricate rules of the Kanun, the 'code of customary law' that has governed every aspect of the lives of the people of the High Plateau for centuries, through the years of the Ottoman Empire and now under the government of King Zog.
LRB 6 September 2007 | PDF Download