Magazine article The Spectator

A Brilliant Autopsy on a Dead Regime

Magazine article The Spectator

A Brilliant Autopsy on a Dead Regime

Article excerpt

THE SUCCESSOR by Ismail Kadare Canongate, £9.99, pp. 207, ISBN 1841957631 . £7.99 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Although writers in languages of lesser currency suffer a cruel disadvantage when striving to establish themselves on the international scene, the Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare has succeeded in leaping that hurdle by the extraordinary athleticism of his writing. Translations of his novels have appeared in more than 40 countries, and in recent times he has been annually tipped as a possible Nobel Prize winner. Shamefully and typically, only his recent winning of the first Man Booker International Prize has caused him at last to be adequately acknowledged in this country.

Although lacking the depth and grandeur of either his first novel The General of the Dead Army or his later masterpiece The Palace of Dreams, The Successor nonetheless provides an excellent introduction to Kadare's work.

Running to little more than 200 pages of unusually large print, it combines all the readability of a crime novel with the innovatory adventurousness of a work created by a writer who, even in his late sixties, never repeats others, much less himself.

Following the pattern set by innumerable crime novels, the narrative begins, 'The Designated Successor was found dead in his bedroom at dawn on December 14', and then continues with the question, 'Murder or suicide?' The dead man is never named but is clearly based on the Albanian politician Mehmet Shehu, closest of the dictator Envir Hoxha's cronies and for long his anointed successor, who died in circumstances still the subject of debate.

Hoxha -- also unnamed and referred to merely as 'the Guide' -- is the most obvious culprit. His failing sight having exacerbated his paranoia, he has become suspicious that the Successor may be secretly plotting against him. Might he not therefore have decided that he must order an execution promptly and with a minimum of fuss? Kadare suggests that there is a parallel here with the death of Mao's once favoured successor Lin Bao, suspected by many not to have been burned to a crisp in an accident to the aeroplane in which he was trying to escape but to have been murdered on his master's orders.

Kadare skilfully diagnoses the nature of the relationship between two such former revolutionaries. They are blood brothers, but what binds them is blood not inherited from common ancestors but spilled for the common cause. …

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