Is there is a strain of European writing that could be described as the erotic life after communism (Milan Kundera being another member)? Ismail Kadare is Albania’s greatest writer, in itself not the most lavish praise, but he is also one of the best living writers in the world. His subject has always been the hold history has on his character’s lives, their imprisonment in their loyalty to the past. He has now turned his attention to a love story, and, frankly, it is enough to make you wish he had just given his manuscript to Cecilia Ahern and asked her to fix it up.
The Accident opens with a range of European intelligence agencies investigating the deaths of a mysterious couple killed in a car accident caused by their taxi driver being distracted by the couple who were “trying to kiss”. A unnamed Albanian officer takes an intense interest in their deaths and begins to piece together the affair between the couple, Besfort Y (who was possibly a diplomat) and Rovena (could have been a prostitute, or maybe a student), “the riddle of the two strangers that nobody had asked him to solve”.
Kadare presents a vague background to the relationship based on the conflicting accounts of witnesses to it, fragments from a few waiters in the hotels where they meet and reconstructions of phone calls from one of Rovena’s friends (or possibly lesbian lover), while the intelligence officer tries to fill in the blanks. The benefits of a university degree (and, admittedly, the blurb of the book which states that this relationship is “a mutually destructive obsession that mirrors the conflicts of the region“) lead me to think that the relationship between Besfort and Rovena could be a metaphor for the history of the Balkans, mutually dependent but self-destructive. Their affair is possible because “since the fall of communism everything in Albania had gone to extremes: money, luxury, lesbian groups. Everybody was in a hurry to make up for lost time.” Albanians’ love for their dictator, typically unnamed in the novel (but his name was Hoxha), mirrors Rovena’s unfailing attachment to Besfort, no matter how he tests her: “The more they ingratiated themselves, the harder his whip fell.”
Eastern European politics, which Kadare suggests is a history of conspiracies, may influence Besfort’s approach to love, a series of political strategies designed to control and test his lover. Perhaps my lack of knowledge about Balkan politics, history and culture means that I didn’t pick up the allusions and deeper meaning of this book. Of course, perhaps this novel is just a remarkably elusive and vague account of a diplomat and his escort girl, with occasional digressions on history and politics that are equally vague and elusive (and equally tedious).
Kadare is a major writer but if you want proof read Broken April or The Three-Arched Bridge for a true understanding of his work, or if you’re really in the mood for a novel about love as a metaphor for eastern Europe’s politics try Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
Any Cop?: Kadare is Albania’s most notable writer (and perennial candidate for the next Nobel Prize); that should be printed on the cover of this novel instead of the title because there is no other way to tell that this was written by one of the greatest living European novelists.