Book Review: The Successor
The events of this novel draw on the infinite well of human memory, whose treasures may be brought to the surface in any period, including our own. In view of this, any resemblance between the characters and circumstances of this tale and real people and events is inevitable. –Ismail Kadare
Published first in 2003 (in Albanian) and translated into English in 2005, The Successor tells the tale of the death of The Designated Successor, a man who is never named and who was discovered in his bedroom, dead, on 14 December.
From the start the parallels are clear. Mehmet Shehu, the heir-apparent to the poverty stricken totalitarian Albania, the third most impoverished country in the world, was discovered on 17 December 1981 in his bed, dead from a gunshot wound to the heart.
In the book, as in real life, the death of the Designated Successor was quickly labeled a suicide. And in the book, as in real life, Yugoslavs across the border immediately questioned whether or not the Designated Successor would actually kill himself.
Names, although occasionally parsimoniously granted to readers, are generally avoided. There is the title’s Designated Successor. Then there is The Guide, Enver Hoxha hidden under a veil thinner than anything worn by Salome. And then there is The Architect, who alone knew of a secret entrance connecting the house of the Designated Successor to that of the Guide; houses located in the elite section of Tirana known as “Bllok”.
In the book it is the romance of a daughter who brings the family to ruin, while in real life it was a son. But in both cases the overwhelming and heavy presence of the Party was everywhere, in everything, a part of every thought and decision.
The plot of The Successor is less a building storyline with a climax and clear conclusion and more of an illustration of the ambiance of Hoxha’s Albania.
The author, Ismail Kadare, lived and wrote during the Hoxha regime; often novels, short stories, and poetry with leanings that led to immediate censure, imprisonment, and even the death of others who dared such literary privilege. And yet, Kadare didn’t seek political asylum in France until five years after Hoxha’s death. His books consistently explore turning points in Albania’s communist history, and without attempt to minimize the problems of the Stalinist regime or glorify any part of it. They are full pictures that capture the aura and the daily life of Albanians of that time. The Successor is, in that, no exception.
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