“Spring Flowers, Spring Frost” by Ismail Kadare

“Spring Flowers, Spring Frost” by Ismail Kadare (2000) – 182 pages

    “They were really flowers
    But March was gone
    Or else it was March
    But the flowers were not real”

It is hard to believe, but it has been more than 20 years since the Great Awakening of Eastern Europe when the Communist regimes fell in many of these countries including Albania. We all remember the tremendous jubilation and celebrations in these countries at that time, but what has happened in these countries since then? Spring is the time when Nature re-awakens after the long cold winter, and Ismail Kadare uses “Spring” as a metaphor for the re-awakening of Albania after the long cold Communist winter. As the title “Spring Flowers, Spring Frost” suggests, there have been some good things that have occurred in Albania since the Communist regime was deposed and some not so good.

“Spring Flowers, Spring Frost” takes place several years after the Communist downfall. Mark Gurabardhi, the main character of the novel, works as an artist. His specialty is nude figure painting, and his girlfriend is his main model. He has total artistic freedom. Later a bank robbery occurs which was unheard of in mostly small-town Albania until recently, another sign of the modernization and westernization of Albania

At the same time the ancient ways are now returning after having been outlawed by the Communists for many years. The Kanun, the archaic Albanian Mafia-like system of blood feud and vendetta, is returning. Men mysteriously disappear. Some of these blood feuds between families go back hundreds of years.

Although parts of “Spring Flowers, Spring Frost” held my interest, I did not find the novel at all compelling. The stories were disjointed with a lot of potential plot lines brought up but none of them developed fully. The main characters were sketched rather than fully drawn, and I found it difficult to care one way or another about any of them. The novel seemed more of a checking-in on the current state of Albania in fragments rather than a completely developed story. Later I found out that the English translation was actually based on the French translation rather than the original novel, and that may have been part of the problem.

I have read another of Kadare’s novels, “Palace of Dreams”, which was written during the Communist era and was banned by the Communists for its portrayal of a tyrannical dictatorship which was strikingly similar to the Hoxha regime in Albania at the time. “Palace of Dreams” is a strong novel, and I would recommend you read that book instead of “Spring Flowers, Spring Frost”.

Ismail Kadare was the first winner of the Man Booker International Prize in 2005, and he is frequently mentioned among those who could win the Nobel Literature Prize. However I would recommend you skip “Spring Flowers, Spring Frost” in favor of one of Kadare’s other novels.

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