Book Review: Spring Flowers, Spring Frost
I began this review at the start of the Arab Spring-that is near a year now- and yet it remains in a state of incompletion. I now think it is fitting that it remains so. Like the times… we have no clue how things will turn out.
And the moment-it is neither here nor there: a transitional phase that is quite out of character with the normal times. This moment cannot be defined by the behavioral traits of a given period and we epileptically grapple for a definition and fail-we don’t know how to quite put it. Albanian author Ismail Kadare is not so confused. He’s been there and he calls it a hermaphroditic moment, or to use the old language of the Albanian people: a bitch and a dog. Kadare’s novel, Spring Flowers, Spring Frost (Random House 2002), attempts to capture this peculiar time when his country, Albania, is in the throes of transition from a manacled communist state to a new-found freedom that turns into a Frankenstein monster with an ancient past.
It may seem trifle late to discuss a book that was written more than a decade ago but with the Arab Spring not quite dying out yet, (it’s been ten months or more) and a few Middle East nations in the heat of a bitch and a dog-Kadare’s novel brings a perspective hitherto unexplored in newspapers. Even the title refers to a Spring that seems to reflect the Arab Spring.
Libya, Syria, Algeria, there are more of them out there, are fighting vigorously for uncertainty. Better that than a corralled certainty. “The world is being reinvented now, by the Internet.” When Kadare wrote that line he would not have imagined the full potent of his statement. Yes, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen made frantic escapes into unchartered freedoms riding on twitter-ing waves not knowing how to navigate them. Now that they have arrived in their freedoms what next? Should they divvy up their freedoms for a political settlement? Or should they willfully borrow from a mummified past to create a new future or even worse will the long evicted gory traditions of the past come visiting with their calling cards? Like what happens in Kadare’s Spring Flowers, Spring Frost.
In the town of B- Albania, artist Mark Gurabardhi is painting the tip of the iceberg that did the Titanic in and also, his girlfriend in the nude. He works in the City Arts centre where everything is discussed threadbare. In the old days “in the fear of the state, people altered their opinions to fit the official sources.” The Sigurimi, the state security network, kept tabs on people and was quick to shoot down dissent. But now that they were free, Albanians could not be bothered with official opinion and changed their view every day. People whispered about extra special meetings that took place though it hadn’t. “Mark put them (rumours) down initially to the mental muddle fostered by the psychotic atmosphere of the times.” Sometimes the atmosphere is just as stifling as the Communist years.
Mark learns from his girlfriend about the revival of the ancient law of the Kanun. Kanun, the law of vendetta, was prohibited during the Communist era but now it had got a new life and her family was entangled in a blood debt that had been lying dormant for fifty years. And her brother Angelin must take revenge with a single shot. But what Mark had not imagined was how close the Kanun would strike. Angelin’s target is his boss, the director.
Khadre’s play of chapter and counter-chapter aids in weaving myth and folklore into the novel effectively…