The Successor

Ismail Kadare’s story about power, its decline, and the death of a dictator is reminiscent of Kafka. But the menace of the book is not metaphorical, since it is based on real events in Tirana in 1981 when Mehmet Shehu, the designated successor to the ailing dictator Enver Hoxha, was found dead in suspicious circumstances. Weaving reportage with fantasy, the winner of the inaugural Man Booker International Prize has produced ‘a mesmerically readable parable about the abuse of state power’, wrote Ian Thompson.

Thomas Jones writes:

The Successor, written nearly twenty years after Agamemnon’s Daughter but published in English a year earlier, is a sequel of sorts. At dawn on 14 December of an unspecified year in the early 1980s, Suzana’s father, the Designated Successor, is found dead in his bedroom. He has been shot, though whether by himself or another is not clear. Whoever might have fired the gun, all the principal characters – as the police investigation is closed and reopened and closed again, the body buried and exhumed and buried again, the Successor fêted as a martyr then condemned as a traitor, the family heaped with sympathy then sent into exile – blame themselves for the Successor’s death. His daughter, at whose engagement party the Successor first began to fall out of favour with the Guide; the architect who remodelled his house; the minister of the interior, who may have been seen entering the house on the night of the assassination, though he has no clear memory of what happened during those hours; the ghost of the Successor himself: all believe that the chain of events that led to his death began with something they did.

(LRB 6 September 2007)

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