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Spring Flowers, Spring Frost (Panther) [Paperback]

Ismail Kadare , David Bellos
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
RRP: £9.99
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Book Description

29 Aug 2002 Panther
As spring arrives in the Albanian mountain town of B-, some strange things are emerging in the thaw. Bank robbers strike the National Bank. The ghastly Kanun, regulator of medieval Albania's blood vendettas, is dredged up from the shipwreck of history. And the ultra-explosive secrets of the state archives, rumoured to be buried in the area, are threatening to flood the entire nation. As Mark, an artist, struggles to complete portraits of his inextricably disturbed girlfriend and of the iceberg that struck the Titanic, he finds the dreamy, peaceful rhythms of his life turned upside down by ancient love and modern barbarism, by the renaissance of Brezhnev and Oedipus and by the peculiar brutality of a country surprised and divided by its new freedom.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Press (29 Aug 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860469892
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860469893
  • Product Dimensions: 21.4 x 13.2 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,027,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"One of the many pleasures of Mr Kadare's writing is his supremely light touch" (New York Times)

"The themes are so sinister, the prose so genial. Post-communist disillusion and southern playfulness are blended here with such skill and subtlety that one almost fails to register Kadare's shocking originality" (Independent on Sunday)

"One of Europe's great writers" (Los Angeles Times)

"He has been compared to Gogol, Kafka and Orwell. But Kadare is an original voice, universal, yet deeply rooted in his own soul" (Independent on Sunday) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

'He has been compared to Gogol, Kafka and Orwell. But Kadare's is an original voice, universal yet deeply rooted in his own soul' Independent on Sunday

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Addictive, simple and entrancing. 9 Jun 2005
Format:Paperback
Any book that makes a 45-minute journey on a crowded Tube train vanish apparently into seconds is truly beguiling and entrancing.
The book is deceptively simple and easy to read yet has layers of surrealism and philosophising that will have you pondering for weeks afterwards and going back to read specific pages.
It works for anyone who has wondered if they're in the right relationship or job or for anyone considering the eternal questions of life.
Put simply, it is unlike anything else you'll ever read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Spring Flowers, Spring Frost leaves me cold... 6 Jan 2011
Format:Paperback
I have to say that I was a little perplexed by the Albanian book "Spring Flowers, Spring Frost" by Ismail Kadare. On the face of it, this work should have been fascinating: a contemporary work exploring the social upheavals of Albanian society since the demise of communism there, a native - and well respected - author (compared in the blurb to Orwell, Kafka and Gogol, no less) and an interesting premise: the return of Albania's notorious Kanun 'blood laws'.

These laws were developed pre-communism and have indeed seen a resurgence of such since communism's fall. Whilst these are actually a complicated set of feudal laws relating to social relationships and land ownership; this novel focuses on the blood law element that states: "someone is allowed to kill another person to avenge an earlier murder or moral humiliation."

However, in the context of this novel, it is used more as a device to explore the inner torment and anxieties of the work's (largely unsympathetic) protagonist - the artist Mark Gurabardhi.

And there, for me, is the problem. Whilst reading this work I did gain a glimpse of life in contemporary Albania - the coffee shops, the occasional black-outs of small village life, the left-over paranoia from the communist era - yet I never felt engaged with the plot. For a start Mark is a particularly unlikeable character who - through his own unwillingness to engage with events around him - impedes our own attempts to immerse ourselves in the plot. He is also particularly misogenistic towards his (possibly pregnant) girlfriend which - coupled with his rather unsettling fantasies about her possible incestuous infidelity with her brother - serve only to alienate the reader even further.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What is real? 7 Jan 2007
Format:Paperback
After 40 years of Enver Hohxa's totalitarian rule the new democracy came in many fits and starts to Albania. Ismail Kadare explores the conflicts and contradictions left over from the old regime in a remote mountain town. People are still disappearing never to be heard from again. The secret police appears to remain in place and operating in the shadows. The blood feuds of the ancient rule book, the "Kanun", are rumoured to being revived. And the stories that the ominous secret state archives are hidden in vaults in the local area won't die. In this tense and confusing time, Mark Gurabardhi, a portrait artist, strives to live a "normal" life. With Spring Flowers, Spring Frost, Kadare has created an intriguing and engrossing story of realities and imaginations during a complicated period in his homeland. Kadare, who resides in France, was the inaugural recipient of the Booker International Prize and has only since then become better known in the English speaking world.

In "Spring Flowers, Spring Frost", history and legends mix with the banal day-to-day events of the protagonist's life. Greek mythological characters, such as Tantalus and Oedipus, mix with historical figures such as Brezhnev. The iceberg that was rammed by the Titanic takes on consciousness and presents its perspective of the tragedy. In his nightmares, Mark is imagining himself in an alternative role of a secret police officer. Or does he actually lead a double life and these are not dreams? Mark's model and girlfriend has secrets of her own that make her aloof and possibly dangerous to Mark. Can he help at all? Meanwhile his friend Zef is still missing... Kadare succeeds in creating an atmosphere of insecurity and suspense. Facts and imaginings increasingly intermingle, thus creating new realities.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Picture of an uneasy society 15 Nov 2005
By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I have been a devotee of Kadare’s previous books (and this one, like those, has been beautifully translated, this time by David Bellos); but I am afraid I found this one less satisfying. Unlike his other books, the treatment here can only be described as surrealistic. He moves between a number of themes - the story of Tantalus, the story of Oedipus, the sinking of the Titanic, an Albanian fable by which a young girl is married to a snake - whose relationship to the main story can perhaps be worked out by readers more sensitive than I am. And one never knows quite where one is, whether in a dream world or a real world, whether the central character is an artist or a deputy chief or police or both. The book also ends inconclusively: one’s expectation that the fate of the characters will be resolved is not fulfilled.
I take the main theme of the book to be the disappointment with what happened in Albania when the Communist dictatorship collapsed. The vacuum this left was in part filled by a revival of the Kanun, the ancient code, which the communists had suppressed, of unending bloody vendettas between families. Kadare has written about the Kanun before, in Broken April, where one of his characters showed a romantic fascination for its “noble savagery” (see my review of that book). Now there is no longer any half-acknowledged admiration: only despair that such barbarity wells up again from the remote past, even while the shadows of the communist past still hover over the society and the Council of Europe is an ineffectual occasional presence. The tyranny of communism has been ended; but this is a melancholic and often poetic image of a society that is uneasily adrift.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Picture of an uneasy society 15 Nov 2005
By Ralph Blumenau - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I have been a devotee of Kadare's previous books (and this one, like those, has been beautifully translated, this time by David Bellos); but I am afraid I found this one less satisfying. Unlike his other books, the treatment in this one can only be described as surrealistic. He moves between a number of themes - the story of Tantalus, the story of Oedipus, the sinking of the Titanic, an Albanian fable by which a young girl is married to a snake - whose relationship to the main story can perhaps be worked out by readers more sensitive than I am. And one never knows quite where one is, whether in a dream world or a real world, whether the central character is an artist or a deputy chief or police or both. The book also ends inconclusively: one's expectation that the fate of the characters will be resolved is not fulfilled.

I take the main theme of the book to be the disappointment with what happened in Albania when the Communist dictatorship collapsed. The vacuum this left was in part filled by a revival of the Kanun, the ancient code, which the communists had suppressed, of unending bloody vendettas between families. Kadare has written about the Kanun before, in Broken April, where one of his characters showed a romantic fascination for its "noble savagery" (see my review of that book). Now there is no longer any half-acknowledged admiration: only despair that such barbarity wells up again from the remote past, even while the shadows of the communist past still hover over the society and the Council of Europe is an ineffectual occasional presence. The tyranny of communism has been ended; but this is a melancholic and often poetic image of a society that is uneasily adrift.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What is real? 7 Jan 2007
By Friederike Knabe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
After 40 years of Enver Hohxa's totalitarian rule the new democracy came in many fits and starts to Albania. Ismail Kadare explores the conflicts and contradictions left over from the old regime in a remote mountain town. People are still disappearing never to be heard from again. The secret police appears to remain in place and operating in the shadows. The blood feuds of the ancient rule book, the "Kanun", are rumoured to being revived. And the stories that the ominous secret state archives are hidden in vaults in the local area won't die. In this tense and confusing time, Mark Gurabardhi, a portrait artist, strives to live a "normal" life. With Spring Flowers, Spring Frost, Kadare has created an intriguing and engrossing story of realities and imaginations during a complicated period in his homeland. Kadare, who resides in France, was the inaugural recipient of the Booker International Prize and has only since then become better known in the English speaking world.

In "Spring Flowers, Spring Frost", history and legends mix with the banal day-to-day events of the protagonist's life. Greek mythological characters, such as Tantalus and Oedipus, mix with historical figures such as Brezhnev. The iceberg that was rammed by the Titanic takes on consciousness and presents its perspective of the tragedy. In his nightmares, Mark is imagining himself in an alternative role of a secret police officer. Or does he actually lead a double life and these are not dreams? Mark's model and girlfriend has secrets of her own that make her aloof and possibly dangerous to Mark. Can he help at all? Meanwhile his friend Zef is still missing... Kadare succeeds in creating an atmosphere of insecurity and suspense. Facts and imaginings increasingly intermingle, thus creating new realities.

Kadare's Albanian work was doubly translated: into French and from that into English. The excellent work by David Bellos makes the reader forget the language distance between the original and this version. Bellos captures the style and tone exquisitely and conveys the rich and poetic language that Kadare has employed. Bellos' account of his discussion with Kadare and reflection on indirect translations are an interesting complement which, unfortunately is not reproduced in the book itself. [Friederike Knabe]
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What Fills the Vacuum When Dictatorship Is Removed? 29 Oct 2008
By Steve Koss - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
SPRING FLOWERS, SPRING FROST is without doubt Ismail Kadare's most ambitiously experimental novel. On one level, it is the chronological tale of a modestly successful painter named Mark Gurabardhi who lives in the Albanian town of B__ at the close of the Twentieth Century. The former Communist regime has fallen, and the springtime of a new way of life has arrived. New ways and old traditions are competing for primacy in the peoples' lives. As these changes unfold around him, Mark maintains an off again, on again relationship with a young woman who also models for him, but his life is otherwise rather empty of meaning. He works in the kind of cultural institute typical of socialist/communist states, but he has no meaningful relationships with anyone there. His lone friend, the mysterious Zef, never appears in the book, represented instead by his apartment's constantly unlit window as seen from the street.

On another level, however, Kadare presents a series of antic digressions that he labels Counter-Chapters. In one, a virginal young woman is married off by her family to a snake, although it turns out after the ceremony that the snake converts in the evenings into a handsome young husband who sheds his snakeskin for the marital bed. In another Counter-Chapter, the mythological Tantalus has stolen immortality from the gods, who hurriedly marshal their forces (including those of Death) to rein Tantalus in and ultimately punish him for the contrived and different offense of "voracity" based on an insatiable appetite. In yet another instance, Mark the painter becomes Mark the police investigator conducting an interrogation over a secret set of government files.

Kadare alternates these realities and infuses all of them with Kafkaesque characteristics and a sardonic humor about life in a dictatorial, socialist state. On one level, the end of the latest regime (presumably that of Albania's Enver Hoxha) signals limited new freedoms and even an awakening to Western Europe. Yet, at a deeper and more threatening level (as can be seen in present-day China), the removal of a heavy-handed dictatorship and police state opens the door to incipient anarchy. New values and old ways rush in to fill the void. For Kadare's Albania, the void is filled by a form of blood lust in the form of an ancient tradition called the Kanun, based on something called the Book of the Blood. Under these ancient rules, there are blood debts to be paid or exacted by one family against another by murder, but each such paid debt automatically creates a new one in its place, in the opposite direction. Kadare's protagonist inadvertently gets caught in the middle of one such debt and struggles to find a way out.

From its opening page image of two children uncovering a hibernating snake in wintertime, SPRING FLOWERS, SPRING FROST conveys an atmosphere of threat, of terrors and troubles lurking just beneath the surface of life. Kadare presents numerous references to caves, icebergs, tunnels, old chests hidden in closets, and coffins, suggesting that the most violent and anarchic of Albania's traditions lie forever dormant like hibernating snakes, waiting for the removal of authoritarian government in order to re-emerge. Yet even the most ancient and brutal of these practices must find a way to merge and meld with everything else forbidden under the former Communist Party rule, from unrestrained art to open political discussion.

In much the same vein, the author conveys a strong sense of smoldering sexuality lying dormant: the story of the virgin married to the snake/man, references to Oedipus Rex, overtly Freudian references to bush-shrouded cave entrances, and even allusions to Beatrice, Dante's guide to Paradise in the Divine Comedy. In Kadare's world, all are intertwined and all are relative, subject as much to the power of tradition as to the inscrutable power of the State. Mark Gurabardhi is as powerless to control his fate as is Kafka's Joseph K. The atmosphere is one of helplessness and abandonment. Surveying a birdless sky of motionless clouds, Mark thinks, "Things must have looked more or less like that when...the gods deserted earth. A sky bereft of its masters, a sky in mourning, stretching to infinity. Who knows why the gods left? Where in the universe did they go? Mark didn't know why, but he felt like crying."

As always with Kadare, an original and unforgettable tale of life we can hardly imagine in a place we can hardly understand.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A blending of elements 10 Jun 2007
By M. J. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
What do the thief of immortality from Mt. Olympius, Oedipus, an Albanian folktale of a snake-bride, the fall of Communism in Albanian, the death of the director of an art institute, blood-law and love have in common? Very little unless in the hands of a novelist as skillful as Kadare.

The very structure of the novel indicates a less-than-linear style. Chapter 1 is followed by Counter Chapter 1 etc. This structure permits Kadare to present a relatively simple and straight forward account of a love affair in the context of the post-Communist confusion of Albania. The protagonist, an artist assigned to the local town's art center, reminisces about the past - the "justice" and oppression. He explores his discomfort with the present. And, most importantly, he mulls over the universal questions raised about crime, death, punishment, freedom, oppression, ... in light of the material presented in the Counter Chapters. The Counter Chapters present the tales from mythology and folklore i.e. Tantulus, Oedipus, Snake-Bride.

The whole coheres splendidly. The book truly earned its awards: New York Times Notable Book, Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year, The Man Booker International Prize ...
5.0 out of 5 stars Ismail Kadare never fails to impress! 27 Jan 2014
By Klajdi Plasari - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
He is considered to be one of the best writers in the world. His writing style can be compared to the great Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Kafka's. While all of Mr. Kadare's books are written with a touch of class this one will certainly end up being a classic. I have read almost all of his books and I was very impressed by this one particularly.
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