The Successor by Ismael Kadare

★★★★☆ (4/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • As often happens to people who stave off asking dangerous questions by showing uncommon interest in matters they believe much safer, gossipers kept on circling back to the issue of whether or not what was forbidden to others might be permitted the Successor.
  • But poison would have tasted sweet compared to the true horror of such event! An event that would have plunged Albania into everlasting sorrow. For it would have signified a relaxation of the class struggle, and that would have borne a blow to the very heart of what had been the country’s pride for more than forty years. The country’s very Constitution, the foundation of its victories and its fame, rested solely on the principle of ever greater firmness, of never letting up!
  • The Albania files had come to give their users such troubles that, even if they did not admit it to themselves, their desire to see the short-term upheaval in the country settle down, and to see those files once again gathering dust, became almost noticeable.
  • The only way you can get a grip on a place overcome by paranoia is by becoming a little paranoid yourself.
  • Any other desk would be better, even one with an abysmal reputation, like the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation, or some African countries with frontiers that were less a reflection of political changes than of the desert winds, as they had been centuries earlier.
  • It was his third unearthing! Every tack and turn in the political line exercised its primary effect on human remains, not on the national economy.
  • The kind of freedom that humans call “the peace of the grave”, without really appreciating it insofar as they usually experience it only as they die, had, in this particular case, become available to him a little ahead of time.
  • Out of the corner of his eye he studied her wavy auburn hair, as if he was trying to guess what path the thoughts beneath it were taking.
  • He and his comrades had other kinds of pleasures, what with their congresses, their flags, their anthems, and their cemetery of National Martyrs, whereas she only had him…his body…his inexhaustible body…
  • He took the view that crimes moved house with people, until they found walls within which they could hide. If the crimes hadn’t been committed within these walls, then they had taken place elsewhere.
  • His father’s blood was different from blood that had been spilled, it flowed in a different direction, belonged to a different group. Just as their mother’s breasts were different. His father, his mother, his blood, her milk, were ruled by different laws.
  • Everything seemed to her to come down to one blinding, unbearable core: for years, in one way or another, what had been required of her was always one and the same thing – to renounce her love. And they always won.
  • Meanwhile, the cleaners who were clearing up the meeting halls, opening doors and windows to let in some air, were surprised by the odd smell that filled the place. It was different from the odour of feet, sheep-wax, and sour milk they had encountered after the assembly of top-ranking herders. It was another smell, one that had been getting more common recently. It was the smell bodies make when they are afraid.
  • An unhealthy knot made of strands of blind rancour and of unreleased imprecations like: are you standing around so as to get a better view of my fall?
  • The text he finally retrieved was quite brief. According to its author, the brain of a tyrant often worked according to what might be called the “architecture of terror”. Terror was constructed backwards, like dreams, which is to say, starting from the end. Then, in a flash, sometimes in a mere second or even less, the entire part was suddenly filled in.
  • Knowing the secrets of everybody around you was indisputably a blessing, but not knowing them was close to sublime. He’d only recently come to understand that, and it left him in a state of great calm. His blindness had no doubt helped him toward such serenity.
  • First they felt like applauding him, then they fell into silent lamentation, then joy regained the upper hand! Oh Guide, Oh our leader, tell us what irks thee! They pleaded in their minds. Tell us all you know about that Judas, even if it’s hard for you. Feed us the poison with your own hand, watch us writhing in pain like chimeras, watch us fall on one another, tearing our neighbours’ flesh with our teeth; then, as breath leaves us, crawl to your feet and lie there until we die.
  • Pain and entreaty were writ so large on her face that I swore to myself I would never again yield to temptation.
  • Sometimes when I looked over the drawings I said to myself: this is the residence of a Communist sovereign. A private dwelling in a country where collective property is the rule. An androgynous building half build under the monarchy, and built now. That’s why it had such a foreign look, like something from very far away. Like a dream.
  • There is no art without grieving. Which is precisely what constitutes its sombre greatness.
  • Why are we looking to the grave to order current affairs? Was it so exceptional for mortals to die in defiance of the established order?
  • We are but the offspring of a great disorder in the universe. And as we came into the world, by mistake, in accursed cohorts, on each other’s coattails, with one us now in the lead, now in second place, now Guide and now Successor, so we began our long march through blood and ashes toward you.

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