This book by Albania’s foremost author and the inaugural winner of the Man Booker International Prize is an intriguing murder-mystery that spins on one question. The Designated Successor to the country’s all-powerful leader, The Guide, has been found dead in his bedroom. Did he commit suicide or was he murdered?
Although names are sparse in this hauntingly ambiguous book, it is based on actual events in Albania; Mehmet Shehu, the man groomed to succeed the hated dictator Enver Hoxha, was found dead shortly before he was due to take over. Kadare’s novel is underpinned by his conversations with the son of Shehu, but it is much more than a dramatic reconstruction or an historical re-imagining. Kadare combines elements of Albanian myth and folklore with magical realist dream sequences and even throws in the old thriller trope of the ‘locked room conundrum’ – The Successor’s bedroom was locked from the inside and there are hints of a secret tunnel linking his house with that of The Guide.
In the despotic nightmare that was the Albanian state, rumour and foreboding substituted for fact and edict, as the people anxiously sought signs of what the death might mean in terms of a power shift among their leaders. Kadare is ably served by both of his translators, who adroitly preserve the atmosphere of claustrophobic menace. The Successor, in its avoidance of explicit description, accurately evokes what it is like to live in a constant state of fear inside a totalitarian system, both for the people and for their ostensible rulers.