Teaching ‘Broken April’ or ‘Leo Africanus?”

If by chance you are studying either of these texts–Broken April by Ismail Kadare or Leo Africanus by Amin Maalouf–I’ve two suggestions of supplementary materials that can enhance both your work with students and also with their Interactive Orals.

I know that Kadare’s work is the more popular of the two, and I’ve had both the experience of including it in Part 1 with great success and of reading Written Assignments that handle it successfully, the latter as an examiner.  The Maalouf is much less often chosen, I think, regrettably.  First, it is a wonderful old-fashioned narrative that students read with ease and interest and certainly expands their understanding of the Renaissance world around the European and African mediterranean region. Secondly, it is a fine introduction to the Muslim and Christian contexts of the time, along with Maalouf’s subtext about being a citizen of the world. And finally, it is based on the actual author of the first geography of Africa, al-Hasan al Wazzan who, by many adventures and contretemps, became known as Leo Africanus. Obviously, there are rich contextual and cultural materials for Interactive Orals here that can well serve one of our purposes in the course, to expand our students’ sense of the world through their study of literature.

There is even an account of a study abroad trip which traced the travels of Leo which can be found here.

In addition there is an excellent work by Natalie Zemon Davis, Trickster Travels: A Sixteenth Century Muslim between Worlds. Re-reading this study prompted me to recommend Maalouf’s work to you.

Broken April is a novel that is much more commonly used in Part 1 and a work that also seems to engage students.  Its account is of the blood feuds of the high mountains of Albania and one man’s attempt to deal with them set against the experience of a honeymooning couple from the city. It works very well as an unpredictable and somewhat exotic narrative. The setting is one with which many of us are unfamiliar and I was given a book by a peace corp volunteer which provides an interesting perspective on the time of the Albanian dictator, Enver Hoxha, something which that has relevance to the background of Kadare’s novel.  It is by a New Zealander who traveled to Albania and uncovered not only the story of Hoxha’s double, but explored the fate of the Albanian people during his reign.  The writer is Lloyd Jones, and the title is Biografi, the name given to the files kept on people by the secret police during Hoxha’s reign.  There is much to interest students, perhaps, in all this and certain sections of the work could certainly round out a broader picture of Albania.

The backdrops of  both these novels are very deep wells, but I hope I may have given you the incentive to consider lowering a bucket and looking at one or both of these works and their contexts.

  • Brian Chanen
    October 22, 2016

    Hi Hannah,

    Thanks for this. I may be doing a last-minute change to Broken April. My school has always done The Sorrow of War (gives us something in the neighborhood) but it was grouped with other texts with no kind of logic (literary, thematic, cultural). I added Szymborska poetry and a work by Bolano, Amulet, that is relatively new to the PLT. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Bolano is going to work–doesn’t have much for the kids to hold on to. I think adding Broken April will work. I think it, along with Sorrow and Szymborska gives us a sense of dealing with trauma, violence, relationships affected by social conditions.

    By the way, I find this blog useful and have even had my students read a couple!

    talk soon,

    • Hannah Tyson
      February 25, 2017

      I just found, Brian, that the Kadare worked very well at both levels of the course and produced some really sensible essays, where the students really showed a grasp of what they were reading, not just a kind of struggle with material that was too elusive for them.

  • Katherine Smith
    October 26, 2016

    Thanks for the insight. I am teaching Broken April for the 2nd time this year. The students frequently discuss whether or not the Kanun as a traditional codex should be eliminated. It is the same for Gjorg (the protagonist), who is forced to live the law, but is seeking some kind of escape (perhaps in the form of Dianna). This question of modernity v. tradition is an excellent exploration for them as well as gaining some insight on a cultural tradition foreign to them as young adults.

    I wonder if you could tell me how you incorporate the aspects of Hoxha into the study. I am aware that the setting is the 30s, and publication is ’78- which obviously influences Kadare’s view of the world. Are you suggesting that students explore the influence of communism on the work as a whole- despite the northern plateau being impacted very little by the regime?

    Thank you,

    • Hannah Tyson
      February 25, 2017

      Replying very late, Katherine. I had a couple of very interesting interactive orals, one which really looked at Hoxha and also about Kadare’s role under his regime. So while the isolation on the plateau may not have been seriously impacted by the politics of the state as a whole, Kadare certainly seems to have been. Another very helpful IO pried us out of our likely attitudes about the blood feuds with a look around the world at equally reprehensible ways in which people live together.

    • Hannah Tyson
      October 29, 2017

      A late reply, Katherine: I’m not sure we can go very far with Hoxha and the novel, but I did find my students were quite interested in the IOs which addressed his rule, and raised some new ideas about their perceptions of Kadare.

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