As some of you might remember from my review of Ibrahim Abdel Meguid’s The House of Jasmine, I love it when one book counts towards three different reading challenges. Published in 2000 and set in the small Balkan nation of Albania, Spring Flowers, Spring Frost by award-winning Albanian poet and novelist Ismail Kadare fulfils the requirements of not only the Eastern European Reading Challenge, but also that of the European Reading Challenge in addition to the Global Reading Challenge. But as happy as I was to kill three birds with one stone, challenge-wise, nevertheless after reading Kadare’s novel I was left feeling disappointed. Even though Spring Flowers, Spring Frost was deemed a notable book by both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times and received glowing reviews from The New Yorker and the San Francisco Chronicle (not to mention that Kadare has been a Nobel Prize candidate on multiple occasions) this novel just didn’t do it for me.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s more than a few things to like about it. Set in Albania during the somewhat chaotic transitory period as the country moved from Communist totalitarianism towards a Western-style democracy, I thought Kadare did a pretty good job capturing the feelings of confusion and uncertainty one must have felt while living in Albania during the 90s. I also enjoyed Kadare’s use magical realism, drawing inspiration from both classical mythology and local folklore.
However, as daring and creative as Kadare was with Spring Flowers, Spring Frost overall I thought the novel lacked cohesion. Sometimes it felt choppy and at times the dialog seemed to suffer. The result is a novel that feels less than the sum of its parts. Fortunately Kadare is a prolific writer with a significant body of work. Perhaps the next novel of his I happen to read I will enjoy a bit more.