One other author came to mind while reading this intriguing and bizarre novel: Milan Kundera. There are a lot of similarities between Kadare and Kundera. Both infuse their work with a particularly distinct Eastern European surrealism and weirdness - where things are never what they appear to be, time shifts from past to present and back again with a blink of an eye and most notably, their work is cloaked in symbolism and meaning which the reader has to sort out through a very close reading of the text. Kadare is from Albania and there are a lot of allusions to the nutty, paranoid reign of its longtime communist dictator Enver Hoxha. However, “The Accident” is set in the post- Hoxha era and deals quite heavily with the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo (although not specifically referred to other than a few mentions of the bombing of Serbia).
The novel begins as a mystery. A couple is killed in a traffic accident while riding in the back of a taxi along the autobahn somewhere in Austria. The driver sees something - something which will remain a crucial part of the mystery - in the rearview mirror which causes the car to go off the road, killing both passengers. The driver survives and a whole host of people become interested in finding out what really happened, everyone from the police, to Albanian and Serbian intelligence agencies, to the Israeli intelligence services, who had their eye on one of the passengers, Besfort Y., for making troubling statements about Israel. The other passenger, Rovena St., is something of a mystery - Besfort’s companion who’s identity is never really fully fleshed out other than her “suffering” under the weight of Besfort’s personality and mystery of his own.
This is where the novel becomes enveloped in fog and the bulk of the story is focused on the relationship between Rovena and Besfort Y. It jumps around in time, perspectives switch without warning, and you get the impression that the narrative is nothing more than speculation or an imagining of the events that may or may not have taken place. There are allusions to a love triangle story within the pages of Don Quixote, Greek myths, Hoxha’s Albania, international events surrounding the war with Serbia, and you are not quite sure what’s going on at times. Is Besfort Y the man the unnamed “researcher” - who is trying to piece together this story - you think he is? Is Rovena who she appears to be? Everything is cloaked in uncertainty and ambiguity and perhaps this is Kadare’s allusion to Hoxha’s Albania as a whole - a parable of sorts trying to come to grips with a post-Hoxha Albania and the changing nature of the Balkans as a whole?
The way in which the characters interact remind me of how Kundera treats his love affairs in his novels and although Kadare can be a little melodramatic at times, he delves into the deepest inner workings of how complicated relationships can be - and Lord knows the relationship between Besfort and Rovena is extremely complex. This is a novel that will get you thinking, for sure, and perhaps repeated readings will tease out all the nuances and symbolism.