cover image Omer Pasha Latas

Omer Pasha Latas

Ivo Andrić, trans. from the Serbo-Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth. New York Review Books, $16.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-68137-252-5

This excellent novel from Nobel Prize–winning Andrić (1892–1975), never before translated into English, unfurls a vivid story set in 1850s Bosnia. The merciless Ottoman commander Seraskier Omer Pasha Latas has descended on the vizier-controlled Sarajevo with his army, bringing conquest, tyranny, and reform. But the Seraskier is not all he seems—in his former existence, he was Mićo Latas, a Serbian Christian who fled to Istanbul, converted to Islam, and rose to power under the Sultan. Readers get to know Omer, a fractured, enigmatic conqueror, through the eyes of his allies and foes: master painter Karas, summoned from Germany to immortalize Omer; irresistible harem member Saida Hanuma; Omer’s reliable yes-man Muhsin-Effendi; and chief cook Kostake Nenishanu, who is drawn into perpetrating an unspeakable crime. As the varied pasts of these characters are illuminated, a hodgepodge epic of the Ottoman Empire emerges, half The Red and the Black and half a sprawling meditation on identity, power, and corruption. Of special interest is Andrić’s grasp of the overlapping Christian, Jewish, and Muslim worlds. The novel can occasionally come off as unfocused; nevertheless, this is a peerless look at an often overlooked piece of world history. [em](Sept.) [/em]