cover image The Traitor’s Niche

The Traitor’s Niche

Ismail Kadare, trans. from the Albanian by John Hodgson. Counterpoint (PGW, dist.), $25 (208p) ISBN 978-1-64009-044-6

Forty years after its first publication, Kadare’s magisterial novel is available in English. Set during the height of the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople, the novel opens by introducing Abdullah, who tends to the niche in a Constantinople square where the heads of the empire’s enemies are displayed for tourists and to discourage would-be rebels. But Albania still resists Ottoman rule under the leadership of Ali Tepelena, its governor. After he is executed, his head is entrusted to courier Tunj Hata, who is charged with bringing it to the Traitor’s Niche. On the way, Hata has surreal adventures while earning a little extra money by displaying the head at the small villages between Albania and his destination at the heart of the empire. Once Hata’s quest is completed, Kadare turns his attention to those whose cultures face extinction under the law, cutting between Hata, Abdullah, the late Ali in his final hours, and Ali’s wife Vasiliqia. In so doing, Kadare brilliantly examines the private cost of despotism while illustrating a crucial episode in the history of Albania. Kadare’s powerful, nimble novel is a gem. (June)