LONG-LISTED FOR THE 2017 MAN BOOKER INTERNATIONAL PRIZE
"Kadare is inevitably linked to Orwell and Kundera, but he is a far deeper ironist than the first, and a better storyteller than the second. He is a compellingly ironic storyteller because he so brilliantly summons details that explode with symbolic reality." —The New Yorker
"The name of the Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare regularly comes up at Nobel Prize time, and he is still a good bet to win it one of these days . . . He is seemingly incapable of writing a book that fails to be interesting." —The New York Times
At the heart of the Ottoman Empire, in the main square of Constantinople, a niche is carved into ancient stone. Here, the sultan displays the severed heads of his adversaries. People flock to see the latest head and gossip about the state of the empire: the province of Albania is demanding independence again, and the niche awaits a new trophy . . .
Tundj Hata, the imperial courier, is charged with transporting heads to the capital—a task he relishes and performs with fervor. As he travels through obscure and impoverished territories, he makes money from illicit side-shows, offering villagers the spectacle of death. The head of the rebellious Albanian governor would fetch a very high price indeed.
The Traitor's Niche is a surreal tale of tyranny and rebellion, in a land where armies carry scarecrows, state officials ban entire languages, and the act of forgetting is more complicated than remembering.
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.