Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Review: The Traitor's Niche by Ismail Kadare

The Traitor's Niche: A Novel
"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.

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."

This was an interesting read. Told in part via first person narrative it changes swiftly into third person narrative, and when you think you are following one voice, another steps forward.

Having said that, this novel takes place in predominantly in the Ottoman capital of Istanbul and in Albania, on the outskirts of the Ottoman Empire c.1800s. Rebellion is in the air, and the Ottoman Pashas are sent out to bring back the heads of the rebels (to be displayed in the traitors niche) or fill that void with their own.

To that end our narrators are one Abdullah, Keeper of the Traitors Niche (ie: caretaker of the featured severed head); Hurshid Pasha, who is sent out to captured the traitor, Black Ali; and Tundj Hata, the courier of the severed heads, and a man who enjoys his job a little too much. Each man tells his tale, giving us a glimpse into the fragile, yet tempestuous and dynamic Ottoman political and social scene.

As I said, it is an interesting story, translated from Albanian by John Hodgson. It may not be written in the style you are most used too, but perservere - the fates of of narrators are in your hands.

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