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The Traitor’s Niche

A Novel

Translated by John Hodgson

List Price: $16.95

June 11, 2019 | Paperback | 5.5 x 8.2, 208 pages | ISBN 9781640092020
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LONG-LISTED FOR THE 2017 MAN BOOKER INTERNATIONAL PRIZE

“Grimly comic . . . Brilliant and laconic.” —The New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice

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.

About Ismail Kadare

ISMAIL KADARE is Albania's best-known novelist and poet. Translations of his novels have appeared in more than forty countries. He was awarded the inaugural Man Booker International Prize in 2005, and the Jerusalem Prize in 2015.

JOHN HODGSON studied at Cambridge and Newcastle and has taught at the universities of Prishtina and Tirana. This is the fifth novel by Ismail Kadare that he has translated.

Praise

"The quest for a rebel pasha's severed head becomes a grimly comic comment in John Hodgson's translation of this brilliant and laconic 1978 Albanian novel, an allegorical fable about 20th-century authoritarianism."—The New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice

"If A Girl in Exile, with its reckoning of the moral compromises made under totalitarianism, is typical of Mr. Kadare's post-Communist writing, The Traitor's Niche (Counterpoint, 200 pages, $25) exemplifies the remarkable multilayered fiction he created during Hoxha's rule . . . Like A Girl in Exile, the translation is by John Hodgson, who has superbly captured Mr. Kadare's mixture of stark expository writing and sudden swerves into hallucinatory imagery . . . The book's political intentions are shrewd and unmistakable. By depicting the corruption and whimsical cruelty of the Ottoman Empire, Mr. Kadare smuggles in a damning appraisal of Albanian Communism . . . Its evocation of the past feels both contemporary (tourists flock to Istanbul to gawk at the severed head, and you can almost imagine them taking cellphone photos) and outside of time. Mr. Kadare has more in common with William Faulkner, a writer who spins mythology out of regional legends. This, too, is a moral project as well as an artistic one. In The Traitor's Niche, Mr. Kadare delineates the Ottoman Empire's efforts to vouchsafe subservience by expunging Albania of its language and customs. This unforgettable novel adds to his lifelong work of cultural reclamation. The past is uncannily present in his books--a phantom that walks among the living, or a severed head that seems to lock you in its gaze."—The Wall Street Journal

"The novel relentlessly exposes the impact of authoritarianism, showing how it crushes the human spirit--including, perhaps most perniciously, the souls of those who aspire to be autocrats. Reading the book today, one can understand the response it provoked from the communist censors, since its critique, though displaced in time, is clearly directed at Hoxha's regime. Yet the story is also a more encompassing parable of authoritarianism that is relevant far beyond its immediate historical moment . . . Kadare also shows a unique talent at peering inside the mind of a tyrant . . . In The Traitor's Niche, as in all his best works, Kadare powerfully evokes--and critiques--the sheer, irascible strangeness of unchecked power."—Los Angeles Review of Books

"Finally (and very elegantly) translated . . . Riveting."—The New York Times Book Review

"Forty years after its publication in Albanian, the English translation by John Hodgson is effective in relaying the creative naturalism of his informal, though skillfully poetic, idiosyncratic tone . . . Kadare's fiction intuits the spirt of the art movements of his day, orbiting the dark ambiance of indie cinema, goth punk, shock installation. The gift of Kadare as a writer is also not merely in the aesthetics of his language, but in the rudimentary transmission of deft, witty meaning, and deeply satirical commentary."—Matt Hanson, The Millions

"Kadare's Traitor's Niche is a short, rich, thickly described indictment of empire, nationalism, and the state, a timely meditation on the violences of bureaucracy, corruption, and the injustice of justice."—PopMatters

"This is a mesmerising story filled with rapidly drawn, memorable characters and vivid descriptions of architecture and desolate landscapes. It is a fable while also a portrait of subjugation."—The Financial Times

"Although on the surface this is a deeply compelling historical novel, its scope is wider. At heart, what Kadare seeks to demonstrate is the terrible nature of a world in which every human element is suborned to the state . . . Kadare well deserves his growing European audience."—Daily Telegraph

"An extraordinary and complex novel whose time has come . . . 40 years after its initial publication [in Albanian.]"—Herald

"The baroque madness of the Ottoman bureaucracy is beautifully drawn, and the characters are sketched well. Each time you find yourself hoping against hope that you aren't meeting the next occupant of the niche."—Historical Novel Society

"In John Hodgson's lucid translation, The Traitor's Niche is absorbing from start to finish. Kadare's allegorical burlesque has rarely been so trenchant."—Spectator

"The novel is a hymn to language, something that, as Ottoman bureaucrats intent on obliterating it instinctively know, and as Kadare's novels prove, is not easily silenced."—Claire Allfree, Daily Mail

"Forty years after its original publication in Albanian, Man Booker International Prize winner Ismail Kadare's book is finding an enthusiastic readership in English. Translated by John Hodgson, this allegorical novel of tyranny and rebellion is set in the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, but its story of subordination to the state is timeless. 'Kafka on a grander political scale, ' said the The Sunday Times."—The Globe and Mail, One of the Coolest Books of the Season

"[A] bewitching novel."—Daily Telegraph, Best Books for Summer 2017

"As in many of Kadare's novels, there is an interplay between repressive silence and the insatiable need to speak. The empire's powerful bureaucratic apparatus is set on eliminating national languages and repressing dissident memories. Still, folk stories, gossip and niggling questions can't be controlled . . . It's possible that Kadare, now 80, won't be granted the Nobel Prize for Literature. Yet The Traitor's Niche shows how surely his best novels warrant it."—The National

"The Traitor's Niche . . . in a superb translation by John Hodgson, encompasses the whole of Albania and sweeps through the Ottoman landscape, offering a damning indictment of the nature of empire and its effects on subjugated peoples. The banning of language and culture; the loss of personality and autonomy; the obliteration of memory; the denigration of native myths and legends: these things will be familiar to many colonised peoples. Kadare captures all this and more in his unique style . . . which suffuses absurdity and tragedy."—The Literary Review

"Aside from the gallows (or should that be guillotine?) humour and the wry send-up of the mechanical banalities of governance, this novel is principally concerned with those signature Kadare preoccupations: nationhood, tyranny and memory. Kadare's engagement with these themes earned him the inaugural Man Booker International Prize for a body of work in 2005."—The Irish Times

"Kadare offers a representation of the nature of fascism and warfare that digs below the surface, that allows for a deeper understandings of political processes, and that could help conceptualise this new era of racialised neo-nationalism that we stand at the precipice of today."—Wasafiri

"The narrative unfurls with the shifting intensity of a dream, enriched by unsettlingly surreal details . . . It is a brilliant examination of the way that authoritarian structures operate: Kafka on a grander political scale."—Sunday Times

"With its allegorical style, dark humor, and muscular commentary on contemporary Albania under Enver Hoxha, it is very much classic Kadare."—Booklist

"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."—Publishers Weekly

"A political fable of decapitation amid totalitarian oppression combines wickedly funny satire with darker, deeper lessons . . . The only signs that it's set in the early 19th century are offhand references to Byron and Napoleon; otherwise it reads less like historical fiction than timeless prophecy, as it anticipates the relentless expansion of an empire."—Kirkus Reviews

"This piercingly beautiful work quietly delivers a persuasive sense of human violence."—Library Journal

"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

"Ismail Kadare is one of Europe's most consistently interesting and powerful contemporary novelists, a writer whose stark, memorable prose imprints itself on the reader's consciousness."—The Los Angeles Times

"[Kadare's] fiction offers invaluable insights into life under tyranny . . . But his books are of more than just political statement--at his best he is a great writer, by any nation's standards."—Financial Times

"Kadare's fiction evades ideologies, escaping into richer realms of the past, or myth, folklore and dystopian fantasy."—Spectator

"Ismail Kadare is this generation's Kafka."—Independent

"He has been compared to Gogol, Kafka, and Orwell. But Kadare's is an original voice, universal yet deeply rooted in his own soil."—Independent on Sunday

"Ismail Kadare made his name as a forceful example of how to function as a writer under late communism. He trod a delicate line between censorship and lies by critiquing the Stalinism of Enver Hoxha's Albania through fable, allegory and historical transposition, sometimes throwing the dictator a bone, and escaping dissident status by virtue of his international success."—Independent

"A Master storyteller."—John Carey, author of The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life

"One of the world's greatest living writers."—Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of One Night in Winter

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