Kadare's political impact and significance have made him an oft-mentioned candidate in Nobel Prize handicapping.

THE TRAITOR'S NICHE

A political fable of decapitation amid totalitarian oppression combines wickedly funny satire with darker, deeper lessons.

One of a series of books by Albania’s premier novelist (Twilight of the Eastern Gods, 2014, etc.) that was banned in his homeland, this novel was published in 1978 but has only recently been translated into English. 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 “encompassing three continents, twenty-nine peoples, six religions, four races, and forty languages.”In the language of a fairy tale, “the empire was larger than the night. People said that when dusk fell at one end, dawn rose at the other.” The title refers to the spot in the town square where the severed heads of rebel leaders are displayed and preserved, offering a cautionary lesson to the visitors who flock to the spectacle. There are a pair of protagonists—Abdulla, who guards the heads as the “keeper of the Traitor’s Niche,” and Tundj Hata, the imperial courier sent to retrieve the heads and deliver them by horseback for their public display. The narrative concerns a rebellion and its aftermath in the outpost of Albania, which must then undergo the process by which all conquered peoples are absorbed into the empire. Thus, the “full erasure of national identity” encompasses “the reduction of the language into Nonspeak” and the eradication of all other forms of national culture. Though the guard and the courier never appear in the same scene, the novel’s resolution finds one in open rebellion, having gone mad, as the other continues with business as usual. The separation of the head from the body, or the intellect from the emotions, takes other forms than capital punishment.

Kadare's political impact and significance have made him an oft-mentioned candidate in Nobel Prize handicapping.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-64009-044-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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