ALTAI by Wu Ming


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More historical fiction alla Bolognese by the Italian committee.

Q, the eponymous hero of the collective’s first offering (under the moniker Luther Blissett), is a man of parts. So is Emmanuele De Zante, who may or may not be a Jew, may or may not be a Venetian, may or may not be on the side of the Turks in the looming war pitting East against West in the mid-16th century. As the tale opens, an explosion has racked Venice—always a topical tale—and the question immediately looms whether the Turks are involved. Those wily Ottomans are an elusive prey, though, and De Zante, who narrates, is a spy to catch out spies, even if innocents are caught in the crossfire and even if De Zante immediately postulates “an enemy other than the Turks.” Ah, but who might that be? There’s always Joseph Nasi, Venetian public enemy No. 1, into whose orbit De Zante is swiftly drawn. Who is De Zante, who is Nasi, and where is the Anabaptist? The action travels smack into the middle of the Battle of Lepanto and smack into the harems of Constantinople, but there are some doldrums in midcourse, as if the young Italian writers couldn’t quite figure out which among them was responsible for tightening the dramatic arc. That said, there’s plenty of intrigue, a bit of metacommentary (and metasituations, as with the presence of a shadowy English spy to foreshadow the later relations of Brits and Turks), and oodles of verisimilitude to carry the tale to its clear-as-mud conclusion.

If you like your historical fiction with plenty of explosions and Turkish-inflected interjections (“I do not doubt that our Muezzinzade Ali Pahsa...will be able to stand up to the infidels”), this is right up your alley.

Pub Date: April 9th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-78168-076-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Verso
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2013


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