Jason Goodwin in the New York Times:
After World War II, tiny Albania became a hermit state, rigidly controlled by a Stalinist dictator, Enver Hoxha, who broke with both the Soviet Union and Maoist China, desecrated the country’s mosques and churches and planted the beaches across from the Greek island of Corfu with pillboxes before his regime collapsed in 1990, five years after his death. But the Albanian writer Ismail Kadare’s 1978 novel, “The Traitor’s Niche,” is an allegorical fable, finally (and very elegantly) translated into English by John Hodgson, about an earlier Albania, which for centuries formed part of the sprawling Ottoman Empire.
The novel begins with a severed head sitting in a dish of honey. It occupies a special niche in a square of the imperial capital, Istanbul, where it outstares the milling crowds. The head belonged to a hapless pasha who failed to suppress a rebellion in the distant province of Albania; it is tended by Abdulla, the guardian of the heads, and regularly inspected for signs of decay by a benign doctor who also advises Abdulla on how to overcome his impotence.