The Case of Cem


“A brilliant and polyphonic novel in which each chapter offers a new point of view, adds a new dimension. A story told through the voices of the living and the dead. A novel that today sounds very topical in the context of contemporary writing and the European East.” Georgi Gospodinov, author of Time Shelter

“A beefy historical fiction told in individual testimony so it reads like an oral history. . . . inherently exploring how history is always a story.” —Josh Cook, author of The Art of Libromancy and Porter Square Books co-owner and bookseller

“A book that—like the great novels of Ismail Kadare or Orhan Pamuk—belongs to the world […] A reader like me reads it for seven days, trying to lengthen the 540 pages of the novel as much as possible.” —Miljenko Jergović, author of Kin

“With a sense of portent nigh on apocryphal, Mutafchieva’s novel is in fact a story of the internal other: the stranger within, against whom we base our own self-image. . . . Mutafchieva is comparing Cem to that great other of Europe: the Balkans. In her telling, the Balkans are everything that Western Europe is not.” —Full Stop

The Case of Cem is a daring blend of court intrigue, tragedy, and historical fact that masterfully captures complex layers of history in its prose and reads like an epic. Just as prevalently, though, it is a reflection on memory, identity, homeland, and what it means to lose them.”—Asymptote Journal

“[W]e see that the straightforward story of rebellion we thought we were reading is in fact going to be a much subtler and more somber meditation on what happens when an individual is unlucky enough to get caught up in the dehumanizing operations of History.” —Los Angeles Review of Books


It’s 1481, and as seen from the centers of power in Rome and Venice, the cultures of Europe are under threat from the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. When the exalted Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror dies, his eldest son, Bayezid, takes the throne. However, discontented factions within the Ottoman army urge Mehmed’s second son, Cem, a well-educated and experienced warrior, to oppose his brother’s  ascension, igniting a ruthless power struggle and forcing Cem into long years of exile, a pawn for European rulers who are desperate to preserve the order they have imposed on the continent over the course of centuries.

The Case of Cem, Vera Mutafchieva’s celebrated novel of court intrigue, maintains lasting resonance for being a personal exploration of emigration and loss set in the historical era during which the politics of the East and West were sketched out with utter clarity. These early lines of demarcation, as voiced through Christian and Muslim emissaries, greedy leaders, unflinching soldiers, and lyrical poets, have indelibly influenced the world as we know it today.

Read Angela Rodel’s Translator’s Note at Lit Hub.


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