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Altai: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Wu Ming , Shaun Whiteside
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

Print List Price: £8.99
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Book Description

Sweeping historical novel of espionage, betrayal and identity.

When Q was first published in 1999, it was an international sensation; returning to the same world of that extraordinary novel, Altaiis a captivating story of betrayal, beliefs and the clash of civilizations. When a fire breaks out in the Arsenal of Venice in 1569, everyone suspects Joseph Nasi, number-one enemy of the republic. But it is the enigmatic emmanuele De Zante, spy catcher and agent of the Venetian secret service, who finds himself in jail accused of treason, having been betrayed by his lover. When De Zante is offered the chance to escape, he embarks on an odyssey that takes him to Salonica, the Jerusalem of the Balkans, and from there, all the way to the sultan's palace in Constantinople. spiraling through a series of deadly political games, De Zante's voyage will test his loyalty and force him to question even his own identity. Together, De Zante and his companions head toward a conflict that threatens the very nature of civilization. A historical epic spanning a continent scarred by war, Altaiwent straight into the bestsellers list when first published in Italy. It is a coruscating portrait of the divided world – east meets west – in the sixteenth century, where the great empires of the republic of Venice and the ottomans are on the verge of an epoch-making conflict. In this dramatic landscape, the authors' collective Wu Ming has created a powerful narrative of danger, identity, and adventure.

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Product Description


"Their books sizzle with a kind of lefty jazz: they're linguistically and culturally hip, historically astute, with a heart worn challengingly on the sleeve." Todd McEwen, Guardian

About the Author

WU MING is a collective of four Italian fiction writers based in Bologna, Italy. Wu Ming's books include the bestselling novel Q (under the former pseudonym Luther Blissett), which was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award, and Manituana. Their website is

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The events presented in "Altai" took place between June 1569 and December 1571. As with all of the Wu Ming novels I have read to date, namely Q, 54 and Manituana, most of the characters existed, most of the significant events really happened, and all of the fictitious elements are plausible in the context of the historical facts. What I enjoy about Wu Ming's books is the way in which the fictional characters fit into the historical context and their actions appear to be essential to ensure the history turned out as it did.

From the very start the novel deals with the plight of Jews in Europe of the sixteenth century. Following the lives of a few Jewish characters Wu Ming describes the sense of always existing as an outsider under the sufferance of others and having the sense of always needing to be ready to move on. While Altai deals with the experience of Jews in Christian Europe and in the Muslim Ottoman Empire, the themes and messages of the story are applicable on a general basis to the political machinations in states, in businesses, or in organisations of any sort.

I do not like to present plot summaries in a review as I believe a significant part of the fun of reading is discovering the story as the author presents it to you, not as a reviewer abbreviates it. This is important in the case of Altai because the plot deals with political alliances on the personal level, within the state/empire, and across national borders. Intrigue is key to Altai, and the acute sense of paranoia felt by the conspirator is ever present. To give any hint of plot twists and turns would destroy the atmosphere developed by the Wu Ming authors and greatly diminish the fun to be had when reading this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The class struggle continues 17 May 2015
By camac
Wu Ming, meaning anonymous in Mandarin, is a collective of four (previously five) Italian writers. Opposing ‘toxic narrative’ which elicits fear, prejudice and inequality, they have chosen themes from history to illustrate the class struggle and its subtle and not so subtle machinations. Their stories invite us to open our eyes; to recognise resonances; to realise the choices we are making, and perhaps consider making a new choice.

Altai is not a sequel to Q (published under the name Luther Blissett) but it does follow on in time and our now aged hero from Q makes an appearance. It takes up the story from a different point of view some three and a half decades after Munster and the scattering of the Anabaptist movement. The book opens in Italy in 1569 when Venice is a wealthy state, thanks to being a major gatekeeper between East and West trade. A young Jew who has adopted his father’s Christian faith is a spymaster for the powerful Consigliere Bartolomeo Nordio of Venice. Discovery of his Jewish origins and the need for a scapegoat sees Emanuele de Zante on the run, returning to his natal town of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) on the other side of the Adriatic. Having escaped, he faces new threats but eventually ends up in Constantinople where he is sent to meet/serve/be a prisoner of – he’s not quite certain – the wealthy Jewish patriarch and banker Yossef Nasi, the much feared enemy of Venice, and the man he had been accused of spying for. His identity is known and Nasi greets him by his Jewish name Manuel Cardoso.

Manuel is soon in the spying business again, and eventually involved in an even more complex plot to get the Turks to take the island of Cyprus from Venice and crown Nasi as king.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A currently relevant historic novel 6 Sept. 2013
It is impossible not to review this book as a sequel of Q, it is even marketed that way. But it does not compare to Q, it does not have the depth or length of Q, nor are the described events that crucial for Western European history (but they are for the Eastern Mediterranean). Before reading this book I had no clue about the Jewish influences in the Ottoman empire. The current religious/political problems and recent spy scandals, give this novel an extra dose of relevance. I found it a fascinating book, written and translated very fluently.
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4.0 out of 5 stars It's not "Q" but... 13 May 2015
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Well it's not "Q" (although our hero does make an appearance). It's not that frenetic riot of religious and political radicalism that "Q" was but it IS about a vision; creating a home for the Jews. It drifts along at a gentle pace, like a camel crossing the desert or a felucca on the calm Mediterranean. We languish on soft, exotic pillows in a drug-infused haze beneath exotic skies barely disturbed by the call to prayer... But it begins with an explosion! A ship sails, in flames, through the sky of Venice. Sabotage. The Turks... and at the heart of it all must be that Jewish spider, Yusef Nasi. His agents must be found.
It might not be "Q" (and how I hoped for another book like that) but it kept me gripped. It twists and turns like a Cold war thriller - don't be fooled by that gentle pace. There is espionage, there is betrayal...
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5.0 out of 5 stars Historical Fiction at it's Best 21 April 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a very good piece of historical fiction, well researched, inventive, pacy and intriguing. The second in a trilogy by a group of Italian writers writing under a pseudonym. Beginning in Venice and moving to Constantinople,the fictional characters are believable and are woven into real events, culminating in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.The narrator Emanuele De Zante had a Jewish mother and Venetian father, when he is framed for causing a fire at the Venice Arsenal he flees and rediscovers his Jewish roots in the Ottoman capital, and from there the intrigue escalates.It is unputdownable !
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Q was a brilliant book; a captivating adventure based on the religious...
Q was a brilliant book; a captivating adventure based on the religious turmoil of the 16th century, as interpreted of a bunch of Italian lefties then writing under the name of... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Dewi
2.0 out of 5 stars Don't bother
Dull and pedestrian. Not a patch on 'Q'.
Published 12 months ago by John Nurse
5.0 out of 5 stars I superb book. A little convoluted, but, ...
I superb book. A little convoluted, but, it all makes sense when you finish the book. Though reading Luther Blisset's Q first is advised.
Published 12 months ago by Mr. A. Healy
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun
IThe denouement is a little complex, but no more so than it can be follwed. But who wrote the story?
Published 14 months ago by Bjørn Qvale
5.0 out of 5 stars Altai
After the excellent Q (by Luther Blisset), the reformed agitpop writers from northern Italy turn out another fine yarn. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Mr. S. Bukbardis
3.0 out of 5 stars Good historical novel, but no Name of the Rose
Altai is written by the same four Italian author behind Q, using the pseudonym Luther Blissett. Like Q it is a self-consciously literary historical novel. Read more
Published on 28 Jun. 2013 by Niel Black
1.0 out of 5 stars A dissapointing sequel
I had eagerly awaited the translation of "Altai" into English, and hoped that it would do "Q" justice. Read more
Published on 28 May 2013 by Jesper Theilmann Jensen
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