The Case of Cem

Vera Mutafchieva’s The Case of Cem, presented as a series of depositions by historical figures before a court, tells a straightforward tale: Upon the death of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror in 1481, 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. Bayezid refuses, setting off a ruthless power struggle and forcing Cem into long years of exile, a pawn for European powers as they try to slow the Ottoman Empire’s expansion.

This enticing novel of court intrigue maintains lasting resonance for being a personal exploration of emigration and loss as told through 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, power hungry rulers, unflinching warriors, and poets, have indelibly influenced the word as we know it today.


"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, winner of the International Booker Prize 2023

"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


Angela Rodel is a literary translator who holds degrees from Yale and UCLA in linguistics and ethnomusicology. Eight Bulgarian novels in her translation have been published in the US and UK. She has received NEA and PEN translation grants. Her translation of Georgi Gospodinov’s Physics of Sorrow won the 2016 AATSEEL Prize for Literary Translation, and her translation of his novel Time Shelter made The New Yorker’s list of “Best Books of 2022.” A two-time Fulbright scholar, she now lives in Sofia, Bulgaria, where she serves as executive director of the Bulgarian-American Fulbright Commission.

Vera Mutafchieva (1929-2009) is one of the most influential Bulgarian writers of the twentieth century and undisputedly the most prominent female novelist in the Bulgarian canon. Mutafchieva is known for her intricate historical novels that offer nuanced insight into the complex layers of Balkan history, with its Slavic, Ottoman, and Byzantine Greek threads. The Case of Cem has been translated into dozens of languages; this is the first-ever English-language translation.