Altai: A Novel

Altai is a great historical thriller and the prose has all the surface glitter of the Grand Canal or the Golden Horn.” – Edward Stourton, Financial Times

When a fire rips through the Venetian Arsenal in 1569, the enigmatic Emanuele De Zante, spy-catcher and secret agent, is betrayed by his lover, imprisoned, and accused of treason. Given the chance to escape, he embarks on a trans-European odyssey that will test his loyalty and force him to question even his own identity.

Through a series of deadly political games leading all the way to the Sultan’s palace in Constantinople, De Zante and his companions spiral headfirst toward a conflict in which the great empires of the Republic of Venice and the Ottomans threaten the very foundations of civilization.


  • Altai is a great historical thriller and the prose has all the surface glitter of the Grand Canal or the Golden Horn… For a city break in Venice, Dubrovnik or Istanbul, this is perfect read as it is.”
  • “[An] expertly crafted novel.”
  • “A triumph of swashbuckling storytelling, a historical romp.”
  • “If you loved Q; no, if you were swept away by a passion that became an addiction to that monumental novel, take a deep breath and start reading again.”
  • “After a little more conversation both Wu Mings seemed to have rekindled their interest in their old work and asked me if I understood the parallels between the historical world Altai deals with and the political situation today. I told them this wasn’t a problem for me but I quickly gave up trying to disentangle their fiction from historical fact because the two were so closely interwoven. There was a gleam in Wu Ming 1’s eye when he replied: 'That’s because we worked the fiction into tiny historical cracks.'”
  • “Skillfully written ... it is difficult not to shiver.”
  • “If you like your historical fiction with plenty of explosions and Turkish-inflected interjections, this is right up your alley.”
  • “Unspools mesmerisingly like an old Hollywood movie.”
  • “A highly compelling epic of great beauty and power.”
  • “A rich, inventive and immensely powerful book – Q is a great novel, one that tells us about ourselves and how we came to be here.”
  • “Imagine Umberto's eco knack for the swashbuckling thriller-of-ideas crossed with an artful touch of the Le Carré's – it boasts pace, colour, excitement and suspense to spare – Q works like a charm as a sordid, splendid period romp.”
  • “Unputdownable.”
  • “A great historical thriller and the prose has all the surface glitter of the Grand Canal or the Golden Horn … this is perfect.”
  • “Big and bloody and breathtaking: a crush of colour and crowds, exotic locations and war.”
  • “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.”
  • “Fans of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, grab it now.”


  • The Police vs. Pasolini, Pasolini vs. The Police

    This piece by Wu Ming 1 was published in Italian in October 2015, in the online edition of Italian weekly magazine Internazionale. This translation by Ayan Meer first appeared on the Wu Ming Foundation blog.

    1. "That bastard is dead"

    Marcello Elisei, 19, dies at 3 a.m, alone like a dog chained up in an abandoned house. He dies after a day and a night of screams, supplications, wails, left with neither food nor water, tied by the wrists and ankles to a table in a cell of the Regina Coeli prison. He has bronchial pneumonia, he is in a state of shock, the cell is gelid. The ropes block his blood circulation. From a nearby cell, another inmate  neofascist Paolo Signorelli  hears the young man shouting for a long time, then wheezing, asking for water, and finally silence. The next morning, he asks what happened. "That bastard is dead," a prison guard replies. The date is November 29, 1959.

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  • Coarse and Rancid: Franco Moretti on Federico De Roberto's classic novel

    The Viceroys, written in 1894 by Federico De Roberto, is an unsung classic of the Italian realist literature. The novel narrativises the political and social effects of the Italy's unification in the nineteenth century; using a multitude of voices to create a vivid panorama of this epoch in Sicily. The titular 'Viceroys' are the Uzedas: a devious upper-class family, who find their aesthetic kin in George Grosz's drawings of cigar-sucking, fat cats, or Goya's foreboding and sullen family tableaus. 

    Franco Moretti's introduction to the novel scrutinises the
     depiction of the monstrous ruling classes—we share the foreword here to mark the publication of this lost classic. 

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  • Verso's Summer Reads 2015

    No matter which body of water you'll be sluicing your speedos in this summer, Verso's got your back.  From forty proud years of radical publishing, we've cherry-picked an eclectic mix of fiction, travel, politics, philosophy, feminism, art, graphic novels and more for your delectation this summer.

    Whether you're reacquainting yourself with an old classic or taking a chance with one of our latest titles, all books on this list will be 50% off on our website for this week (July 9-July 17), with free worldwide shipping, and free ebook where available.  Just be careful around the pool with your e-reader eh?

    A lovely picture of Theodor Adorno in his swimwear, with a copy Narcoland presumably tucked away out of shot.

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Other books by Wu Ming Translated by Shaun Whiteside