A pioneering work of Ottoman Turkish literature, Prisoner of the Infidels brings the seventeenth-century memoir of Osman Agha of Timişoara—slave, adventurer, and diplomat—into English for the first time. The sweeping story of Osman’s life begins upon his capture and subsequent enslavement during the Ottoman–Habsburg Wars. Adrift in a landscape far from his home and traded from one master to another, Osman tells a tale of indignation and betrayal but also of wonder and resilience, punctuated with queer trysts, back-alley knife fights, and elaborate ruses to regain his freedom.

A new work in our World Literature in Translation series, Prisoner of the Infidels offers a rare and intimate view of seventeenth-century Europe from the singular perspective of an insider/outsider, who by the end his account can no longer reckon the boundary between Islam and Christendom, between the land of his capture and the land of his birth, or even between slavery and redemption.

Scholar Giancarlo Casale, editor and translator of Prisoner of the Infidels: The Memoir of an Ottoman Muslim in Seventeenth-Century Europe, joined UC Press Premodern World History Editor, Eric Schmidt to discuss what it was like to translate this exciting work of Ottoman Turkish literature. Casale is Chair of Early Modern Mediterranean History at the European University Institute and Associate Professor of History at the University of Minnesota.

Casale explains why this is such an important and fascinating work of Ottoman literature, as it helps us to reframe our understanding of European and Ottoman history. Casale describes his favorite scene, a moment of both drama and humor illustrative of Osman’s style, as well as the large cast of interesting characters that are part of Osman’s journey.

Unlike many sources from this time period, Prisoner of the Infidels offers direct access to an individual’s personal life and perspective. Additionally, unlike the often baroque and difficult style of Ottoman Turkish literature, Osman tells his story in a very grounded, accessible way, using vernacular language. Because of this unique style, Casale explains some of the considerations that came up while translating the work into English.

Learn more about Prisoner of the Infidels.

Want to learn more about our World Literature in Translations series? Editor Eric Schmidt explains how the series aims to reframe what we think of as “classic” literature, with a list inclusive of literary traditions from around the world.