It's the 1970s and cracks are starting to appear in the alliance between China and its Communist cohort Albania. When an Albanian steps on the foot of a Chinese diplomat the tension cranks up - couriers between Tirana and Beijing carry annotated x-rays of the foot back and forth. The Chinese intend to punish their interfering little ally discreetly. But is the Sino-Albanian axis about to come adrift? This is Kadare's surreal black comedy about the inner sanctums of political power and the mysterious causal chains that transform ordinary lives.
Ismail Kadare, born in 1936 in the mountain town of Gjirokaster, near the Greek border, is Albania's best-known poet and novelist. Since the appearance of The General of the Dead Army in 1965, Kadare has published scores of stories and novels that make up a panorama of Albanian history linked by a constant meditation on the nature of the human consequences of dictatorship. Kadare's works brought him into frequent conflict with the authorities from 1945 to 1985. In 1990 he sought political asylum in France, and now divides his time between Paris and Tirana. He is the winner of the inaugural Man Booker International Prize.