Right at the outset of this autobiographical novel — in fact it reads more like a memoir — Ismail Kadare sets up his stall as a lover of women. His lust even permeates his similes: ‘… that particular path, like some women who, though not beautiful, possess a hidden charm…’ and that’s only the walk to the post office. It’s a clue, and romance plays a big part. He starts with an encounter — Brigita, a beautiful Latvian at summer camp in Riga — and in Moscow he seems far more interested in the lovely Lida than his writing.
But girls don’t hog all the imagery. Kadare has an almost Virgilian penchant for comparison. Usually he hits the mark, as when the domes of St Basil’s are likened to ‘coloured soap bubbles blown by some gigantic mouth’; or, pursuing his girlfriend down a spiral staircase, while she travels down its centre in the lift, he is the frieze winding itself round Trajan’s column.