Kadare (The Palace of Dreams, 1993, etc.), an Albanian resident of Paris, offers a chilling portrait of life under Communist rule as he describes crumbling relations between Albania and China in the mid-1970s and the resulting trauma to individual Albanian lives. The flocks of delegates shuttling between China and Albania in the late 20th century have ebbed and flowed according to their leaders' obscure and fleeting whims. It is Albania's disapproval of China's overtures toward the US that sends Gjergi Dibra, a well-placed Albanian bureaucrat, to China with a letter of protest for Chairman Mao. Mao, fed up with Albania's arrogance in offering advice, elects to punish China's tiny ally by cutting off construction of its factories, slowing deliveries of vital supplies, and otherwise tormenting its traditionally powerless and uneasy populace. Mao's actions are initially subtle and only vaguely perceived in Albania, but soon enough they begin to affect profoundly the lives of Dibra, his family, and friends. Dibra's brother-in-law, an officer in a tank regiment, is arrested for refusing a China-influenced order to challenge a Communist Party committee. A friend's son is killed in an explosion in a factory the Chinese have neglected to maintain. An Albanian novelist friend of Dibra's wife is horrified to find his creativity dissipating when he travels to China, where even the most casual conversation is circumscribed by revolutionary slogans and Maoist clichÃ‰s. Irony and outrage, tragedy and absurdity intermingle freely as Albanians struggle to read their fate in every half-gesture made by the distant Chinese. The original Albanian manuscript was translated first into French and then into English, which may explain the awkward spots in this translation. But this tale of a break between timid Albania and sterile, dominant China offers a compelling view of both nations, nonetheless.