Part political parable, part comic roundelay, this engaging 1981 novel shows a comparatively lighter side of the great Albanian author whose previous English-translated works include The Three-Arched Bridge (1997) and The Pyramid (1996). Kadare's latest tale describes the misadventures of Max Ross and Bill Norton, Irish-American scholars traveling in the Albanian hill country seeking evidence from oral storytellers, or ``rhapsodes,'' that might explain how the Homeric epics were created and preserved. Kadare contrasts their experience of culture shock, and also their detailed tape-recorded notes, with the suspicions of a nervous Communist bureaucracy that spies on the intruders it believes are themselves foreign agents (``all this nonsense about Homer . . . is only camouflage, hiding their true, murky mission''). Prominent among the affected natives of the village of N____ (near where the two researchers stay) are its fussbudget governor, his bored wife Daisy (who fantasizes romance with the exciting newcomers), a Serbian monk who's outraged over the attribution of the epic's origins to a culture other than his own, and--best of all--professional informer Dull Baxhaja, conscientious tool of the state whose dutiful surveillance falters when he dozes at this post (``suffering intolerable pain, consumed with howling remorse, he had fallen into a state of irremediable despair''). As they intermingle, Kadare observes these agitated souls with a nonjudgmental deadpan wit (beautifully suggested by Bellos's graceful translation) that gently skewers both scholarly tunnel vision and nationalist paranoia while simultaneously rendering with great subtlety the enduring power of those elusive ancient stories. Masterly narrative use is made of Albanian folk beliefs, and the novel's violent climax and aftermath, in which ``Homer's revenge'' seems to assert itself, implies that there are mysteries not meant to be solved. Kadare's is a voice unlike any other in contemporary fiction, and this is one of his most unusual and attractive books.