‘Alexsandar Hemon’s new novel is immense. … It contains almost as much as its title promises. By turns lyrical and sardonic, it is as emotionally compelling as it is clever. I’ll be surprised if I enjoy a novel more this year.’ – Guardian
‘A tour de force. Hemon has given us a story of love and war like no other’ – Kamila Shamsie
‘A staggering work of beauty and brutality’ – Douglas Stuart
‘This life-stuffed novel is Aleksandar Hemon’s masterpiece’ – David Mitchell
As the Archduke Franz Ferdinand arrives in Sarajevo one June day in 1914, Rafael Pinto is busy crushing herbs and grinding tablets behind the counter at the pharmacy he inherited from his father. It’s not quite the life he had expected during his poetry-filled student days in libertine Vienna, but it’s nothing a dash of laudanum, a summer stroll and idle fantasies can’t put in perspective.
And then the world explodes. In the trenches in Galicia, fantasies fall flat. Heroism gets a man killed quickly. War devours all that they have known, and the only thing Pinto has to live for are the attentions of Osman, a fellow soldier, a man of action to complement Pinto’s introspective, poetic soul; a charismatic storyteller and Pinto’s protector and lover.
Together, Pinto and Osman will escape the trenches and find themselves entangled with spies and Bolsheviks. As they travel over mountains and across deserts, from one world to another, all the way to Shanghai, it is Pinto’s love for Osman that will truly survive.