The novel follows two intertwined stories; firstly the incarcerated dissident writer Abdulla, who is imprisoned for supposed nationalist sympathies in 1930’s Uzbekistan and secondly Oxyon, a tragic figure in the story Abdulla is writing. Their stories are in many ways analogous; both are imprisoned at the whim of despotic rulers-Abdulla at the hands of the ceaseless hands of the Soviet state and Oxyon’s at the hands of her tyrannical and obsessive lover. Whereas Abdulla’s story covers his gradual disintegration under the remorseless interrogation if his captors, Oxyon’s will is gradually ground down via successive unhappy marriages, whereas Abdulla’s imprisonment if physical, the cage which entraps Oxyon is grounded in the society she is a part of, where she is treated as fodder by the various men in her life.
Despite this, however, Ismailov is concerned with the metaphysical impact of imprisonment; Abdulla’s disintegration isn’t so much physical as it is mental, as he gradually succumbs to the mental anguish of constant denouncements, accused of crimes he is scarce aware of, castigated for beliefs he doesn’t hold. The New Year on which Abdulla is taken prisoner proves to be a false dawn as not only does he miss out on the spring which he so cherishes but he loses all hope in himself and others, as the sense of ennui gradual seeps into his soul and is capture in life of Oxyon, a poetess and queen who is raped and used by her foster son. The regimes which Abdulla and Oxyon live through are both capricious and cruel; one under the duress of Stalin’s purges and the other pulled between conflicting powers in the great game, with all of the characters in the novel pawns in the hands of the political machinations of the political events unfolding around them.
Alongside this, Ismailov explores the richness of Kazakh culture and literature, of its poetry which irrevocably destroyed under the auspices of the Soviet regime, with loss being the key theme of the novel, not just of the people depicted in the story, but also of the cultures within which they existed.