The year: 1377. The place: the Balkan peninsula. Here in Ismail Kadare's novel, The Three-Arched Bridge, an Albanian monk chronicles the events surrounding the construction of a bridge across a great river known as Ujana e Keqe, or "Wicked Waters". If successful in their endeavour, the bridge-builders will challenge a monopoly on water transportation known simply as "Boats and Rafts". The story itself parallels developments in modern-day Eastern Europe, with the bridge emblematic of a disintegrating economic and political order: just as mysterious cracks in the span's masonry endanger the structure and cast the local community into a morass of uncertainty, superstition and murder, so the fast-changing conditions in the 14th-century Balkan peninsula threaten to overwhelm the stability of life there. Dark as the story itself is, Mr. Kadare's prose, skilfully translated from the Albanian by John Hodgson, is elegant, witty and deft. And with so many twists and turns in its carefully constructed plot, this political parable keeps the reader's interest to the very end.