This novel is set in Moscow in the late 1960s, at a time when Khrushchev-era liberalization is being threatened by the return to personality cult and repression following the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia. The editor-in-chief of the Communist Party newspaper collapses with a heart attack outside the Central Committee building. This is partly brought on by the appearance of a samizdat manuscript on his desk that leads to his anguishing over who left it and what to do with it to avoid falling victim to the malevolence its content is likely to unleash. The solution lies with Yakov Rappoport, an ageing and cynical Jewish veteran of the war and two spells in the Gulag, the author of not only the obnoxious popular campaigns sponsored by the newspaper (and all its letters to the editor) but of every single speech that gets made in public by the principals of the regime as well. His efforts to help his stricken editor, as well as the novel's star-crossed lovers, lead to a hallucinatory climax.