Although Ak Welsapar is Turkmen, and one of the few Central Asian writers to have any international presence, The Revenge of the Foxes—his latest novel (or, given its length, perhaps novella) to appear in English—was written in, and translated from, Russian. It shows: Russian influence is very clear and, the nationality of the protagonist and some flashbacks aside, the book might be Russian, set in a decaying Moscow hospital at the fag end of the Soviet Union.

The Japanese are fascinated by cats, and it’s not difficult to find shrines dedicated to them. There are cats that live in train stations (one, at least, has a uniform and a “job”) and cat cafés, where people go to pet them and hang out with them. We are all familiar with the maneki-neko, the beckoning good-luck cat who appears in Asian shops everywhere, ensuring the success and prosperity of the enterprise. And they like to write about them, too; in Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book (1002) the Emperor Ichijo, who was the earliest Japanese emperor (or anyone else of note in Japan) to own one, loses his cat at one point, and everyone has to go and look for it.

“This book,” starts the introduction, “was written by a man who did not exist. Despite this obvious handicap, Alfred Raquez was extraordinarily prolific.” Raquez was in fact a man on the lam: his real name Joseph Gervais, a lawyer from Lille, who got into a spot of bother—fraud, it seems—and decamped to the Orient, as it was then called, to avoid arrest and prosecution.