Several years ago I was trawling through Wikipedia lists, and I believe while on some list of ‘greatest books’ (but I cannot recall which one) I came across a book that at the time I didn’t really give a second thought but later I became fascinated by. The details are as follows. It was written I think sometime in the 1880s or 1890s, and I believe by an Italian (though this is tentative). However, it’s setting may have been ‘Central Asia’ in the general and indistinct sense. The framing was that there was some very large fortress that was on the edge of a desert and the main character is serving there, with some sort of army. What I think was what struck me later is that it wasn’t exactly supposed to be the Russian army (which is what one would expect, as the Russian conquest of Central Asia was just wrapping up at this point, and there were indeed several fortresses, as inane as it sounds to say), but it was just ‘an army’. Furthermore, the Wikipedia page described it as a novel about futility and hopelessness, and vaguely anti-war. These things all further intrigued me, later on, as I came to reflect that it at once reminded me of Kafka’s The Castle, Mervyn Peake’s Gormeghast, and Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky.
There was an image associated with the Wikipedia article as well, but I cannot recall if it was a cover or an illustration. At any rate I shall try to describe it. It seemed to be set at night, and there was a eerie olive-dark-greenish hue to it all. It seemed to be done in a hazy sort of pastel way. The image itself was very reminiscent of this (link embedded) illustration of the British retreat from the first Anglo-Afghan war, so much that I am worried in fact I am filling this in artificially. On the left side of the image there was a large fortress, set probably half way up the page, on a rocky outcropping. Down below, on the right side, on what looks like a small road, there was a small silhouetted figure on a horse that was rearing up on its hind legs. This figure and their horse only occupied the smallest part of the page. Beyond them, on the right side, the desert stretched off “ringed by the flat horizon only”. The ‘right’ and ‘left’ sides may be flipped, but I am fairly certain of the features and relations of this composition.
That is as much as I can recall of this book. I would be very grateful if you could find it for me, but please do not put any pressure on yourself to find it.