J. is a smuggler living in Russia, making his living fencing the flotsam of communism's collapse. In Istanbul he takes a commission to trap an endangered Russian butterfly and decides to use it as an opportunity to smuggle V., his Russian lover who has no papers, back into her homeland. In the port of Odessa, she disappears, and J. continues alone to a small village on the Black Sea. Letters from V. begin to arrive, and as J. hunts the butterfly, he seeks a way to lure V. back into his life. Equal parts bittersweet love story, international intrigue, and one man's quest to write the perfect love letter, Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian Empire, wrote The Tennessean, is "an amazing jewel of a story...that winks with wit [and] wears its astonishing craftsmanship lightly."