cover image Astrophobia


Sasha Sokolov. Grove/Atlantic, $21.5 (385pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-1087-9

With their exploded sense of time and space and one-dimensional characterization, these postmodern ``memoirs'' of a 21st-century Soviet leader are purely Russian in temperament, although the author's inventive use of language is uniquely his own. The narrator, Palisander Dahlberg, is raised in an orphanage inside the Kremlin walls, a warm, enveloping womb of a place that even includes a whorehouse for residents. There Palisander becomes privy to every change of Soviet leadership from Stalin to Andropov. Still a young man, he is persuaded by Yuri Andropov to make an attempt (abortive) on Brezhnev's life. Briefly imprisoned, he escapes to the mythical country of Belvedere, where he ends up in an insane asylum and is revealed to be a hermaphrodite. By the close of the novel, Palisander/a has been recalled to the Soviet Union and mysteriously made chief. Sokolov ( A School for Fools ) seems to lose interest in his ``art for art's sake'' narrative midway through. Once Palisander leaves the Soviet Union, the rollicking pace collapses and the novel turns into a directionless farce. But readers will be amused by the author's Alice-through-the-looking-glass depiction of a top-heavy Soviet bureaucracy. (Nov.)