April 02, 1984 12:00 PM

by Martyn Burke

This is an oddly original comic novel about a Russian boy who falls in love with the U. through the pictures and ads he sees in smuggled copies of LIFE just before World War II. The son of a tough, rising Stalinist bureaucrat, he grew up in the ’30s when America was already known as “Enemy Number One.” At one point he muses: “My father would have made a good Mafia boss back in Enemy Number One. Even the mighty Al Capone would have trembled.” The son eventually lands a job as a diplomat in New York, where he sets out to woo Western intellectuals with a drunken poet from Moscow. The scheme works so well that the hero finds himself back in Moscow escorting a famous American playwright into Stalin’s office. The plot of this novel is fast and wildly complex, and the twists at the end are clever. The satire is heavy-handed at moments (the hero tries to get rid of some money by giving it to a broker and becomes a millionaire), but the writing has a kind of lilt that keeps everything frothy. The author is a Canadian filmmaker (Power Play) and novelist (The Laughing War). (Houghton Mifflin, $14.95)

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