This post-glasnost saga, published in the Soviet Union over a year ago, places a spiritual vision--along with a peasant identification with the land--into conflict with the corruptions of materialism and bureaucracy. The human story here is framed by a great she-wolf on the frozen savannah, threatened by the encroachments of man. In that setting, we meet Avdiy, a deacon's son expelled from the seminary for heretically advocating the notion of a contemporary phenomenological God. He becomes a journalist, travels to Central Asia with a band of hash-runners, and, after trying to reform them, gets thrown from a train and left to die--whereupon he hallucinates a set-piece (the center of the book): a polemic between Christ and Pilate (the spiritual life vs. the will-to-power). Avdiy survives, and in the hospital meets Inga--the woman of his life as well as his muse. Before he can link up with her, however, he joins a gang of alcoholics out to make some fast rubles, and again gets beaten for bringing up the God-business. Tied to a tree, he lives long enough to see the she-wolf and her cubs return: the last long section chronicles the fate of these wolves and of a non-Russian environmentalist in the face of callow materialism and the Party's obstinate apparatus. Heavy-handed as fiction, but revealing in two ways: as a gloss on the fate of traditional Russian values in troubled times, and as a look at how far writers may dissent from doctrine under Gorbachev. It's a book that's also already guaranteed a certain amount of attention: Time magazine has bought first-serial rights and will run an excerpt in the spring.