by Malcolm Bradbury ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 5, 1983
Towards the end of this comic travelogue, linguistics professor Angus Petworth--on a lecture-tour of a mythical Soviet-bloc country--is asked yet another garbled question by a local academic: ""Do you know also a campus writer Brodge? . . . Who writes Changing Westward? I think he is very funny but sometimes his ideological position is not clear."" The ""campus writer Brodge,"" of course, is in-jokey Bradbury himself, author of Stepping Westward, The History Man, etc. And that Slavic academic's comment isn't really so far off the mark--because once again Bradbury dazzles with scene after scene of densely ironic description, of high/low comic touches, while his more serious concerns (moral crises, man as a plaything of history and language) never quite come into thematic or dramatic focus. Petworth is ""white and male, forty and married, bourgeois and British--all items to anyone's contemporary discredit, as he knows perfectly well."" He is ""not a man much used to feeling that he exists."" He periodically picks up his old lecture notes and adopts the role of ""cultural traveler"" for the British Council. So now he arrives in the dank city of Slaka--but things don't go as smoothly or predictably as usual. Petworth is flummoxed by the language barrier: the few local words he learns keep changing (the place is in the midst of an ideological debate about a proper native tongue); he's addressed in the most bizarre sorts of broken English (his own name becomes ""Pitwit"" and ""Pervert""); even his Embassy-host is nearly incomprehensible--thanks to an epic stutter (which Bradbury milks, vaudeville-style, for every conceivable double-ententre). Furthermore, Petworth is harangued on one side by his Party-line guide, on the other by a faintly dissident academic named Plitplov--a brief Oxford acquaintance who drops innuendos about an affair with Petworth's cool wife. (""Please to remember I had just a little finger in that pie"") And then, after near-rape by the Embassy-man's boozy wife, Petworth finds himself being deeply seduced by ""the brilliant, batik-clad magical realist novelist"" Katya Princip: she seems to embody the impulse for life beyond the humdrum (""I am witching you, I am taking you where you cannot go, think of a word you do not know, I am that word""); and it is her dangerous manuscript that will present Petworth with a small moral dilemma when he returns home . . . just as martial law is overtaking Slaka. More a series of set-pieces than an active romp, and never terribly original (echoes of Kingsley Amis, Beryl Bainbridge, et al.)--but if this satire/farce/soul-journey isn't steadily involving, it's steadily witty, with Bradbury taking sardonic, leisurely aim at airports, academia, Marxism, opera, diplomats, travel-guides, and critics.
Pub Date: Oct. 5, 1983
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1983
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