EmigrÉ Zinik's first novel in English is a successful farce, fluently translated, about the West as seen through the eyes...

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THE MUSHROOM-PICKER

EmigrÉ Zinik's first novel in English is a successful farce, fluently translated, about the West as seen through the eyes of a wildly absurd Russian ÉmigrÉ ""bored with living with freedom."" Clea, in Moscow at the urging of Margot, a ""Comintern groupie,"" meets Konstantin, a Falstaffian food freak, at a party. ""I respect England,"" he tells her. ""All the cuts of meat have come to us from England."" She goes with him to his communal flat and stays for two years, increasingly disillusioned with Russian life. Konstantin, meanwhile, grotesque by virtue of his obsession with western cuisine, believes that his stomach is the soul of Russia. He fetes Clea with tinned-food banquets until Tonya, a flatmate with a sterile husband, ""borrows"" him with Clea's permission. The crippled husband catches them in the act and beats Tonya to death. Clea, traumatized, returns to England, her by-now husband Konstantin in tow; and, doing an about-face, he then becomes obsessed with Russian cuisine. ""Charming and enigmatic"" to Clea in Moscow, in London Konstantin becomes ""absurd and unpleasant."" In rambunctious prose that is always ready for a bit of fun, Zinik thickens the plot with intrigues. Konstantin becomes a kind of Tartar, eating cat-food with his beer, boiling ten kilograms of onions, hunting on a nuclear base for mushrooms, and intimidating everyone. The story cuts away to Clea from time to time as she remembers transgressions, including a Christmas rape, but returns to Konstantin for a whacked-out climax that includes a car chase, Konstantin's arrest on the nuclear base, and his subsequent ""confession"" to the author. The plot turns amusingly metafictional, and Konstantin finally disappears into the Russian Embassy. Zinik, who carries his learning lightly, is excessive, scatological, even Rabelaisian at his best. A lively, energetic romp.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 1988

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1988