A lackluster valentine to Mother Russia; a first novel from a former Moscow bureau chief of Business Week. Nick Perkins is a 29-year-old journalist for a New York City news magazine. When marriage pressures from his live-in girlfriend Sharon become too intense, Nick jumps at the chance to open up a Moscow bureau. First impressions of Moscow are not favorable (the period is late Brezhnev): Nick chafes at being assigned a zealous translator and an apartment in a foreigners' ghetto ""monitored"" by a formidable concierge. But even in such a controlled society it is possible to strike up chance acquaintances, and things look up for Nick once he spots, among the mass of ""unappetizing"" Muscovites, two kindred spirits: the genial, bibulous, nonconformist engineer Andrei and his wife Lilya. Soon he is spending most of his time in their cramped apartment, realizing to his surprise that Russian life fits him like a comfortable old shoe (""I sensed the warm, yolky candescence of Russia""). His other leisure moments are spent with Susan, the British embassy officer who supervises secret cable traffic to London. She seduces him in her apartment across the hallway, and the two slowly fall in love. Other episodes in this plotless novel include a trip to the country to visit a dissident friend of Andrei's, and some joyous sessions in a Moscow bathhouse; long letters from minor characters serve to pad the narrative further. Then Nick's one-year contract is up, and he reflects on the ""best time of my life"" as he bids an emotional farewell to Andrei. . .but not to Susan: the lovebirds will hook up in Paris, where their new assignments await them. Bland home-movie fare.