A HERO IN HIS TIME by Arthur A. Cohen


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Controversial scholar/theologian Cohen, unlike those others who use fiction merely as a podium, has here suborned his views on Soviet-style bureaucracy, the religions of both Believers and unbelievers, and ""people's"" poetry, to the caustic personality of his protagonist--the Jewish/Russian, most minor poet, Yuri Maximovich. It cannot be altogether accidental that the title echoes Mikhail Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time (1840); for Yuri, in spite of his status as ultimate nonentity, is as much a romantically suicidal loner as Lermontov's Byronic nobleman. For eighteen years Yuri has, between yawns of exquisite boredom, edited a journal of folk music before he is terrified by an order from above to spend a week in New York at poetry seminars, along with the popular Yevtushenko-like superstar, Ilia. Yuri is to spy--his assignment is to read and actually hand over to a contact, a State-constructed ""poem"" which is to be slipped in among his own. Fortified before his departure by an idyllic wintry night's conversation with an aged, irreverent scholar gypsy, and by his own drunken denouncements at a going-away party, Yuri arrives in New York, accompanied by a loutish shadow. Amid conferences, baitings of Ilia, and general confusions, Yuri is pursued by American Greta, makes love, and at the last makes real poetry out of the cryptic doggerel. When he returns to an unpleasant fate, Yuri reflects that when a bureaucracy prepares to walk like an elephant on a mouse, the mouse somehow survives. A dignified, gloomy outlook touched with savage hilarity, this is an indictment of all official elephants with a sorry cheer for the mice.

Pub Date: Jan. 6th, 1975
Publisher: Random House