Eighteen short stories worthy of excavation (the first comprehensive group published anywhere) and new attention, by a prominent figure in early Soviet fiction, barely known here, and out of favor in Russia since the 30's, when he was executed. Andre Biely influenced his style--in this fine translation by Beatrice Scott it's self-effacing, animated but austere. Written during the first fifteen years after the revolution, the stories play on the contrasts of this transitional period: tout passe, tout lasse, tout reste. The places range from Asia Minor to the China border; the characters include a pregnant lawyer, a British expatriate, two birds, Kirghiz marauders, a count, a Japanese novelist. The title piece concerns the famous death of a popular Bolshevik general on the operating table--allegedly ordered by Stalin.... Pilnyak displays the virtues of a Russian sensibility without the defects of melodrama and murkiness, nor a trace of socialist realism. Comparisons with greater countrymen from Turgenev to Mandelstam may be left to connoisseurs; the book is obligatorY for them and for Russian literature collections of any pretensions.