Overwrought, unoriginal impressions of the USSR--with, however, an emotional tug and basis in reality, in 1981 British travel-writer and novelist Thubron (Mirror to Damascus, The God in the Mountain) motored through western Russia, on a businessman/tourist visa over Intourist routes--speaking some Russian, staying at campsites and just moseying around. His narrative of places visited and people met combines the lush metaphorical prose of the professional travel-scribe with the interpretive clichÃ‰s of innumerable overwhelmed Westerners: ""From her own people Russia elicits a helpless worship of belonging. She contains them with the elemental despotism of an earth mother, and they feel for her a supplicant's tormented tenderness."" But, from Byelorussia to the Baltic to the Caucasus, there is truth in the extravagance of utterance--and, though one may wonder at the author's wonderment, truth in the commonplaces. ""Objects may be acquired with bitterly-won time and money, but will be given away or feasted away with scarcely a thought in a burst of exuberance or a maudlin lapse."" (Apropos of dissident writings, of packed poetry-recitals: ""the Kremlin was turning art and thought here into the most precious commodity of all."") An occasional field-observation departs from the beaten path: stony, vestigial Armenia ""has farmed and industrialized itself and achieved a modest wealth, so that its very existence helps to heal those psychic wounds which far outlast a people's degradation."" Thubron does have an eye and a feel for place--the ""saddened splendour"" of Leningrad's heart, Tallin's alleys ""filled with idiosyncrasy."" And, in the many acquaintances he struck up, we have a catalogue of disillusion; of recoil against the ""world of fallacy and intrusion."" Thubron's passage from fear of Russia to love of the Russian people is an old story too--but also a timeless one.