This obviously autobiographical novel of a Russian Jewish family's year of exile in Kazakhstan in the early Fifties is by no means the elegiac document of courage and terror which one might expect. To be sure, it evokes in telling detail what it is like to live as an alien minority at the mercy of a ruthless and capricious government; and it is shot through with the determined longing for Israel, with the sense of a people's identity in nomadic orbit around that lost and found homeland. But all this is recorded on the impressionable spirit of a fifteen-year-old boy, and it becomes an exuberant and moving coming-of-age story. When the Ashkenazys, whose father has already been arrested and probably executed, are packed into exile, Simon is too young to feel anything but the excitement of the unknown. He leaves part of his childhood behind in the crowded prison rail car, and more falls from him in the adventures to come in frontier Djetysu: an abortive attempt to become a slaughterer, a job playing in a Korean funeral band, the murder of a Russian bully by a Chechen schoolmate, a botched and then a successful sexual initiation. But the adult identity Simon assumes is that of a poet and dreamer; and his comic-wise spirit guide into maturity is a strange old Jewish man who tells an incredible (true?) story of having served as the double of Stalin. Some of the Russian lyricism survives translator Glenny's British bounce, and the whole succeeds in blending earthy frontier humor with both a specifically racial and a universal truth.