A hopelessly self-effacing Russian Jew writes glorious poems under the Khrushchev regime but imprudently neglects the official steps to make a name for himself as a poet--an obvious parable for the career of its prolific author, who wrote this novel in Moscow during the early 70's and is finally about to see it published there. Aaron-Chaim Mendelevich Finkelmeyer is a truly exasperating man to his new friend Leonid Nikolsky. He's an unambitious wage-slave, an indifferent husband to his long-suffering wife Frida, and a friend whose other associates--his old buddy Leopold Mikhailovich, his lovers Emma the bureaucrat's wife and Olga the librarian, and a poetic patron identified only as the Master--are likely to act just as unpredictably as he does. He's also perhaps the worst soldier in all Russia. Ironically, Finkelmeyer's halfhearted attempt to get out of a military jam by spouting some chauvinistic doggerel that an oafish officer has praised to the skies, and his subsequent attempt to protect his poetic reputation by publishing his ``genuine'' poems under a pseudonym that's appropriated by stolid hack Manakin, eventually entangle him-- via his raffish cohorts' wild attempt to keep a hidden cache of paintings out of reach of the authorities--in a silly, dangerous game of Who's the Real Poet?--with the prize sure to go to Writer's Union candidate Manakin as the novel heads into a neatly judged climactic trial and a downbeat epilogue. Roziner's soft-edged satire is filled with a genial, melancholy gaiety that will remind American readers of Josef Skvorecky--but without the Czech novelist's range or tightly controlled plotting.