Here, Hungarian writer Konr†d (The Loser 1984; The City Builder, 1977, etc.) unburdens himself of even the illusion of straightforward narrative in favor of refracting an ur-Central European intellectual, one David Kobra, into distributed fragments of anecdote, essay, and sour rhapsody: ``The young writer is afraid that his own small bag of goods is not a subject for literature. Today I know that my friends are more interesting than the characters in my novels. My friends have created themselves with a finer ingenuity, and through the struggle of a lifetime.'' Clever, combative, and attractive, these friends-personae certainly are: a filmmaker, Antal; a critic and world-traveler, Janos; Antal's wife, Melinda--whose mÇnage includes Janos. A great swirl of Weltschmerz and erotic reverie and wonderful little stories is achieved, anchored by a quite moving and directly told account of Kobra's solitary childhood in Budapest, a breath-held refugee from the Nazi horror that had decimated the rest of his family. It is this central horror that allows the frothy essayistic bent of the rest. Finely translated by Imre Goldstein, this is maybe the most encyclopedic yet kaleidoscopic European book since Aksyonov's The Burn (1984). Not for every taste, but consistently impressive.