Less a quest than an odyssey, this, because the stopovers overshadow the destination-even in the mind of Peter Riesinger, ""five years old, Ten Middle Road,"" who is separated from his mother when the Russians occupy East Prussia and adopted by a Russian officer. Peter is Open, curious, confident; he accepts his new father and family, a new language and school. But the reminder of his own mothers' blue dress spurs him to leave -- mistakenly, toward the east. Purportedly this is based on a recorded case, and up to the point when Peter is found on the steppes by Ibrahim, father of his Kirghiz army friend Idris who's been told all about him, it is a possible picture of an unusually adaptable child narrowing war and its dislocations to the concerns of the moment. What happens after is simply acculturation: Peter becomes a Mohammedan shepherd among the Kirghiz, a polite Confucian among the Chinese; he meets the Dalai Lama in Tibet, watches pilgrims at the Ganges with a maharajah, hears about Gandhi from an untouchable on a ship heading for Europe, shares the work of a fellaheen family in Egypt. There are a few rogues also and Peter, in the nine years of his wandering, learns to recognize them; he also acquires an awareness of rampant injustice. Mostly he is passed along, or decides to have a look at something new: someday he will return home and his mother will be waiting. Since Peter is always lucky, she is -- but the table manners and religious customs count for more.