Chance encounters of the Russian kind, reconstructed and strung together by a professor of American Literature at the University of California, Irvine. Jay Martin, biographer of Conrad Aiken, Nathanael West, and Henry Miller, went to spend five winter months at Moscow State University with no intention, he says, of writing about his Soviet experiences. Then one of his ""nicest Russian friends"" suggested it, and Martin promised to produce a book different from the usual American reportage. He would tell the usual truths about the lack of freedom, the terrible bureaucracy, the food shortages--and also address what Martin calls ""the rest of the Russian reality."" That reality, he says, can be understood ""only through dreams, fantasies, enduring faiths, and quixotic passions."" Martin writes very little about the classes he taught as Moscow University. Instead he introduces characters-factual or semi-fictional?--like bikini-sporting Marya, who claims she comforted Comrade Khruschev; Tatjana, a charming black-market specialist; and Lev, allegedly a former lover of Svetlana Stalin, who was assigned to spy on Martin. Whether or not these people were what he claims or did the exciting but nearly predictable things he has them doing, he loses credibility by concealing their true identity ""to protect the guilty""--whatever that means. He'll have you think that the regime is less mechanically heartless than it's been pictured, and that the individual has correspondingly more room to maneuver. But Hedrick Smith (The Russians) and Robert Kaiser (Russia), two good reporters, told us that much and more.