In this first novel from British author Powell, the sale of self-described leftist and ex-communist Feliks Zhukovski's life work, a travel guide to Eastern Europe, precipitates sweeping late-life changes.
The American company that offers Feliks a sumptuous sum for his guide won't be keeping him on in any sort of advisory capacity—his work reads like Eastern Bloc propaganda, and, as he sells the guide, the Soviet Union is becoming history. Feliks, oddly robotic and unemotional, is perpetually perplexed—a bachelor who seems never really to have experienced life, nor, as he realizes in his 60s as a chronic traveler, the concept of home, despite his having maintained an apartment in Paris. His first visit to America to sell his guide to a New York publishing house becomes an opportunity to meet a long-lost brother, Woodrow, from whom he was separated as a youth when their Polish mother shipped her sons off just as the Nazis prepared to invade. Fissures develop in Feliks' emotionless façade. He begins to entertain the possibility that his dislike of Capitalism and the West may not be as soundly founded as he had thought, and, overcome with emotion with regards to Woodrow and the fate of the mother they have been unable to locate for 25 years, he undergoes a process of ideological apostasy. Back in Paris, with time and money on his hands, he obtains his mother's last address. He also pursues leads on the one bona fide romance of his long, dry life. The narrative's inertia and twists, not to mention Feliks' dry sense of humor superimposed against a geographical and historical backdrop, often make for funny and compelling reading. But Feliks' obsessive reassessment of his politics, spurred by realizations of the untruths and injustices on which they were based, slows to a sometimes sentimental picaresque populated by flat characters acting as foils for his interior monologue.
Raises questions but lacks satisfying conclusions, which is apparently the point.