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In Byzantium Endures (1982), old London shopkeeper Maxim Pyat recalled his picaresque Russian adventures--as inventor, soldier, vagabond--before, during, and just after the Revolution. Here, in another impressively detailed, energetically imagined, yet fundamentally lifeless tour-de-force, Pyat continues his story: from 1919 Odessa to 1924 Los Angeles. Now identifying himself as ""Colonel M. A. Pyat, late of the 13th Don Cossack Regiment, scientist and man-of-the-world,"" 19-year-old Pyat is in flight from the hated Bolsheviks and sets sail for Constantinople--sharing a cabin (platonically) with Cockney entertainer Mrs. Cornelius, seducing the sensuous Baroness von Ruckstuhl, sniffing cocaine, bemoaning Russia's fate, and planning to ""bring scientific enlightenment to the world at large."" In Constantinople he becomes fixated on a teenage prostitute, a dead ringer for his longlost sister/lover EsmÉ: Pyat ""adopts"" her, gives her a new name, and flees with her to Italy--after an attempt to sell his aeronautical designs to Turkish rebel Kemal gets him in Big Trouble. There are sojourns among bohemians in Rome and Paris--where Pyat reunites with some Russian pals and goes into the airplane-building biz. . . with business/legal disaster ahead. (Pyat is sure that he's being sabotaged--and pursued--by Jewish/Bolshevik/Chekist enemies.) On, then, without EsmÉ, to America--via the Mauretania, seen here as a city-state, a floating Utopia. And, after stops in 1920s N.Y. and Washington, Pyat's airplane-designs bring him to a company in Memphis, where he at last finds himself among glorious soulmates-barnstorming for the grand, elegant, mystical Ku Klux Klan. (""It was as if I was in the Alexander cathedral in Kiev again, listening to the chanting of the priests. . ."") But even the Klan brings disillusionment--so Pyat is last seen on tour as an actor in California with old pal Mrs. Cornelius, ending up in Hollywood, ""the first true city of the twentieth century."" As in Byzantium Endures, the primary appeal here is in Moorcock's evocations of period places and modes-of-travel: there are a dozen fine set-pieces. Missing, however, is the dramatic historical framework of the Revolution. The picaresque action--slight, slow, tame--is overshadowed throughout by old Pyat's perverse polemics: praise for Hitler and Mussolini; anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic tirades; laments for the decline of the West (England especially), undone by the decadent forces symbolized by Carthage (vs. Byzantium). And though Moorcock may want all the ugly rhetoric to be read as the ravings of a self-deluding liar and knave, the ironies--e.g., Pyat's own secret Jewishness--aren't as clear here as they were in Byzantium Endures. So this 600-page novel, for all its scene-by-scene skill, soon becomes a cold, tedious exercise--short on genuine character or charm, basically shapeless, faintly unpleasant.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Random House