This final book by German writer Born has already been transformed into a widely distributed film, Circle of Deceit; the author's untimely death--in 1979 at age 41--has also been publicly mourned by Gunter Grass in the recent Headbirths. But the novel itself--translated rather spongily by the usually much sturdier Leila Vennewitz--is somewhat disappointing. Born's hero is George Laschen, a West German free-lance journalist in Beirut, covering the Moslem-Phalange wars and massacres. Laschen has left estranged wife Greta and their children back in Hamburg; now he spends most of his time either dodging random death in the streets from mortar-fire or considering his own problems--ethical and personal--in the face of such carnage: the illusions of neutrality, the grimace behind the reporter's level mask, doubts about the ability of journalism to respond to vast suffering. So it isn't until Laschen falls in love with German widow Ariane that he sees some hope. But Ariane, in her 30s, adopts a scarred Moslem orphan, then--unfaithfully--takes on a Lebanese lover; and these attempts of hers to maintain some semblance of human continuity within slaughter make the visiting Laschen feel less and authentic: he is driven to existential self-destructiveness. Unfortunately, however, though the issues confronted here are important ones, Born's obvious sincerity never quites translates into involving moral drama: the textures of Laschen's angst--violence, hotel-room insomnia, the alienations from both Greta and Ariane--are delivered with a murky, somber sameness; the narrative, with its dense thematic musings, is often slow and airless. The result, then, is a serious attempt to draw parallels between personal torment and the torments of war--but one that works better as a novel-essay than as an absorbing or convincing character study.