The circle of friends and relations surrounding a talented, immensely cynical, half-Russian artist cope in their various ways with the terrifying breakup of the Communist order in the Soviet Union. Peters's (The War in 2020, etc.) guide on this latest trip through the ruins of Lenin's great experiment is politically acceptable painter Sasha Leskov. Leskov, one of two sons of a Latvian mother and Russian military father, has come to a pleasant accommodation with the art apparat. The painters' union sends him off on assignments to paint flatteringly glorious military leaders, their battles, and their wives. In exchange for this ridiculous work, Leskov gets his own apartment, a nice salary, and the freedom to paint his own unsalable pictures. But this pleasant agreement founders as Gorbachev's new policies begin to shake things up. First in East Germany and later, in Riga, Leskov sniffs the first disturbing scents of freedom, and back in Moscow he finds that some of his friends are reaching better arrangements with the West than he's ever had in the USSR. At the same time, his domestic life becomes completely disrupted by an intense affair with Shirin Talala, the wild daughter of an immensely corrupt Uzbek politician, and enriched by the unlikely friendship of young career soldier Mikhail Samsonov. The affair with Shirin inevitably involves Sasha in the undeclared war springing up between the Russians and republics like Uzbekistan, and it's an involvement that deeply frightens Sasha's estranged brother Pavel, a KGB colonel who sees rather farther into the future than he would like. Among the great worries down the road is the ever less controlled force of Islamic fundamentalism. First-rate. Not only does Peters know everything there is to know about the old Soviet Union, but he writes beautifully and fits everything into a tight and original plot. The scenery, including trips to Samarkand and Tashkent, is not to be missed.