Littell's puckish send-up of modern Russian life rides upon the zig-zagging back of one Robespierre Isayevich Pravdin, a Jewish ex-camper, a cheerful graffiti artist and black-marketeer, a hustler who's got big plans for Russian society, like the introduction of Q-tips, classic comics, Red Army exercises, vaginal deodorant sprays, instant matzos. . . . Living in the last wooden house in Moscow, he has as neighbors an aging general, a weatherman, a hippie named Ophelia, a beautiful mute girl with whom he has an affair, and Mother Russia herself--an old woman named Zoya, conveniently classified by the government as insane and so left alone to send a steady stream of letters to the United Nations, the Kremlin, the White House, even the sewing machine company that won't send her a badly needed part (""zingers to Singer""). When Pravdin comes into possession of the original manuscripts of a famous Russian novel, proof is served up beyond doubt that the Sholokhov-like author who claimed the book as his--and who won a Nobel for his talent--merely plagiarized. And Pravdin's crusade to uncover the impostor, now elevated to an Honored Artist of the Soviet Union, lands him in the Lubyanka again, and then the mental hospitals. Littell's light touch saves all this from grimness: with Pravdin he's got a holy fool, and the upshot may be loony shading toward fey, but it certainly has its charms.