It was among the worst of times in recent memory: the bloody secession of Bangladesh from big-brother Pakistan. At the start, true, the Bengalis were fighting-for-freedom under an esteemed leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman--and by ignoring what came after, historian and novelist Payne has teased the rudiments of a heroic saga out of a historic muddle. As the Bengali capital, Dacca, is terrorized by Pakistani Punjabs (to quash the independence movement), Sheikh Mujibur Rahman dismisses his guards and reads St. Joan; history professor Muhammad Sirajul Akhtar hears explosions, shots, hobnail boots, a shout at the door; journalist Anwar Amir is seized and beaten; two fourteen-year-old gang leaders plot the Punjabi commander's assassination; brilliant, virile young Captain Iskandar Khan, washing up, has some second thoughts. But the you-are-there kaleidoscope crumbles when the principals disperse--to imprisonment or refuge--and, out of action, lapse into long, deep, uninteresting thoughts. Totally abandoned are the book's. only personalities, the two guileful, gleeful boys: after taking over a munitions cargo from an incredulous trawler captain, they unaccountably vanish and Payne brings up the big shrill international guns. Bengali friend Indira Gandhi preaches about democracy; Pakistani foe Richard Nixon rants ""India is a fart""; Pakistani dictator Yahya Khan twits his mistresses--and, in a symbolic stretch of the G-string, a belly dancer deposits a bloody sanitary napkin on his guest Henry Kissinger's lap. When V-day inexorably arrives and Sheikh Mujibur returns triumphantly to Dacca, all the above are reassembled at the airport; and into the mouth of the professor's precocious son Payne ill-advisedly puts the last words, ""Everything will be all right now."" What Payne doesn't say is that four years later, Mujibur, grown as autocratic as Yahya Khan, was killed by his own people. Unsatisfying as fiction, untrustworthy as history.