Britisher Faulks's first US publication: an observant, unpretentious, and moving story of a man's life to age 40. Recovering from wounds in Italy in 1944, Cpl. Raymond Russell meets--and falls in love with--a young girl named Francesca, who after the war becomes his wife and moves with him back to England. In 1950, the two have a son named Pietro, their only child, who 12 years later loses his beloved mother to cancer. From these beginnings, the novel unfolds, becoming the story of Pietro's life in 26 chapters, each named for its setting and arranged in alphabetical (but not chronological) order, starting, for example, with Anzio in 1944 (where Pietro's father was wounded and met Francesca), going on to Backley in 1950, where Pietro was born, from there to Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1980, where Pietro is on a photographic assignment, then back to Dorking in England, where Pietro's mother dies in 1963, and so on. The alphabetic device is offered (partly) in homage to a provincial fellow soldier of Pietro's father's who was awed by travel and ``said he wanted to spend a night in a place beginning with every letter of the alphabet before he died.'' If there's risk of the scheme becoming artificial, Faulks keeps the danger well at bay: his observant eye and intelligent voice easily and entirely captivate the reader, who follows Pietro from school in Fulham (1964) on through first love (Lyndonville, Vermont, 1971); from the pathos of a nervous collapse in Quezaltenango, Guatemala, (1974) on to the meeting of his wife- to-be in Ghent (1981); and from there through another decade of a sensitive and sometimes emotionally precarious life in which, say, descriptions of office politics and of a father's death can be, in their different ways, equally compelling and poignant. Life as it is--plain, human, real--made into the finest kind of art.