This massive of Volga life by a young Russian exile has been likened by the publisher to Chekhov but it might be compared to a minor, modern Tolstoy. It is marred by a ponderous translation, particularly deadly to dialogue, but the power of the original shines through sufficiently to show its compelling competence. An attractive, primitive Russian town and a Tartar village across the river form the double background against which Russian Ma's story is played out. She marries the Tartar, Alim, for spite when her spineless sweetheart allows his father to send him away and her resulting despair and indifference drive Alim to near-violence. Manefa's unspoken understanding with Alim's brother, Mustafa, is terminated by the latter's mysterious murder and later she has a long lasting liaison with a young river sailor. The rumbling upsurge of the 1987 purges finally for es the solution of the old murder, brings death to Alim and an end to her love affair. The author, who has lived on, and obviously loves the great river, has a classic sense of detail and an ability to create colorful and convincing portraits of both major and minor characters. A first novel.