A blithe, inventive fable about the lives of the old Greek and Roman gods in the modern world that also takes some sardonic jabs at contemporary obsessions. German writer Nadolny (The Discovery of Slowness, not reviewed) uses Hermes, the god of change, commerce, and mischief, an irresistible scoundrel, as his protagonist. Freed after having been chained for some 2000 years to a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, he sets out to make up for lost time by plunging into the minds of a variety of tourists aboard a passing cruise ship. Much baffles him, including light switches, rampant individuality, and consumerism, but he's pleased to discover that the old slow dance of seduction still prevails between men and women. He falls in love with a young woman from Germany, who reciprocates. He also discovers the whereabouts of the other gods and goddesses. It turns out that Hephaestus, the god of blacksmiths, has seized control of Olympus, and, being both a control freak and an inveterate tinkerer, has suppressed the other gods, muffling their joyous abandon, and spent the past two millennia prodding mankind toward technology, logic, the embrace of order. Willful, credulous mankind, however, has disappointed him, and he's decided to end the world. Hermes, appalled, launches a series of witty assaults on the establishment, rallying the gods to his side. Ranging about Europe, from Greece to Germany, and on to America (where Zeus, retired, now lives) just one step ahead of his nemesis, he takes a crash course in human behavior, loses his lover, finds another, and muses, in droll fashion, on the peculiar need of humans for their gods--and vice versa. Of course, in a typically sly manner, he manages to help trounce Hephaestus and usher in a new Golden Age. In less assured hands, such material would seem coy and tedious. Nadolny, however, manages to keep the narrative swift, lively, and witty in an unforced way. A droll delight.