Politics, moral indignation, and humor meet but don't necessarily agree in this uneven collection of eleven short stories. One group of stories, the best, emphasizes well-defined characters working out individual problems within a realistic setting; the other involves surreal settings that aim, by piling absurdity on absurdity, to deliver a satirical political message that has to be helped along by commentary. The title story is of the first variety, and revolves around a woman's discovery that her left-wing parents met Joseph Stalin during a trip he made to the States in 1936. Similarly, in ""An Imaginary Line"" a young woman finds herself involved in a plan to smuggle an ex-con from Mexico City into the US. And in ""The Bus,"" an elderly couple who've met by chance in Guatemala attempt to forge a sane relationship while political turmoil and natural disaster create chaos on all sides. By contrast, ""The Shoe Clerk"" is a satirical tour de force about one Everyman's introduction to power and greed in the cartoonish kingdom of X; and ""In Fiona's Country,"" a foolish, stereotypically apolitical hack artist pampered by a wealthy South American family just can't stop stuffing his face, even as the surrounding countryside is plunged into civil war. If there's a consistent element here, it's Ruta's knack for bringing ordinary or powerless characters into close contact with extraordinary situations. But the uneven tone of the collection makes for bumpy reading, and the overt political advertising is an intrusion and a bore.