Quilted out of a few simple elements with a quiet emotional security, Rasputin's tale--beautifully translated--is set in wartime Siberia, the peasant hamlet of Atamanovka. Childless Nastyona's husband, Andrei, is wounded repeatedly (at Stalingrad and other battles) but always sent quickly back to the front; finally, numbed by hopelessness, he deserts and makes his way back to his town. Making his presence known only to Nastyona and living alone out in a deserted cabin in the woods, he depends on his wife for emotional and physical subsistence; they conceive a child, this complication proving to be the book's motive force. Since Nastyona still lives in town and either has to hide the pregnancy or Andrei's existence--one or the other--dimensions are drawn unashamedly upon tragic lines. Rasputin streaks the novel with lovely natural descriptions, also a bit too much reflection. But Nastyona's devotion, the almost insupportable burden of her secret, and Andrei's regression to a feral state (he learns to howl like a wolf in his winter solitude)--these are strong and moving. Sluggish now and then, but sensitive.