From the acclaimed Russian ÇmigrÇ author (The Burn, 1984, etc.) comes a pleasant surprise: a huge, sprawling, and highly entertaining historical novel of the Stalinist era. Set between 1925 and 1945, the story focuses on the Gradovs, a privileged Moscow family whose patriarch, Boris, rises from prominent physician to the rank of general and deputy in the Supreme Soviet. His daughter Nina is a Trotskyite poet, his son Kirill a strict, humorless Marxist, his other son Nikita a brilliant career soldier falsely accused of being an anti- Stalinist. The Gradovs, like most Russians in the mid-1920s, are swept up in postrevolutionary euphoria (``All other times pale beside ours!'' exclaims Nina) but are soon torn apart by the brutal, senseless Stalinist purges followed by the horrifying all- out war with Germany. Relatives and hangers-on appear and are ``disappeared,'' aid and betray the family. Aksyonov paints a chilling portrait of Russians who are cowed into accepting Stalin's iron rule and those who carry out his sadistic orders. He takes the reader on a wild ride through history, heading south to Tbilisi, the refuge of poets and artists, north to the Siberian forced-labor camps filled with political prisoners, east to the peasant farms destroyed by collectivization, and west to the killing fields of the German front. He seamlessly weaves together a multitude of storylines and slides in and out of political, military, philosophical, and artistic characters, both real and imagined, with the greatest of ease. Incorporating Russian legends, folklore, and history, the novel is full of humor, passion, and striking prose reminiscent of Aksyonov's great forebears, with numerous echoes of Anna Karenina. Expansive, chaotic, and thoroughly engrossing.