This sad, limp novel by the author of The Seven Days of Creation (1974) and Farewell from Nowhere (1979) is a product of old experiences and a twin obsession--Stalin and Christ. One can't fault the obsession, but it doesn't make good fiction. In either case, the narrative is distorted to justify the author's a priori belief, and we can never know how well or badly distorted. Three men are interested in the Kurile Islands, and their three stories are layered together. Stalin wants them for militarist or imperial expansion; Zolotarev, the ever-efficient young administrator, takes over control as the next step in his extraordinary Party and government career; and Fyodor Samokbin, ex-soldier, goes out after the War--this happens about 40 years ago--to make a living. Thin icings connect the layers: Stalin personally assigns Zolotarev, who is invited to the inner sanctum in the Kremlin and shown a Charlie Chaplin movie that leaves him cold and The Leader in tears; Zolotarev is from the same small village as Fyodor, but even at the end, the island torn by volcanic eruption and tidal wave and the settlers hastening to leave, Fyodor reflects that ""The goose is no companion to the pig,"" as Zolotarev remains withdrawn and austere. Events and recollections stretching back to the Civil War are used to illustrate the men's moral caliber, a ranking very different from Party hierarchy or bureaucratic space. Stalin is depicted as rankled by the imputation that his mother was a whore and he, a bastard. Zolotarev is said to be anguished by the incompetence and hypocrisy that corrupt all levels of the state administration. And Fyodor is buffeted by men's greed and cruelty as much as by the earthquake. But his little launch with pregnant Lyuba aboard, swept out to sea by the same wave that swept Zolotarev under, ends in a sunlit bay on foreign soil. What saved him? His Christian capacity for faith, industry, loyalty, compassion, sacrifice. In short, Maximov, who appeared to be a rebellious writer while in the Soviet Union because he protested the system, now after more than a decade in Paris, seems a sort of modern Tractarian. Perhaps one shouldn't be surprised by that, but it's surprising that his prose has become so wooden.