[In "P. D. Kimerakov"], a Russian scientist—like Nabokov's Pnin but even more muddled and less adept at concealing the muddle—finds himself drafted for cultural exchange and loses his heart to an American dancing girl who is managed by an improbable, mayhem-loving C.I.A. operative called L. T. Kapp. Hilarity is always ready to score in this sometimes over blown book, and it often sounds forced. This defect may be a sign of Leslie Epstein's honesty; he cannot hide the essential grimness of this particular corner of history, and he knows that pathos will be at war with buffoonery throughout his story. Unfortunately, the result leaves him with a narrative tone that is vague and in-between and not really comprehending. Yet there is an ease and warmth in the telling, and a nice crowding of the plot with minor characters, which make one read on….
Kimerakov's oppressive life at home and his urge to invent models, religions, truths, his tireless and fascinated observation of spiders as they too grow old, his fiercely checked seduction of Larisa—comes through marvelously in the nervy and elegant style Epstein has chosen for it. He imparts a grandeur, not quite expressible, touchingly awkward, to this hero who "walked a bit like a waiter, smoothly, balancing instead of dishes a delicate heart."
The opening scenes in Russia show Epstein at the top of his form. And these are repeated, with something of their original force, near the close of the novel, when Kimerakov discovers his laboratory in disarray and finally is expelled from the Academy of Sciences, U.S.S.R. The American interlude,...
(The entire section is 670 words.)