The Translator, by John Crowley

Morrow 2002, $24.95 hb.

Not until finishing this book did I realize how persistent the theme of sacrifice has become in Crowley's work. Beau vanishes at the end of Daemonomania, saving young Sam and possibly founding a new world. Daily Alice leaves her family and "passes on" to become the new Mother Nature in Little, Big. And even in Engine Summer, Rush must leave the List and travel alone so that the woman he loves can return to her home.

In this story, set in 1962 and years later, the Russian emigree poet I.I. Falin somehow -- mysteriously, inexplicably -- sacrifices himself to prevent World War III at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. He vanishes and is never seen again, is presumed dead, although Christa, the young woman who loves him, suspects more. But she will never know for certain.

Features of the book: After reading about the perils of translating Russian poetry, one wonders how it can ever be done correctly. New to me was the dreadful story of the besprizornye, the "abandoned children" of Stalin's time.

Politics has never been the author's strength and I have wondered if he has any interest in such things, but this book has more historical and political content than usual. The narration of the Missile Crisis events seems like a melodramatic throwback to the Fail Safe film genre and is not terribly gripping.

Finally, a note on the book trade. I bought a hardbound copy in like new condition about eighteen months after it was first published for about $3. The postage was the larger expense. Such is the fate of fiction these days.

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