When a book has these words on the back cover, one has to think that much humor and hijinks among international literature will ensue: "If you're going to read just one book about conference planning, Isaac Babel, Leo Tolstoy, boys' leg contests, giant apes, Uzbek poetry, the life of the mind and the resignation of the sould--seek no farther: THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU!!!"
Promising, no? But for me, at least, this book fell short of my expectations. I was expecting something much more consistently (and frequently) funny. Not long essays about planning a Russian lit conference with Isaac Babel's last living relatives , or living in Samarkand, or the Uzbek language and its maddening similarities to Turkish. All worthy subjects, I have no doubt. But apparently I would have preferred to read them if they'd been penned by Bill Bryson, David Sedaris, or J. Maarten Troost, three very funny non-fiction writers.
People who have actually read Babel, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and Tolstoy (and perhaps those not reading the book on a beach in the Virgin Islands) will enjoy this book, I have no doubt. And perhaps I will even give it another spin one day. But not today.