Some novels tell a story that causes us to see reality in a new way. Other novels are manufactured around a message. The Set-Up is of this second type.
Volkoff wants to teach us that the Soviets plan long term, that they are clever at masking their intentions, and that they have committed their re sources to disrupting and misleading Western media and book publishing. These ideas are important, but Volkoff paints the masters of Soviet disinformation as if they were mystics and wizards whose powers transcend Marxism-Leninism. In his story, they plan individual missions 30 years in advance and teach their disciples by parable and analogy. In fact, the architects of Soviet disinformation are mostly career bureaucrats who are shackled by ideology and the will to power and why use their agents for self-advancement. As party hacks, they teach by rote memorization and drill, and they follow routinized operating procedures rather than subtle aphorisms.
The Set-Up may give us suggestive insights into the complex feelings of an older generation of Russian émigrés and their children, who now look at the Soviet Union with a mixture of awe and fear. But those who wish to learn more about disinformation would do better to read John Barron or Roy Godson.
[The Set-Up, by Vladimir Volkoff (New York: Arbor House) $16.95]