By Troy Patterson
Updated July 26, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

The novelist’s take on Sovietism is a high-end clip job in which he regurgitates the writings of historians, dissidents, and apparatchiks and briefly demonstrates the thoroughness of Stalin’s evil. The second paragraph in Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million mentions that, during the enforced famine of 1933, horse manure was a staple of some peasant diets. Things get worse from there. Though the catalog of atrocities is duly atrocious, there is no fresh thesis, and Amis’ autobiographical intrusions — about the comsymp youth of his famous father, the leftism of his friend Christopher Hitchens, and the death of his middle-aged sister — fit poorly with his discussion of purges and prison camps. This odd volume has the flavor of an exercise, of an imaginer of comic dystopias immersing himself in unimaginable horror.