By Troy Patterson
Updated April 18, 2008 at 04:00 AM EDT

In a rushing stream of lucid language, 11-year-old Djata narrates a coming-of-age tale from somewhere behind the Iron Curtain, sometime before glasnost. Many of his preteen traumas are universal — e.g., disorienting jolts of feeling for a classmate emitting ”that big-girl smell” — while others are painfully specific to growing up in a dictatorship: Dad’s doing hard labor in a prison camp, and radioactive winds from Chernobyl have a way of screwing up soccer practice. Author György Dragomá is a Beckett scholar, training that shows in his unsentimental way of staring blankly at towering absurdities through a child’s eyes in The White King. B+