Soviet Sources.Robert Cullen.Atlantic Monthly.264 pages...

BOOK BRIEFS

September 23, 1990|By BOB BAYLUS Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story. Ben Carson with Cecil Murphey. Zondervan. 232 pages. $12.95.

Soviet Sources.

Robert Cullen.

Atlantic Monthly.

264 pages. $19.95. When the progressive Soviet premier suffers an incapacitating stroke, the Washington Tribune's Moscow correspondent, Colin Burke, finds himself in the middle of one of the century's biggest stories: He learns that a Stalinist KGB faction had been plotting a coup d'etat. Burke starts to think in terms of a Pulitzer Prize, but suddenly he is a liability to the Kremlin and the CIA, which had its own operation in the works. Burke not only must investigate the story but also avoid Lubiyanka Prison.

"Soviet Sources" is a sophisticated, up-to-the-second thriller thastarts out great and never lets up its pace. Robert Cullen, a former Newsweek Moscow correspondent, knows the Soviet Union and its people. In its depictions of such aspects of Soviet life as anti-Semitism and the bathhouses where political deals are consummated, "Sources" has an authenticity often lacking in political novels. The characters -- particularly Burke and his actress girlfriend, Marina -- are uniformly well drawn. The result is both entertaining and thoughtful.

Brilliantly talented with his scalpel, pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions is a gentle man; at first it seems out of character that he would have produced an autobiography when he is not yet 40, and that he would have titled it "Gifted."

It is, however, a modest description; in this story of his ascent from the Detroit ghetto to the top of one of the world's most demanding professions, Dr. Carson claims over and over again that his success is the product of his mother's prodding and his abilities are a gift from God.

"God gave me the talent to do this job well," he writes at one point. And later: An especially controversial operation "made me feel the good Lord won't let me get into a situation He can't get me out of."

This book is easy reading and seems to be aimed at inspirinteen-agers to tackle pinnacles of their own. Adult readers cannot help but be inspired, too.

GERRI KOBREN

Black and White.

David Macaulay.

Houghton Mifflin.

Unpaged. $14.95.

In his earlier books for children, prize-winning author and illustrator David Macaulay has built (or unbuilt) Egyptian pyramids, modern skyscrapers, medieval castles and other incredible edifices, revealing the mysterious logic of construction with great sophistication and childlike clarity. In his ingenious 13th book, Mr. Macaulay lets off literary steam, playing with storytelling structure instead.

Opening "Black and White" at random, a reader soon becomes engrossed in four separate stories. All are unexpectedly linked, in by no means a "black-and-white" way. Every two-page spread is split into four quadrants, each of which follows its own narrative thread and a distinctly individual artistic style.

"Seeing Things" is the tale of a boy traveling by train to see his parents. "A Waiting Game" is an anecdote about a late train and how expectant passengers bide their time (very whimsically) until it shows up. "Udder Chaos" is a blithe graphic game about a herd of Holstein cattle that goes astray. In "Problem Parents," the most contrived, least captivating yarn, a mother and father go goofy on their children, fully abdicating their responsibility as grown-ups.

Rather like a cross between a story and a jigsaw puzzle, the book performs visual and verbal sleights that should keep children happily occupied.

MOLLY McQUADE

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