The Visiting Professor

“The Visiting Professor” is the sort of book that feels fresh and funny and interesting for about 100 pages, and then starts to wear down. Robert Littell seems to have taken a break from his favorite subject matter (the CIA), but not his favorite era (the Cold War) or one of his favorite types of characters (a post-Soviet Russian), and the resulting story is unexpected…in a very good way. This is essentially a fish-out-of-water story, a professor from the former Soviet Union trying to understand the American culture, and there are some highly memorable moments. But Littell sort of forgets that interesting moments don’t necessarily add up to “plot,” and somewhere around page 150 (of 250 or so), he finally introduces the very first plot elements, which are very different than what we initially expected. The result, of course, is that the story never really gets going, and while we enjoy the characters, we just keep wondering why we’re reading about them…what’s going to be our ultimate reward?

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