At the heart of this story there are two characters. Manning is a student studying for his PhD and Proctor-Gould is some sort of cultural enterepeneur who has a passion for Russia.
The story starts with Proctor-Gould looking for Manning and in the time it takesfor that to happen you are filled in on the students life. He is frustrated by his studies, bored with Russia to the extent he dreams of getting away and keeps friendships with his minder at the university Sasha and a friend Katya who seems to be a victim of the regime.
But this is clearly not Stalinist times as there are references to the country no longer having a cult of personality so yu are left to assume it must be 1970s or 1980s because it is still cearly in the period of the cold war.
One slight problem from the start is that this feels like so many other books set in Russia and as a result it is quite hard to take it seriously. It feels like a parody without intentionally meaning to be one.