Books: Petrofiction

THE NAMES by Don DeLillo Knopf; 339 pages; $13.95

Hostages in Iran; mendicants trampled near the Ganges; Hindus and Muslims arguing and imploring in a post-Sanskrit Babel of belief. This is the ominous Oriental setting of Don DeLillo's (End Zone, Ratner's Star) seventh and most accomplished novel. There, in prose as vivid and densely knotted as a prayer rug, his characters find freshly printed petrodollars competing with ancient formality. This, in DeLillo's phrase, is the world of "plastic sandals and public beheadings."

James Axton, American and middleaged, serves this conflicted arena. He is a...

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