Nonfiction briefly noted. . .; Charmed by Russian people; Fast Train Russia, by Jay Higginbotham. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co. 114 pp. $10 .95.

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The charm of the Russian people dominates this slender volume in which award-winning historian Jay Higginbotham recounts a week-long train trip he took as a young man in 1966 - westward nearly 6,000 miles from the Sea of Japan to Moscow.

Higginbotham, who spoke no Russian, was the only Westerner aboard. As days rolled along, the initial atmosphere of mistrust gave way to mutual attempts at communication, and eventually to such warmth that his fellow passengers threw him a party before reaching their destination.

Higginbotham played fractured games of chess with the chief conductor, sought to win the heart of an aloof crippled girl, and received a bear hug from a grizzled Cossack who had seen no Americans since he fought beside them against Hitler. A simple story of friendship, superbly told - sentimental, yet not schmaltzy. It's a memory you'll make your own.

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