ALTHOUGH S.J. Perelman "hopes to qualify as a Jewish Robert Louis Stevenson," the Scot he most closely resembles is Tobias Smollett, dubbed "Dr. Smelfungus" by Laurence Sterne for his notoriously ill-tempered Travels Through France and Italy, first published in 1776 and still raising hackles to this day.
Clearly the most irascible traveler since Smollett, in his 20th book Perelman lets fly with somewhat diminished zest at the unfortunate denizens of Edinburgh, Paris, Moscow, Tel Aviv and Points East. The veins of other travelers - at least at the beginning of their journeys - course with blood: only Perelman boasts ichor. If the State Department doesn't already have an official III-Will Ambassador, they should create the post just for him.
As an honorary would-be Scot, he notes with keen relish the embarrassing similarity between Scottish and Jewish nomenclature. Only Perelman would hook up with such dubious Hibernians as the Hon. Auberon Rachmonnies, whose country seat lies somewhere near a place called Auchundvay, where ancestor-worship for the Clan Rokeach runs rampant.
Bilked by the rapacious Scots, he heads for Paris, where he discovers in his fleabag hotel "that soap was never supplied in France, fats being conserved exclusively for soups." Seeking surcease from the local wild life, he employs "the firm approach used by generations of American tourists."
"Citronella! Citronella!" I shouted, hammering on the showcase. 'To chase away skeeters - don't you understand? Any boob knows what that is!'
"He did, of course, for the French make their lemonade from it, whether from perversity or avarice."
On to Moscow, where he is cozened into visiting so many religious shrines left over from the bad old days that he comes down with a severe case of icon poisoning, and thence to Israel, where he marvels: "What magic, what ingenuity and manpower it had taken to re-create Grossinger's, the Miami Fontainebleau, and the Concord Hotel or a barren strand in the Near East!"
The reader will be relieved to learn that after all these travails, he finally makes it back to "Fun City, where every prospect freezes the blood and only man is vile."
It would be pleasant to report that Eastward Ha! is as fine a performance on the Perelman as its predecessor Westward Ha! but such, alas, is not the case. Despite such splendid inventions as the musician who "played some instrument, I think the hullabaloo, in a rock group calling themselves The Damp Squibs," the language is less outrageously baroque; some cliches, like "scarcer than hen's teeth" go unssavaged; phony words like "dichotomy" are used in all seriousness, and our most erudite humorist even forgets for the nonce that humidity, no matter how oppressive, is still measured in percentages, not degrees. Worst of all, the book boasts a mere two illustrations by the incomparable Al Hirschfeid, royal iconographer to Perelman as Holbein was to Henry VIII.
Perelman addicts will be somewhat disappointed, I think. Le Carre addicts (everyone else who can read without moving his lips) will be pleased to note that in Hong Kong Perelman met Richard Hughes, the original of Craw, and reports him holding fourth just as he does in The Honourable Schoolboy.