Reality is the ultimate satire. Imagine inventing this: A West German teen-ager flies a little Cessna into Soviet airspace, buzzes the Lenin Mausoleum, nearly knocks off a piece of the GUM department store and lands on Red Square where he signs autographs.

"What a flight of genius!" says exiled novelist Vladimir Voinovich, author of the recently published "2042" and the closest thing modern readers have to a Gogol. "That young man is a hero and a satirist, too. Look what it shows about Moscow. When one poor Jew comes there carrying a slogan asking for freedom, the KGB is on top of him in seconds. Months later, a teen-aged pilot lands on Red Square. On Red Square! And nobody stops him. How do you get funnier than that?"

Voinovich himself never set out to be a satirist. "Life made me a satirist. It was unavoidable. I wanted to be a realist, writing about what I saw. Almost like journalism. But when I published my work, which I thought was really true-to-life, they said, 'You're writing satire.' I wasn't, it was just life that was so absurd. The more I've depicted life, the deeper I've gone, the more I've become a satirist. Or so they say."

Early in his career, Voinovich was publicly criticized in the Soviet Union for adhering "to an alien poetic of depicting 'life as it is.' " Then came articles in Izvestia, Trud and Stroitelnaya Gazeta with headlines like "This Is False!" and "Writer with a Tar Brush." Worldwide fame could only follow.

Voinovich, whose broad Serbian face strangely resembles that of the late Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko, left the Soviet Union seven years ago. He, his second wife Irina and their 13-year-old daughter have lived in Stockdorf, a suburb of Munich, ever since. He is the author of two works worthy of "Dead Souls": "The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin," a brutal send-up of Soviet bureaucracy and army life, and "The Ivankiad," a mock epic about Voinovich's (real-life) quest for a slightly larger apartment in the Moscow Writers' Housing Cooperative. His search for "a room of my own" pits him against the sort of mediocrities who tend to rule Soviet literature and real estate.

After Voinovich began publishing work in the West and spoke out for oppressed writers such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, the government threw him out of the Writer's Union and forbade him to publish. "Chonkin" and "The Ivankiad" were written in Moscow, but have never appeared there. Previously published books were removed from Soviet libraries and bookstores, and stories that had appeared in issues of Novy Mir and other journals were scissored out of library volumes. His name was removed from literary encyclopedias. "I was harassed by the KGB from the mid-'70s until the day I left."

Besieged, Voinovich managed to remain, at once, funny and defiant. When the authorities disconnected his phone, he wrote a letter to the minister of communications that began, "It is with deep concern that I bring to your attention the fact that an enemy of the Relaxation of International Tension, the head of the Moscow telephone system, is in hiding somewhere in the field of national economy headed by you." When dissident leader Andrei Sakharov was exiled to Gorky, Voinovich wrote a mocking epistle to Izvestia decrying the act. "But I wrote it in the style of a Medal of Lenin winner humbly thanking the Soviet government and the homeland. Of course, it wasn't published."

After the Sakharov letter, an official from the district Party committee informed Voinovich, "I have been instructed to inform you that the patience of the Soviet authorities and the people has come to an end." Voinovich left in December 1980. Six months later Leonid Brezhnev stripped him of citizenship. He has never returned.

While Voinovich was traveling in Washington and other American cities last week trying to draw attention to "2042," he learned that his father had died. Obviously, it was impossible to go to the funeral. Despite Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of glasnost (openness) and peristroika (restructuring), none of the prominent exiled writers -- Voinovich, Joseph Brodsky, Vladimir Maximov, among them -- have been asked back for a visit. They are not likely to be anytime soon.

"But I suppose if I could go back, one of the first things I'd do is visit my father's grave," Voinovich says. "Occasionally, I'll speak to friends in Moscow and they'll say, 'Come, you must visit.' Unfortunately, my friends are not in power to give visas. I'd very much like to go to my father's grave. He meant everything to me.

"I never had any reason to think he would live so long. He was arrested when I was 3 1/2 years old. In Stalin's time, of course. We lived in Dushanbe in the republic of Tadzhikistan in Central Asia. He was a Serb, a journalist and a translator of Serbian literature. My mother was a teacher and a Jew. It was 1936, and my father had a normal, casual conversation with two other men about Stalin's theory of building socialism in 'one country.' My father said he thought it probably wasn't possible. One of the men informed on him to the NKVD. They were going to kill him, but they cut the sentence to 'only five years' in a labor camp in Birobidzhan.

"When I'd ask where he was, my mother would say, 'On a business trip.' Well, I was so young that I soon began to forget him. I really only remembered a big man who had a mole by the side of his nose. Five years later I was in first grade and I came home from school; I was in our yard riding on a big pig that I used to ride like a horse. Another boy said to me, 'Do you see that man over there? He's asking for you?' The man was in rags, unshaven, a tired, tired face.

"He asked me my name, and he asked where I lived. I brought him to our place, and when he saw my grandmother, the two of them embraced and cried. My mother had left for work at the institute where she worked. I ran after her and overtook her. I said, 'Father's home! Father's home!' She said, 'That's impossible.' But I knew it was true. By the mole."

When Voinovich writes now of the Soviet Union, he must rely on the same sort of memory he used to recall his father. "My own life took the same form as that of millions of others my age," he writes in a collection of his articles, "The Anti-Soviet Soviet Union." "Kindergarten, poems about Lenin, songs about Stalin, first grade, the war, two evacuations, hunger during the war and a half-hungry life after it."

There are enough memories. "I don't think leaving presents any sort of tragic problem," he says. "I lived in the Soviet Union for 48 years. Every day I listen to Soviet radio, I read Soviet publications, I speak and read and think in Russian. How much do you think life has changed?"

In "2042," a hero very much like Voinovich travels ahead in time and discovers a perverse extension of present-day Moscow. Ruled by the "Genialissimo," the city has a "Bureau of Natural Functions" and other Orwellianisms. The first half of the story recalls Yevgeny Zamyatin's banned novel of the '20s, "We," a chilling projection of the Bolshevik future. "But Zamyatin's Soviet Union was like a perfect machine," Voinovich says. "My machine of state in '2042' is broken. Rotted."

The novel then predicts a grim alternative to reform, the rise of extremist Russian nationalism -- always an undercurrent in Russian history. Voinovich got in trouble for his support of Solzhenitsyn 14 years ago, and yet in "2042" he lampoons a wildly egomaniacal, nationalist author who bears a striking resemblance to Solzhenitsyn.

"Solzhenitsyn is a typical figure in Russian cultural history, people who want to shake the society at the foundations. {Russian anarchist} Mikhail Bakunin, the 19th-century revolutionist, Nikolai Chernyshevsky, Rasputin, Tolstoy, Lenin -- all of them in their own way were like this. Nationalists are completely antidemocratic. Some of them are monarchists, some of them believe in the Russian Orthodox Church as supreme. Not many of them are active now in the Soviet Union, of course, but in critical situations I think you may see them rise up. Remember, at first, in Germany there were not so many supporters of Hitler. But when the situation became unstable, he rose up and the masses followed.

"Anti-Semitism is an important part of nationalism. Before, writers like Chekhov and Tolstoi were completely against anti-Semitism, but now we have no strong figures who are standing against this. What Solzhenitsyn says about Jews is very careless. Usually, he is at least a little bit negative about Jews and he's never said anything against anti-Semitism. And he must."

Voinovich's own politics are, like those of most e'migre' writers, conservative by western standards. But while Voinovich has always written with great cynicism about the future of the Soviet regime, he says "we are in a moment of hope."

"I'm known as a very tough critic, but I am definitely for this process of reform. In a way, it was inevitable. Ideology died during the Brezhnev era. With so much corruption, with the invasion of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, Brezhnev could not count on ideology the way Stalin could. Ideology, when it is strong, can substitute for a real economy. People may even sacrifice their lives for it. But when it ends and no one believes in it, people suddenly notice how bad things are around them. Gorbachev understands this.

"When Khrushchev fell, it was said that he had tried to leap across the abyss in two jumps. Gorbachev is more of a tightrope walker. I think Gorbachev understands that in order to compete economically with the West, you have to set people free. For example, in science one lab keeps everything completely secret from another that's working on the same thing. They don't want spies. But it's stupid. They get nowhere without free discussions of ideas.

"The process may not go very far. In Russia, we say sometimes that it's too late to wish someone good health at their funeral. Gorbachev's intentions are serious but the system resists and will resist. It may be an impossible mission."

In Moscow, literary politics are an important, if degraded, art, and soon Voinovich will publish another satire on that world. "And again," he says, "reality was the best form of satire.

"The novella is called 'The Fur Hat.' The Moscow Writer's Union decides to give its members fur hats. The best furs went to the top people and the worst to the lowest people. It's about a writer who is given a rabbit hat, the lowest sort of fur hat, but he works and works to get a higher quality fur. He kisses everyone's feet and forgets his talent. At the very end he gets a better fur. But he dies with his hat in his hands."