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Notes on Current Books


ISSUE:  Autumn 1979

According to Gilman, decadence has fallen upon hard times and into irreverent hands: the mindlessly chic enjoy using it to enhance faintly illegal or merely unhealthy social indiscretions. All these offenders are read humorless little lessons in history, semantics, literature, and sociology of a thoroughly shallow and undiverting genre. In arguing that the word has no real meaning, Gilman hardly succeeds in discouraging its indiscriminate use. Whether by supererogation or misunderstanding, “decadent” has become, as Gilman admits, an epithet of “disquieting allure.”

F. R. Leavis: Judgment and the Discipline of Thought, by Robert Boyers. Missouri $5.50

This is a serious study that raises a number of important questions about criticism in general and F. R. Leavis in particular. What is the relation between thinking and imagination in poetry? In what ways are poetry and fiction responsive to the communities in which their authors live? Boyers declares that for Leavis “criticism is a mode of thought and that its primary object is a response to life.” The author admires Leavis but is not uncritical and provides an intelligent and balanced appraisal.

The Myth Makers: Literary Essays, by V. S. Pritchett. Random House $8.95

The appearance of this neat volume serves to admonish all writers that the classic essay still draws breath and is not simply a dead ideal. Chafed by pedantry and dogmatic ideology, we revive when we read studies so brief yet allusive, elliptical yet savory of detail, nuanced yet suggestive of sweeping scope. In a score of perfect essays, all written with unique modesty, grace, and insight, Pritchett reminds us by force of style of the intimate relation of literature to life.

Sylvia Plath: New Views on the Poetry, edited by Gary Lane. Johns Hopkins $14

“Bogus spirituality” and “pop sincerity” sum up Hugh Kenner’s evaluation of Plath’s poems, which certainly hold a place in the history of sensibility—but also in the history of poetry? The pros and cons of the question are presented in this collection of 13 essays by noted critics, who view the works variously as “hysteric melodrama” or Freudian/feminist documentary. The intensity and urgency of the poetic idiom is commonly noted, but to what extent do these “empurpled confessionals” stand on their own apart from the validation of sensational biography? This is a provocative volume, with bearing also on issues of literary theory.

The Critical Circle: Literature and History in Contemporary Hermeneutics, by David Couzens Hoy. California $12.95

This book is a study of the hermeneutical circle especially as it applies to historical inquiry and literary criticism. The hermeneutical circle “generally describes how, in the process of understanding and interpretation, part and whole are related in a circular way: in order to understand the whole, it is necessary to understand the parts, while to understand the parts it is necessary to have some comprehension of the whole.” The book explains recent historical and literary theory that has developed from the hermeneutical philosophies of Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer. Although the book is directed at an audience that has some knowledge of contemporary philosophy and literary theory, it does have implications for all who are interested in humanistic thinking.

The Discipline of English: A Guide to Critical Theory and Practice, by George Watson. Barnes & Noble $18.50 cloth, 6.95 paper

The Discipline of English is a pretentious title for a book that is often uninformed and that states cliches as though they are gnomic utterances: “Much history is based on assumptions, and some of them may be merely habitual.” The book is addressed to those “who teach and study English in upper schools . . . as well as in colleges and universities.” The first part reviews the present state of critical theory, and the second provides elementary information about reading and writing. In the first part the author shows little knowledge of the chief critical problems of our time; in the second, the instruction is useful, but can be found in any elementary handbook. Why then this?

The Mid-Eighteenth Century, by John Butt. Edited and completed by Geoffrey Carnall. Oxford $24.95

This volume exemplifies the wide learning and the clear prose of the late John Butt, who wrote most of the text, and of Geoffrey Carnall, who completed it. It is confined to the years 1740—1789, and deals comprehensively with English and Scottish poetry, memoirs, biography, essays, letters, dialogues, speeches, novels, and other prose fiction. The comprehensiveness and accuracy of this literary history make it a valuable reference work, and the bibliography will prove especially helpful to scholars. But it should be noted that the authors deliberately avoid offering reasons for changing poetical and critical interests, preferring, instead, to provide a summary of the varieties of writing in the 50-year segment.

Critique of Taste, by Galvano Delia Volpe. Translated by Michael Caesar. Schocken $18.50

The late Galvano Delia Volpe was an eminent Italian Marxist philosopher; he published the Critique of Taste in I960, and this is the first English translation. The author has an extensive knowledge of Marxist and non-Marxist criticism, and he takes issue with Lukacs as well as with the “New Critics.” His general position comines sociological and linguistic premises; all language, he argues, incorporates historical meaning but, in addition, poetic language possesses transhistorical meanings. His view is not so innovative as it was 20 years ago, and it has in recent years met with much resistance, but the author is very well informed and almost persuasive.

British Theatre Since 1955: A Reassessment, by Ronald Hayman. Oxford $10.95

This “reassessment” presents much material that is new to even the most avid American playgoer. But Hayman’s writing taxes. The strength of the book, which is otherwise impressionistic, evaluative, and literal-minded, is that it pleases in spite of its author. We are introduced, in journalistic fashion, to almost 50 contemporary British playwrights. Hayman’s thesis, when he remembers to link these writers, is that recent British theater favors political themes. Unfortunately, Hayman resents this triumph of Brecht over Beckett and fails to see the implications of his own material—that the British theatre is probably the healthiest, most exciting theatre in either hemisphere.

Denise Levertov: In Her Own Province, edited by Linda W. Wagner. New Directions $4.95

“Poetry of the immediate,” is one characterization of the works of this Britishborn, American activist poet. Besides critical essays, the book contains interviews with and essays by the poet in which she discusses her life as well as her views on poetry and politics. Aligning herself with the “makers” (e.g., Williams) rather than the “seers” (e.g., Eliot), she elucidates her concept of “organic form” and relates it to poetic perception in a provocative essay, “Dying and Living.” Contributions to the collection are very uneven, but on the whole it adds to our understanding of contemporary American poetry.

Adverbs, Vowels, and Other Objects of Wonder, by James D. McCawley. Chicago $20

In the rapidly developing field of linguistics, articles are outdated almost before they appear in print; to collect previously published articles in a book presupposes an immortality not only alien to the inquiry but also unwarranted by the provisional nature of the results. The book presents a collection of “working papers” on various problems in phonology, syntax, semantics, and linguistic theory, all valuable contributions by an eminent linguist during the past decade. The essays are, however, of a technical nature and hold little interest for the general reader.

Infernal Paradise: Mexico and the Modem English Novel, by Ronald G. Walker. California $14.95

“Mexico,” Graham Greene observes, “is a state of mind,” as this detailed study demonstrates in the travel experiences and “Mexican” novels of four contributors to its literary mystique—D. H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, Greene, and Malcolm Lowry. Walker’s analysis of the fictional uses of this setting shows that in each case the real Mexico becomes the emblematic landscape of an apocalyptic drama, an “infernal paradise” where the quest for spiritual rebirth leads to a confrontation with death, and characters must submit to primitive forces in nature, society, and themselves to achieve salvation.

American Indian Fiction, by Charles R. Larson. New Mexico $9.50

This study of 14 authors is, the publisher claims, “the first critical and historical account of novels by American Indians.” Larson traces the development of this vigorous young literature with considerable skill and insight, and his sensitive analysis of individual works demonstrates that the Native American novel has achieved a maturity that warrants such a study. Anyone interested in either Indian culture or recent American fiction will find it fascinating reading.

The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative, by Frank Kermode. Harvard $10

Despite the title, the Charles Eliot Norton lectures delivered at Harvard in 197778 concern a reading of Mark’s Gospel, and not narrative in any general sense. Beyond the misleading, if provocative, title, then, it is disappointing to see Kermode lavish deference on English Biblical scholars whilst he does not spare the European philosophers on whose reinterpretation of hermeneutics he entirely depends for his teasing condescension; it suggests, after all, a narrow ethnocentricism of which we know him to be innocent. Yet Kermode’s oratory is not without a certain mysterious radiance for all that.

The Poetry of Jonathan Swift: Allusion and the Development of a Poetic Style, by Peter J. Schakel. Wisconsin $25

Swift’s poetry has only very recently become a subject of intensive critical study, and much remains to be done. Professor Schakel’s book, like other recent books on Swift’s poetry, is likely to occasion controversy about individual interpretations of poems (which are always careful and informative, sometimes provocative and ingenious) and especially about the emphasis which Schakel places on allusion as a key to understanding Swift’s poetic development. Schakel, nevertheless, renders one important service to our understanding of Swift’s poetry that is indisputable. By tracing Swift’s allusions, with impeccable scholarly care, he both illuminates the poems he studies and provides a body of information which will be indispensable to future study of Swift as a poet.

The Cambridge Apostles: The Early Years, by Peter Allen. Cambridge $29.50

The Cambridge Apostles began as a small debating society in 1820 and were in many ways “the best and the brightest” of Cambridge University. Collectively, the Apostles were to have a great effect on England, and scholars have singled the group out for comment but have not written very much about them. Alien has made a significant contribution by examining the period 1820—1840, and, in trying to find what set the Apostles apart from the other debating societies at Cambridge, he has given short biographies of influential members and information on student life and thought which will be useful to anyone interested in Victorian England.

HISTORYInvasion North Africa, 1942, by S. W. C. Pack. Scribner’s $12.95

Stalin was not impressed. The first major Anglo-American venture of the war struck not at the Continent, as the Soviet dictator urged, but at North Africa. The British and the Americans seized the ports of Casablanca, Algiers, and Oran, setting the stage for the great confrontation with Rommel and the destruction of his beloved Afrika Korps. But in the Kremlin, Stalin could only jeer. Fight Hitler, not a horde of primitive Arabs, he urged. Fortunately, the Allies did not listen to their associate in the East, and Operation Torch came to be regarded as one of the greatest successes of the war.

The Lawful Revolution: Louis Kossuth and the Hungarians, 1848—1849, by Istvan Deak. Columbia $16.95

Once an obscure journalist, Louis Kossuth became a consummate politician and a brilliant if flawed revolutionary leader. A fiercely proud people related only to the Finns in Europe, the Hungarians had long chafed under Hapsburg rule. The upheavals of 1848—1849 gave them their opportunity to rebel, and they made the most of it. They were unsuccessful in the short run, but less than two decades later they had their autonomy. Kossuth was in retirement by then, but the nation acclaimed him as its founder. This is an excellent study.

Return to Albion: Americans in England, 1760—1940, by Richard Kenin. Holt, Rinehart & Winston $16.95

In trying to be at home abroad, the expatriate often becomes a foreigner at home. Such was the case with many Americans who sought fame or fortune or “civilization” in England. From Washington Irving to Henry James to Winston Churchill’s mother to T. S. Eliot, Americans have made splendid contributions to English life, but, with the possible exception of Eliot, they ultimately became shorn of their psychological moorings. This is not the conclusion of the author of this handsome book, but it is implicit in all he writes.

Polish Society under German Occupation, by Jan Tomasz Gross. Princeton $20

The Nazis did a very good job of destroying Poland’s Jews, but they could not and did not destroy Poland. This is the first detailed history in a Western language of the Generalgouvemement, and a very thorough, informative study it is. Just how the Poles managed to survive an occupation by the fiercest conquerors in history is still not entirely clear, but this is no criticism of Mr. Gross, who is by training a sociologist. Lacking access to materials inside Poland, the author has put together an impressive array of sources available in the West and has given us a thoughtful account.

The Byrons and Trevanions, by A. L. Rowse. St. Martin’s $11.95

What is infuriating about this potentially valuable history from earliest times to the present of the two families that produced the poet is that it fails from nothing more than the laziness and the flippancy of Rowse. The book is almost worthless to scholars because there is no bibliography and few footnotes—even many of the long quotes are not even cited. Nonscholars who might otherwise enjoy the book, especially the sections on the English Civil War, will be irritated by his asides, which show a lack of taste and wit. Another fault, though not as serious perhaps, is that his thinking degenerates at times into little more than Freudian cant and ill-argued biological determinism.

Mosquitoes, Malaria, b Man: A History of the Hostilities Since 1880, by Gordon Harrison. Dutton $15

The insect vector of a disease as old as man was identified less than a century ago. The ensuing war against mosquito and malaria has failed to eliminate the possibility of resurgent and devastating tropical and temperate climate epidemics of this great scourge. This fine volume is a full-bodied account of the disease, the struggle, and the results of 75 years of environmental manipulations in the attempt to control the vector. Social, economic, geophysical, and political factors have combined successfully in defeating hard-won scientific understanding of many tropical diseases, very tragically in the case of malaria. It is in the consideration of these forces of momentary and often inhumane environmental exploitation that this study makes a most important contribution.

The Diehards: Aristocratic Society and Politics in Edwardian England, by Gregory D. Phillips. Harvard $18.50

Historians have usually viewed the adamant opponents of the Parliament Bill of 1911 as reclusive mossbacks, or backwoodsmen, summoned to London only by a paranoid fear of Lloyd Georgism. Phillips convincingly argues that they were instead part of a paranoid mainstream in the Tory party in both Commons and Lords. The years before World War I were clearly very disturbing to conservative elements in British society, and the Diehards were most similar to other groups driven to confrontation.

The First Frontier, by David Horowitz. Simon & Schuster $9.95

Subtitled The Indian Wars & America’s Origins: 1607—1776, the author promised to reveal “the real frontier of flesh and blood . . . different from the frontier of accepted legend.” In fact the book is oversimplified and episodic, lacking in insights and originality, and a genuine disappointment to any reader who took the preface’s promises seriously.

Panzer: The Armoured Force of the Third Reich, by Matthew Cooper and James Lucas. St. Martin’s $8.95

A short history of Germany’s armoured forces, complete with numerous pictures, is presented in very readable form. The success of the Nazi blitzkrieg system of war is shown to have rested primarily upon the tactics and brilliant leadership of the commanders of panzer divisions and not upon the quality of its equipment or upon the haphazard organizational structure of the mechanized forces. The authors imply that Germany might have “won the war” had it not been for this last deficiency, coupled with Hitler’s failure to mobilize the German economy for massive production of effective armored vehicles.

Protest and Punishment, by George Rude. Oxford $22

Like all of Rude’s histories, Protest and Punishment is well researched and documented. It deals with British, Irish, and Canadian convicts, particularly those whose crimes were forms of social and political protest, who were deported to Australia. It examines periods of unrest, such as the English agrarian disturbances of 1830 and the Irish rebellion of 1848, and shows how the protestors fared in court and on their voyage to Australia. Their story is often sad, and Protest and Punishment shows that crime was often the only answer for desperate men and women. Curiously enough, deportation did not always reduce crime by removing criminals, since many turned to crime in order to join deported loved ones.

The Confederate Nation: 1861—1865, by Emory M. Thomas. Harper & Row $15

The emergence and development of Southern nationalism is traced by Thomas in this historical account. The discussions of Confederate polities, major battles, and the effects of the war on the social and economic life of the South are enlivened by passages from diaries and letters of the period. Thomas uses a highly articulate style to command and hold the reader’s attention, and his insight into the transformation of the Southern “cause” makes this concise book well worth reading.

India’s Political Economy, 1947—1977: The Gradual Revolution, by Francine R. Frankel. Princeton $35 cloth, $12.50 paper

The world’s largest democracy clings tenaciously to parliamentary institutions which have failed to cure its crushing poverty, devastating inequities, and ingrained social constraints on development. This highly sophisticated, yet readable and instructive analysis of independent India, definitively poses the two questions that haunt her political and economic survival: can democratic processes be adapted to carry out a significant redistribution of income, status, and power to alter the structure of society and liberate its productive potential? If so, how can economic growth and equity be achieved without unleashing a disruptive and violent attack on propertied castes and classes? A basic, comprehensive, objective, tough-minded book.

Russia’s Road to the Cold War, by Vojtech Mastny. Columbia $16.95

Professor Mastny has no startling new thesis to offer (e.g., that the Americans and British were really responsible for the Cold War). Instead he has carefully sifted the evidence, including some valuable material from East European, particularly Czech, sources in order to confirm the generally accepted view of events following World War II. Stalin apparently did not start out with a master plan of conquest but seized the opportunity to do so when it was presented to him by the clumsiness and naiveté of Western leaders, most notably President Roosevelt, who was embarrassingly inept in his dealings with Stalin. The book makes for interesting but very sad reading.

Death in Paris, by Richard Cobb. Oxford $12.95

Those who know the man or his work will not be surprised that Richard Cobb has written such a lively book about death. This short study, based on a dossier of cadavers brought to the Basse Geole of the Seine from 1795—1801, sparkles with color, from the varied hues of the deceaseds’ clothing to the author’s worldly yet compassionate judgments of their lives and deaths. Using his data creatively and supplementing it from other sources, notably Restif de la Bretonne, Cobb paints a surprisingly unpolitical picture of the daily life of the lower classes in Revolutionary Paris. The result is a vital and eye-opening contribution to the social history of the epoch which also has the vices of its virtues: colorful, human, and provocative, it is also repetitive and even self-contradictory but never dull.

The Great Canal, by Roderick Grant. Gordon and Cremonesi $16.95

The Great Manchester Ship Canal, completed in 1894, linked Manchester, England with the sea, and, because of its size, expense, and difficulty, was one of the great engineering feats of the 19th century. Grant traces the development of the canal from an idea born in 1697 through to its role in the local taste for Jamaican bananas. Though interesting in many parts, it is not wholly satisfactory to the general reader or the historian. Truly interesting material is dealt with as abruptly as the necessary but dull material, and there are no footnotes—even for direct quotes—and no thorough and fresh appraisal of the profitability of the canal, which is imperative since Grant makes profitability one of the pivots upon which his history turns.

France’s Rhineland Diplomacy, 19141924, by Walter A. McDougall. Princeton $25

McDougall’s study of France’s. Rhineland diplomacy is a substantial and convincing addition to the literature on interwar international relations. Combined with Jon Jacobson’s earlier study, Locarno Diplomacy, these works present the most sophisticated analysis of the European diplomacy of the 1920’s currently available. At the heart of the European order was, of course, the “German question.” McDougall’s thesis is that the containment of German power in a broader European system was the critical issue and that the Treaty of Versailles failed to resolve this problem. He concludes that a stable Europe depended on permanent restrictions on German political and economic power—and hence demonstrates the logic of postWorld War II integration.

The New Cambridge Modern History. Vol. XIII, Companion Volume, edited by Peter Bruke. Cambridge $29.95

This volume brings to a close the series conceived by Sir George Clark, and it fulfills its limited but precise mission splendidly. There are more than a dozen essays on such weighty topics as continuity and change in history, the environment and the economy, peasants, warfare, revolution, and religion. It would be a disservice to the distinguished British and foreign historians who collaborated on the volume to say that they—any of them—have had the last word on any topic; rather, they have phrased questions old and new in some strikingly original ways, and this volume constitutes a fitting close to an immensely important series.

FICTIONThe Vicar of Christ, by Walter F. Murphy. Macmillan $12.95

A most unlikely, if not bizarre, rags-toriches theme (Congressional Medal of Honor winner becomes in sequence a law school dean, the chief justice, and finally the pope), is used as the highly successful vehicle to give us fascinating insights into the modern inner workings of the Pentagon, the Supreme Court, and the Vatican. The pleasing and informative result is all the more surprising when one realizes that this is the first novel of a distinguished Ivy League professor of jurisprudence whose previous books were all serious tomes on American Government. If you liked The Shoes of the Fisherman, in which Morris West years ago prophetically wrote about a future Slavic pope, you’ll enjoy this book even more in its dramatic portrayal of the assassination of the first American pope.

The Hydra Head, by Carlos Fuentes. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $9.95

This Third World espionage novel makes timely use of Mexico’s vast oil and gas reserves as the object of the private greed and political maneuvers of Arab, Israeli, and Mexican spies. Caught in the middle is Felix Maldonado, a minor bureaucrat with a taste for mystery movies and Jewish women. He is asked to exchange his identity for his life and winds up as an agent for the ambiguous spy master “Timon,” who uses quotations from Shakespeare as a secret code. Despite its wooden dialogue and fantastic plot, this is a fast-paced and compelling thriller.

The Blood of Paradise, by Stephen Goodwin. Dutton $8.95

The blood of paradise is the blood of farm animals giving birth, the blood of menstruation, and the blood of death. Steadman, Anna, and their daughter, Maggie, leave Washington, D. C. and then Charlottesville to pursue a rugged life in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Yet Anna’s reservations and fears, which find their most violent spokesperson in her maniacal twin sister Kay, prevent the novel from languishing into pure pastoral. Kay’s disastrous visit, Anna’s constant doubts, and Steadman’s inner struggles combine to raise this novel from its potential as idealized landscape to its realization as toughedged fiction. Goodwin’s superior sense of style wards off all the cliches of country life. If the back-to-nature movement of the sixties and seventies spawns a literary generation, let them take example from Goodwin’s well-balanced, finely crafted novel.

Only Children, by Alison Lurie. Random House $9.95

Everything in this novel is phony, beginning with Honey’s Southern accent. The adults are unreal and artificial, and the children are more so, especially Mary Ann, who begins and ends this narrative by making up fairy stories, and who is given throughout, at one remove, the role of seeing all and recording it. The gist of it all is that “the disease of love can make you act mean and crazy,” and the whole novel is devoted to illustrating that.

The Island, by Peter Benchley. Doubleday $8.95

Blair Maynard impulsively decides to investigate the disappearance of several hundred ships in the Caribbean. Taking his son Justin with him, Maynard initially believes they are on a wild-goose chase. But when he takes the boy fishing, Maynard inadvertently, and to his horror, learns how and why the ships have disappeared. Peter Benehley’s newest novel is well grounded in Caribbean lore. Gripping and suspenseful, it is best when describing the relationship between Maynard and his son.

A Universal History of Infamy, by Jorge Luis Borges. Dutton $2.95 paper

In 1935, Borges published this volume of literary reconstructions, many of which had appeared in the Saturday literary supplement of a Buenos Aires newspaper. They constitute his first forays into prose fiction. Seen in the light of his subsequent work, these tales, with their predilection for violence and betrayal, are a literary manifesto. They mock the idea of originality (the author lists his sources at the end of the volume), of the “authority” of the author. Borges claims here he is merely a literary middleman, a reader who republishes his literary experiences under a single rubric. The implications of the collection, that art is violence, a usurpation of someone else’s material (whose theme may coincidentally be violence), a twisting of that material into a particular shape, that art is theft and translation—all of this shapes Borges’ later work. Lost in this translation is the Baroque style of the “originals.” Nevertheless, anyone interested in Borges must peruse this volume.

The Houseman’s Tale, by Colin Douglas. Taplinger $8.95

David Campbell is the houseman, or intern, in this entertaining novel about a young doctor. His medical and amorous adventures are described with wry humor and lively realism. The accounts of medical complications in this work should keep many of its readers from having unnecessary surgery. The hospital is uncovered as a world in itself, with all the intrigues inherent therein. One discovers that even the doctors themselves can contract diseases. Colin Douglas’ work is recommended reading for all but those about to enter a hospital!

Sunday Punch, by Edwin Newman. Houghton Mifflin $9.95

The distinguished journalist, critic, and TV commentator who has written two delightful books on the way language is used (and abused) has now written a beguiling novel of his own. His droll wit, poking fun at the British as well as the Americans, is a source of pure enjoyment.

The Unmade Bed, by Françoise Sagan. Delacorte $9.95

Francoise Sagan, has, once again, delighted her fans with a memorable love story. Beatrice, an actress, and her young playwright lover, Edouard, find themselves together again after a separation of five years. The Unmade Bed traces their relationship, with its ups and downs. One wonders at times whether the two, both egotistical in their own ways, can accept each other as they are, and not as the other person would see them. This is a delightful and refreshing novel which is sure to teach any reader something about the dynamics of relationships.

Trial Run, by Dick Francis. Harper & Row $8.95

The Scene: The Moscow Summer 1980 Olympics.

The Event: The Equestrian Steeplechase.

The Characters: British Royal Family, among others.

The Award: A Gold Medal to the author for his fast-moving portrayal of contemporary lifestyles in the Russian capital city.

Typhoon, by John Gordon Davis. E. P. Button $10.95

We are the fortunate beneficiaries of the British loss when this Crown Counsel left the Law to write for a livelihood. His latest exciting novel is set in Hong Kong, where the fury in the smashing of an international drug ring exceeds the violence of a typhoon which attacks the island. He must have been a terror in court if his forensic skill matched his literary pen.

Dress Gray, by Lucian K. Truscott, IV. Doubleday $10.95

Truscott envelops a well-plotted, amateurishly-written mystery about a homosexual murder at West Point in a fog of polemic about the sixties and militarism. Dress Gray reads like a promising first draft; it cries out for an editor—with a cleaver.

Tournament of Shadows, by Nickolas Carnac. Scribner’s $9.95

In golden Victorian days of yore, courageous British Captain Aspen, for Queen and country, led his loyal Gurkha troops on secret missions all over Central Asia from the Gobi Desert to the Roof of the World, against cunning Russian Colonel Danin, for Tsar and country, and his loyal Cossacks. There is even a beautiful Manchu princess named Mei Ling who wanders in and out aimlessly. Nickolas Carnac is the pseudonym of a well-known British historian who wisely conceals his identity in this drab novel. Sorry, no dice, sahib.

The Brave and the Free, by Leslie Waller. Delacorte $10.95

In his foreword, the author gives a special acknowledgement of thanks to his publisher’s editor for her assistance in the writing of this novel of the younger generation growing up in Middle America in the tumultuous decade between President Kennedy’s death and President Nixon’s downfall. In a letter to all potential reviewers of the book, that same editor now tells us how excited she is about this particular project and importunes us to do all we can to see that this “major book has the audience it deserves.” This reviewer regrets an inability to accommodate her.

The Dead Butler Caper, by Frank Norman. St. Martin’s $7.95

This trite tale of titled homicide, which will easily qualify for the Guinness Book of Records in the number of cliches per page, is largely unintelligible by its constant use of nonunderstandable current Cockney slang. It is redeemed only by the author’s mercy in concluding his bland presentation early at page 153.

The Woman Who Was Changed and Other Stories, by Pearl S. Buck. Crowell $8.95

This short story collection is an exploration of Pearl Buck’s many ideas. In “The Woman Who Was Changed,” inner conflict with the traditional and new views of womanhood imposed by others is seen. Dealing with the harsh realities in “As It Must Be So,” strength and courage appear to overcome all odds. John Lim’s, (“John John Chinaman”) doubts as a misunderstood minority in a small-minded town are focused. These and other stories are beautifully written and through their romantic lightness are sensitive and moving.

Holy Place, by Carlos Fuentes. Dutton $3.95 paper

In this Kafkaesque fable of filial devotion and maternal betrayal, a young Mexican dandy is slowly transformed into a dog as his mother, a flamboyant film star, is transformed into a celluloid “goddess.” Fuentes’ twin fascinations with myth and the movies blend effortlessly in one of his most controlled stylistic achievements.

Things About to Disappear, by Alien Wier. Louisiana $4.95 paper

This is a quiet collection of short stories, dense with details that illumine beyond the normal confines of fiction. Things seen, and how they are seen, are the sources of Wier’s craft: a trail of smoke from a hill is soon discovered to be a flight of bats from a hidden cavern passage. This love of things—and the people who surround them—is not possessive, is instead filled with the warmth of humor and the bittersweet knowledge that they must, someday, disappear.

The Singapore Grip, by J. G. Farrell. Knopf $11.95

A swashbuckling novel in the grand old style which, in its colorful portrayal of colonial lifestyles, both noble and degrading, in Singapore prior to the capture of the Crown Colony by the Japanese in World War II, foretells the forthcoming demise of Great Britain as a world power and the inevitable independence of the colonies.

LIVES & LETTERSThe Nabokov-Wilson Letters 1940—1971, edited by Simon Karlinsky. Harper & Row $15

Both these giants of modern letters emerge from their correspondence, unlike the maladroit Onegin controversy, smelling like large, lovely roses. Wilson is everywhere sound and penetratingly intelligent, anxious to be of service, generous in the best sense. And the Grand Vladimir is, of course, superb, inimitable, vastly charming, and very sane. To those eager for information on Nabokov’s obscure early years in America, or seeking further evidence of Edmund Wilson’s role as ciccerone to genius, this book is very highly recommended.

History’s Carnival: A Dissident’s Autobiography, by Leonid Plyushch. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $14.95

This may well be the best, soundest, and most informative book to come out of the new group of dissident emigres from the Soviet Union. Where Solzhenitsyn was necessarily strident and shrill in calling world-wide attention to the Gulag system, Plyushch (the name means “ivy” in Russian) is calm, rational, and deadly effective. He concentrates upon his native Ukraine, which has been the object of intense Russian efforts to subdue its native language, culture, and its very identity. Solzhenitsyn was effective against the dead Stalin and those who would restore his system; Plyushch is right on target against the Brezhnev crowd.

The Secretary. Martin Bormann: The Man Who Manipulated Hitler, by Jochen von Lang. Random House $15.95

The thought that we might have to endure another couple of decades of “Bormann spottings” is not a pleasant one, but then there is nothing much we can do about it, our love for conspiracy and intrigue being what it is. In fact, Martin Bormann’s remains were discovered in Berlin several years ago and were positively identified. A major role in the find belonged to the author of this excellent book, Mr. von Lang, an editor of Stern. In addition to its recounting of the detective work that led to the identification of the remains, the book contains perhaps the best biography of Bormann yet written. It was a bestseller in West Germany, and it deserves and almost certainly will find a wide audience in this country.

Count Albert de Mun, by Benjamin F. Martin. North Carolina $20

Martin’s work is a thoroughly researched, well-argued, and clearly written biography of the aristocratic Catholic politician, Albert de Mun. As one of the leaders of the Action Liberale Populaire, de Mun spent most of his life in parliamentary politics, and the bulk of this book is a history of Catholic political parties, and especially the ALP, from Boulangism to the First World War. Martin retraces much of the history of the Third Republic; but he does so clearly, and his sources permit him to reveal details, like the “laundering” of election funds, that even the French police could not discover. It also becomes clear that de Mun, as a social reformer, was as much a prisoner of the religious issue as the Socialists on the left. As parliamentary politics thrust religion to the fore, social reforms were set aside. This is traditional history, well told.

Turgenev: His Life and Times, by Leonard Schapiro. Random House $15.95

This may be the finest work from the pen of Mr. Schapiro, the distinguished British Sovietologist, and it is a welcome book indeed. A couple of years ago V. S. Pritchett, arguably the most respected literary critic writing in English today, gave us a disastrously bad biography of Turgenev; though in no sense connected with that effort, Schapiro’s book in a sense makes up for it. We see the handsome Russian aristocrat lay aside his hunting rifles and his ledgers long enough to jot down a few impressions of peasant life, and then a few more, until A Sportsman’s Notebook is born, and with it the last crucial stage of the abolitionist movement in Russia. We see Turgenev’s admiration for the French operatic star Pauline Viardot ripen into an unhealthy love, and we read on, like turnof-the-century youngsters with a penny dreadful, anxious to see how Monsieur Viardot is going to react to all this. He reacts as he always does, of course, because the story is well known, but Mr. Schapiro puts new life into one of the most famous triangles of the last century. This is a splendid work.

Christopher Isherwood: A Critical Biography, by Brian Finney. Oxford $12.95

This year’s installment of Isherwoodiana provides a single fillip: it is well documented. As Isherwood’s career dries up, so does Mr. Finney’s prose become lifeless, his psychologizing trivial, and his exegetical enthusiasm nonexistent. That this point occurs in 1937 is no strong argument for the book’s overall worth, although the endnotes, contrary to Finney’s expressed opinion, are of some value. Academic veneer for a Georgian lowboy.

The Madisons, by Virginia Moore. McGraw-Hill $15

James Madison is surely one of the most neglected figures of the American founding period. However, interest in the man often called the “Father of the Constitution” seems finally to be coming into its own. With this biography of Jemmy and Dolley, those interested in Madison—both the person and the politician—have a new source to which to turn. Writing in a lively and captivating style, the author has done a good job of recreating the lives of the Madisons. A good book, fun reading, with fair documentation.

Naples ‘44, by Norman Lewis. Pantheon $8.95

See Naples and die, as the saying goes, and that may be another way of saying see Naples and experience life from alpha to omega. Norman Lewis, the British writer of several well-received works of fiction and nonfiction, entered Naples with the liberating Americans and stayed on a few months as an intelligence officer. Fortunately he kept a diary, and what a diary it is. The Italians make good copy even when they are asleep, and sleep was just about the last thing on anyone’s mind in Naples in 1944. This is an account that will not supplant Catch-22 but will, or at least should, have as wide and as enthusiastic an audience. And Mr. Lewis’s tale is true.

Sisters of the Quill, by Alice Anderson Hufstader. Dodd, Mead $15

Mrs. Hufstader’s biographies of four fascinating 18th-century writers—Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Mary Granville Delany, Elizabeth Robinson Montagu, and Fanny Burney—is the sort of work which does service to the cause of women’s studies. Hufstader’s prose is unmarred by tendentiousness, filled with grace and vibrancy, and her subjects are women whose lives are eminently worth telling. Though not written for scholars, Sisters of the Quill brings the 18th century and some of its more splendid women alive in a way that scholars and general readers alike will find engaging and illuminating.

My Life, by George Sand. Translated and adapted by Dan Hofstadter. Harper & Row $12.95

Dan Hofstadter is the one who should be singled out for praise in this review, for he has edited a 20-volume work down into a one-volume edition. It is full of life, imaginative, and informative, and for the first time in this reviewer’s reading life George Sand has become an interesting writer. Perhaps all her books need the attention of the present editor. At any rate, one hesitates to imagine the doldrums into which the 20 volumes must have sunk. Furthermore the Hofstadter text flows easily without any obvious gaps.

‘37—’39: Last Look Round, by Kate Caffrey. Gordon and Cremonesi $24.95

Ms. Caffrey has either done a very large amount of research or has a remarkable memory, for she has reconstituted the years 1937 to 1939 in England with total accuracy. In addition, the grace and style of her writing holds the reader prisoner until the end. While some of the things she examines may seem superficial—fashion, suburbs, a day in town—they broaden and deepen and enrich one’s appreciation of those times. This is a splendid memoir of what now seems an almost unbelievable era.

The World of Damon Runyon, by Tom Clark. Harper & Row $11.95

Damon Runyan seemed such a New Yorker in his many stories that it is a shock to discover that he was born in Kansas and was an adult with considerable writing experience behind him before he reached New York. There he quickly developed his hard-boiled style, dealing primarily with the shady characters he found around Broadway. Was the language he put into their mouths invented? Certainly when it was given to actors, as in Guys and Dolls, it seemed awkward. But how right for the printed page, adding to the crackle and energy of the story. Like all writers, his life seldom achieves the excitement of his imagination, but it is good to have the facts about this maverick of a man.

Snakes and Ladders, by Dirk Bogarde. Holt, Rinehart & Winston $12.95

This sequel to the eminent British actor’s first autobiographical volume, A Postillion Struck by Lightning, is an elegantly written and highly informative view of the international cinema from World War II to the early seventies. During this period Bogarde made more than 50 films, including especially important works with the directors Joseph Losey and Luchino Visconti.

Bogarde has never been a major international box-office star; Snakes and Ladders, in its restrained, very English manner is a stubbornly honest account of how he tried (nearly always successfully) to escape being typed and mangled by the System.

The Big Red Train Ride, by Eric Newby. St. Martin’s $10

Newby’s account of his 6,000-mile trip from Moscow to Nakhoda on the Trans-Siberian Railway comes across as mildly amusing, quite an accomplishment for what could have been a boring travelogue. The British author manages to retain his wit while constantly being frustrated by his Russian guide, Misch, as he attempts to explore the countryside. On one day, Newby’s only diary entry read: “Saw a cow.” That may serve to illustrate Newby’s major criticism: those who supervise Russia’s visitors intend to forbid all human interest areas to the traveler.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRSSwitzerland: The Awful Truth, by Jean Ziegler. Harper & Row $9.95

The Swiss will not like this kiss-and-tell expose by a member of their own parliament and professor of Geneva University. The author explodes the myth of their benevolent and docile neutrality in a hardhitting and detailed, documented description of how a handful of unscrupulous Swiss banks and multinational corporations feather their own nests by profitably engaging in currency manipulations, international arms sales, laundered loot, the overthrow of foreign governments, and numerous other nefarious and unsavory international transactions. Scary if true.

Women under Communism, by Barbara W. Jancar. Johns Hopkins $16

From the inception of Bolshevism until the present day, Communists have trumpeted the cause of women’s liberation. Only in Communist countries is International Women’s Day celebrated as a national holiday. And yet what are the facts? As Ms. Jancar demonstrates in this useful account, there are formidable, seemingly insuperable barriers to the complete emancipation of women in Communist countries. They can be physicians but are rarely surgeons. They are teachers but rarely principals and almost never superintendents. They do not serve at the highest levels of government, the diplomatic service, or industry. As is usually the case with grandiose Communist claims, there is more to the story than what is on paper.

A Backward Look: Germans Remember, by Daniel Lang. McGraw-Hill $8.95

Did the Holocaust, asks Daniel Lang, “breach the known limits of evil?” Could that be why the Germans do not remember? Mr. Lang’s account first appeared in The New Yorker, and now it is available to a wider audience. It is indeed a book for the times: it is short (only a little over a hundred pages), it is written in a cool, detached tone, and it is devastatingly effective. One German neatly packages Hitler and Charlemagne together, disposing of both as irrelevant to modern Germany. Many Germans insist they did not know. Those who admit they knew ask, “What could we have done?” What indeed.

Confessions of a Muckraker, by Jack Anderson with James Boyd. Random House $12.95

If Jack Anderson, like his late boss Drew Pearson before him, has one saving grace, it is this: he just has to tell it all. Thus this memoir of his first years with Pearson does not minimize his mistakes and does not hide his shady associations: Jack Anderson was once a pal of Senator Joe McCarthy, whom he and Pearson subsequently helped to expose and destroy. Anderson admits that he frequently pushed civilized behavior out of shape in his determination to get a story, and he expresses some fleeting regret for government officials who were, at least in some small way, his and Pearson’s victims. The most tragic of those victims (the word is too strong) was James Forrestal. The brilliant secretary of defense had begun to crack under the strain of an inhuman work load, and it cannot be argued that the newsmen had anything to do with his collapse other than perhaps to hasten it. But Forrestal’s suicide left a bitter legacy, and conservatives have never forgiven Anderson and Pearson. There are many such stories in the Anderson files, and the ones presented here make interesting, frequently disturbing reading.

The Disintegrating West, by Mary Kaldor. Hill & Wang $10

The author, a graduate of Oxford and a lecturer in politics at the University of Sussex, argues that heightened conflict and tension within the Western world are likely throughout the remainder of this century. The problem, as she sees it, is primarily economic and results from the inability of nation states to reconcile parochial or domestic demands with an international economy dominated by multinational corporations that are not controllable by any one state. The thesis that “West-West” conflict will replace “EastWest” or “North-South” tensions as the major world problem is provocative, but only partially persuasive.

Russia and the United States: U. S. -Soviet Relations from the Soviet Point of View, by Nikolai V. Sivachev and Nikolai N. Yakovlev. Chicago $12.95

It is a measure of the worth of this enterprise that the dust jacket refers to “Solzhenitsyn’s” Living in Lie. In fact, this work is a scurrilous attack on Solzhenitsyn written by one of the authors, Yakovlev. It is all downhill from there. The University of Chicago Press thought that it would be splendid to publish, in English in the United States, a Soviet version of American-Soviet relations. It was a bad idea to begin with, and the press deserves the pitiless assault that ought to greet this outrageous travesty. Aside from a grudging admission that that mischievous episode, the Stalin era, was probably a wee bit of a mistake, Messrs. Sivachev and Yakovlev paint an unrelieved picture of a monstrous America bent on annihilating that bastion of Stalinist-Leninist-Marxist righteousness and humane behavior, the U. S. S. R. The only thing lacking in this volume is a photograph of a beaming Uncle Joe.

Rockefeller of New York: Executive Power in the Statehouse, by Robert H. Connery and Gerald Benjamin. Cornell $15

To a young man’s remark that he was always running into the governor at parades, Nelson Rockefeller once replied, “Son, parades are my business.” As chief executive of New York from 1959 to 1973 (an astonishingly lengthy period), Rockfeller relished the indignities of campaigning and pursued his gubernatorial projects with the same zest he displayed while wolfing down blintzes or Coney Island hot dogs. This latest study of Rocky gives short shrift to his presidential ambitions (mercifully) and focuses instead on his fruitful gubernatorial administrations. The nuts and bolts of several of his programs and projects are presented and usefully critiqued. The strength of this work is its broad and welldrawn review of executive power as wielded by a strong and determined governor. But the authors manage to be both too sympathetic (in their personal portrait of Rockefeller) and overly critical (in a disappointing and hackneyed conclusion about “doing too much too fast”).

Senator, by Elizabeth Drew. Simon & S

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