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Notes on Current Books, Winter 1981


ISSUE:  Winter 1981

In his important study of the Stalinist drive to collectivize Soviet agriculture at the end of the 1920’s, R.W. Davies of the University of Birmingham (England) has surpassed all previous scholarship and has established a standard of excellence in economic history that is unlikely to be surpassed soon, if ever. The world’s first Socialist state had little that was Socialist about it in 1928 beyond the name; by the autumn of 1930, no one could doubt that a colossal revolution had been carried out, and that a capitalist agriculture dating back to prehistory had been wiped off the face of the earth. Utilizing a wide variety of Soviet sources and an impressive array of skills, Davies outlines this stupefying phenomenon in an absorbing, sobering manner.

Reshaping the German Right: Radical Nationalism and Political Change after Bismarck, by Geoff Eley. Yale $30

The Iron Chancellor fell in 1890 not because he had failed at anything he set his hand to but simply because he insisted that power had limits. Many Germans on the right refused to believe him, and after his departure they set about to show the world what Germany could do. What Germany did, aided and abetted by French, British, and Russian stupidities of equal dimensions, was to help create a climate in which war had no acceptable alternative. Eley, professor at the University of Michigan, has told the story of the post-Bismarck decade in an exemplary fashion.

Popular Consent and Popular Control: Whig Political Theory in the Early State Constitutions, by Donald Lutz. Louisiana $21.50

This thoughtful book, written by an able young political scientist, focuses on the evolution of American republicanism during the 18th century. The author relies heavily on the work of Bailyn, Wood, Pole, and other pioneers in the reinterpretation of early American political theory; but he adds some subtle new insights of his own, particularly on the important but neglected structure of early state constitutions. The book should be read by all scholars interested in the field of early American politics.

Reconstruction and Redemption in the South, edited by Otto H. Olsen. Louisiana $17.50

This invaluable book contains six lucid essays on the rise and fall of the Republican party in Alabama (Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins), Florida (Jerrell H. Shofner), Louisiana (Joe Gray Taylor), Mississippi (William C. Harris), North Carolina (Otto H. Olsen), and Virginia (Jack P. Maddex). All of them are first-rate. For many years to come, this book should serve as the point of departure of all students and scholars drawn to the study of post-Civil War Southern politics in their local setting.

Violence and Culture in the Antebellum South, by Dickson D. Bruce, Jr. Texas $16.95

Because Southerners believed man to be corrupted and conflict inevitable, according to this new study, they were morbidly concerned with violence and often resorted to it. Thus the Old South deserved its reputation for roughness and bloodshed, and tracing those themes are chapters on the duel, childrearing, slavery, hunting, militarism, oratory, and literature. Bruce, who teaches “comparative culture” at one of the University of California campuses, leaves a reader wondering why New Englanders, surely no less convinced of man’s depravity, never developed the violent tone so many travelers attributed to the slave states; and if Southerners were so moralistic, pessimistic, conscious of honor, and impetuous, why they were. Bruce’s question-begging book is nonetheless interesting, and at times lucid and suggestive. Raised to accept only a few highly formalized techniques for approaching other persons, Southerners despaired of “normal” means of solving problems when those techniques proved ineffective (p. 65).

The Past Before Us: Contemporary Historical Writing in the United States, edited by Michael Kammen. Cornell $19.95

Commissioned by the American Historical Association, this volume contains essays by 20 eminent historians assessing the varieties, directions, and contributions of recent scholarship by American historians. The essays are organized by the geographical area studied, such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America; by topic, such as social, political, urban, women’s, and diplomatic history; and by method, such as oral history, quantitative history, and psychohistory. All of the essays provide interesting surveys of recent historiography, but the most stimulating are those by Peter Stearns on social history, Carl Degler on women’s and family history, and Peter Lowenberg on psychohistory. What is most striking, however, is that aside from laments about the dearth of new jobs and complaints that in many fields no new integrating synthesis has yet been formulated, the tone of most of these historians is upbeat. They single out and praise the truly significant work that has been done in the past decade. On the whole, they ignore the proliferation of mindless and trivial studies that has, alas, also characterized contemporary historical writing in the United States.

No Man’s Land: 1918, The Last Year of the Great War, by John Toland. Doubleday $17.95

The method is a familiar one: life in the trenches juxtaposed with the deliberations of the highest councils of states. Many writers on the First World War have used it, but we might have expected one of John Toland’s talent to take it to heights others had ony aspired to. Alas, our hopes are in vain. This lightweight account of the last year of World War I adds not even the slightest new insight. Moreover, it is replete with errors, especially concerning the Eastern Front. Clemenceau, Foch, Wilson, Haig, Lloyd George (casually referred to as an Englishman), and the rest become wooden dummies upon a contrived stage. The book has little merit.

Waterloo, edited by Lord Chalfont. Knopf $17.95

The great battle has never lost its fascination. Waterloo was in some respects the last great conflict in pure black and equally pure white, and it remains a symbol of the wages of challenging fate. This handsome new volume, a collaborative effort between Lord Chalfont and three associates (including a French and a German expert), presents incisive military analysis, well-selected maps and illustrations (including striking modern photographs), and excerpts from famous literature (Thackeray and Hugo, to name two). This may well be the best one-volume study of Waterloo.

Three Days, by Paxton Davis. Atheneum $7.95

This is a small book (102 pages) about a big man and a big event—Robert Edward Lee at Gettysburg. But don’t let its size fool you. This is a very moving account of that titanic struggle as seen through Lee’s eyes. More than anything else, Davis enables us to sense the indecision and doubt plaguing Lee throughout those hot July days and nights . . .and ever after. The tragedy lies not alone in lives lost and men wounded but also in the tale of a wise and able man caught up in a perplexing dilemma which he can neither explain nor rationalize.

Collaborationism in France During the Second World War, by Bertram M. Gordon. Cornell $19.50

It is curious why “Quisling” and not “Laval” (or “Doriot,” or “Pétain”) became synonymous with “traitor” in the United States during the Second World War. It was not that we knew more about Norway, or that Quisling was somehow worse than the Frenchmen who allied themselves with Hitler’s policies. Americans were remarkably ignorant of French internal politics, and the emergence there of a large and coherent body of collaborationists was a fact of war that was difficult to digest. The story of the French who betrayed France is well told here.

Scribes and Sources: Handbook of the Chancery Hand in the Sixteenth Century, selected and translated by A.S. Osley. Godine $25

If the 16th century was the heyday of the printer, it was also the time of the chancery scribe, that most important of civil servants before the invention of the typewriter. Consequently, the writing masters were sought-after experts and competed fiercely for pupils. Osley has translated selections from many of the writing books by the 16th-century masters, including Vives, Tagliente, de Yciar, and Hontius. He has written capsule introductions which place the work of each man in its historical context and has included numerous illustrations from the manuals. Berthold Wolpe’s essay on John de Beauchesne is also included. Osley’s book thus provides a bridge to understanding the diplomacy of the 16th century and the development of the transmission of records.

LIVES & LETTERSThe Reluctant Admiral: Yamamoto and the Imperial Navy, by Hiroyuki Agawa. Kodansha $14.95

On the evening of April 13, 1943, a Japanese Naval message was sent giving the particulars of Yamamoto’s forthcoming flight from Rabaul to the front-line area. The signal was promptly copied by Pearl Harbor’s Combat Intelligence Unit and decrypted by CDR Rochefort. Plans were immediately set afoot for the interception of Yamamoto’s plane. Before forwarding the plan for approval, Admiral Nimitz asked one question: “Does Japan have anyone to take his place?” Upon being assured that there was no one, approval was recommended. All this is a matter of public record. But what is not generally known is that Rear Admiral Joshima vigorously protested that sending of the message which gave Yamamoto’s schedule, and personally warned the Admiral about the dangers of the trip. Characteristically, Yamamoto was firm in holding to his announced schedule. He felt that morale would be greatly raised if he appeared in person in the combat area; and throughout his life, he had been a stickler for punctuality. A strange and fascinating character Yamamoto seems to have been, and Agawa’s book gives, from the Japanese side, a sympathetic and, as far as can be judged, an accurate account of the Admiral’s private life and of his rise in the Imperial Navy. Uncluttered by footnotes and, to the horror of professional historians, lacking even a bibliography, the English edition of Agawa’s work is, thanks to John Bester’s splendid translation, a highly readable and, at times, a deeply moving biography.

A Winter’s Day, by Henrik Tikkanen. Pantheon $10

Those familiar with Europe’s north know it as a land where the shadows are long, the brief summer’s light melancholy, and the people taciturn, remote. Few modern authors have better caught the Scandinavian mood than the Finnish writer Tikkanen, whose extraordinarily frank and painful autobiography is presented in this newly translated volume. Begotten (he adds “mis-” as a prefix) after a drunken orgy, Tikkanen’s life seems to have been marked by one dreadful mistake after another. If his story were presented as fiction, we probably would not believe it; his artistry, however, presents a story that is all too real.

The Letters of Thomas Arnold the Younger (1850—1900), edited by James Bertram. Oxford $38

The second son of Dr. Arnold of Rugby produced nothing of literary importance to rival his brother Matthew; however, the complex intellectual and spiritual tides of his life repay generously such time and attention as one can afford to devote to this, their intimate record. This second volume of letters contains 60 percent of the extant letters of Thomas the Younger, covering a 50-year period from school superintendence in Tasmania to his death. It comprises a vivid record of educational and religious issues, the odyssey of an imimpressionable soul that suffered much for the cause of Cardinal Newman and was twice converted to Catholicism. Correspondents include Newman, Arthur Clough, Lord Acton, and brother Matthew Arnold. There is a warm and engaging constancy of spirit in this volatile and often impulsive lesser Victorian that charms the reader in a way that is unusual for collections of letters. Introductory and editorial remarks are of excellent quality.

Laughing in the Hills, by Bill Barich. Viking $10.95

Bill Barich may be the most talented drifter since Kerouac. At a time when every conceivable piece of rotten luck seemed to descend upon him, he simply headed for Golden Gate Fields, a racetrack near San Francisco, and lost himself in pursuing one new area, horseracing, and reflecting upon an old one, Italian Renaissance history. The parallel is obviously a strained one, and in many ways it just does not work; but Barich writes so sensitively about the things he is interested in, and he is so refreshingly honest, that one can read and enjoy this book as two separate essays.

The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Vol. 33: 1915, edited by Arthur S. Link. Princeton $20

The newest Wilson volume contains all the significant documents relating to the Far Eastern Crisis of 1915, the Lusitania crisis and notes, and as well Wilson’s courtship of Edith Boiling Galt. Of great interest are the abundant documents concerning secret direct negotiations with Germany and Wilson’s cautiously evolving policy vis à vis Mexico. The overwhelming tenor of these papers generously supports Professor Link’s view of Wilson as a flexible, informed, and remarkably gifted leader. One cannot read these papers without wondering how it has happened that American politicians have failed for decades to produce stratagems and statements so lucid, eloquent, and enlightened as those herein culled from among the papers of Wilson and his correspondents. Editorial standards and machinery remain of the highest quality.

From Loyalist to Founding Father, by Elizabeth P. McCaughey. Columbia $22. 50

In this well-written, thoroughly documented biography of William Samuel Johnson, we are given yet another glance at that generation of statesmen who hammered the American republic out of 13 discordant colonies. As with any good biography, this goes beyond the life of the man to give us new insight into those critical times. This is a book worth reading.

The Life of Aleksandr Blok, Vol. 2, The Release of Harmony, 1908—1921, by Avril Pyman. Oxford $48

Not more than a small fraction of 1 percent of Americans has heard of Aleksandr Blok, yet he stands as one of this century’s poetic geniuses. Had he written nothing but The Twelve and The Scythians, his place in the Russian literary pantheon would still be an exalted one. He was to poetry what Stravinsky, Scriabin, and Prokofiev were to music. In this concluding volume of a magnificent biography, Avril Pyman shows Blok’s genius in full flower and all too precipitate disappearance. Highly recommended.

The Kemble Era, by Linda Kelly. Random House $12.95

The Kembles were actors. The sister Siddons was one of England’s greatest tragediennes. The brother was not only an outstanding actor but also a successful actor-manager of both Drury Lane and Covent Garden. Some of his force and fire may still be seen in a full-length portrait of him as Coriolanus by Sir Thomas Lawrence. It dominated a recent exhibition of Lawrence’s portraits in London just as Kemble must have dominated the stage. Mrs. Kelly’s study of these two remarkable people rightly concentrates on their professional lives. Far from being a dry chronological survey, her text has the urgency and flow of a novel as well as the foundation based on research of a scholar.

Drylongso: A Self-Portrait of Black America, by John Langston Gwaltney. Random House $12.95

There are famous blacks and infamous blacks; and then there are “drylongso” blacks—the ordinary people who embrace the values of “core black culture.” The ethics of this “nation within a nation” were determined by the brutalities of slavery. We should not be surprised to hear Gwaltney’s interviewees continually voice their distrust of and condescension to the spoiled and (in their eyes) decadent white races. Gwaltney, a blind, black anthropologist, celebrates his participation in these interviews as he coaxes from his tellers insightful tales of racial solidarity. In the tradition of Studs Terkel, Robert Coles, and Oscar Lewis, Gwaltney compiles a record of culture formed in adversity, an urban blues anthology of America’s victims, America’s children—just plain folk.

Flaubert and an English Governess: The Quest for Juliet Herbert, Hermia Oliver. Oxford $26. 50

If this fascinating study does not entirely solve the mystery of the nature of the relationship between Flaubert and the English governess for his niece Caroline, it succeeds admirably in demonstrating that Juliet Herbert held a position of considerable importance in the novelist’s literary and intellectual life. This ingenious biographical account of the mysterious Juliet Herbert brings Flaubert out in a sharper and clearer perspective. Whether or not the British governess was indeed one of Flaubert’s mistresses remains unclear; what is more important, a better view of Flaubert the Artist emerges from this first-rate documentary examination of the liaison.

Van der Weyden, by Lorne Campbell. Harper & Row $17.95

Official painter of the city of Brussels in a period when Flemish politics, economics, trade, and art figured prominently in world affairs, van der Weyden himself was immensely influential in the development of Renaissance art. The painstaking calculation of balance between color, image, and detail was the forte of Flemish 15th-century art in general and of van der Weyden in particular. Yet detail never dominates the painting of this artist: his images are variously deeply affecting, immensely forceful, or emotionally disturbing. Surprisingly, the celebrity of van der Weyden was fleeting, and it was not until the late 19th century that critical interest in his painting was revived. Professor Campbell has assembled all of the scant information about the artist’s life and work, disentangling many of the confusing threads of critical commentary. Careful analysis of secure attributions enables Campbell to provide a reliable accounting of the questionable paintings of the van der Weyden oeuvre.

The View From 80, by Malcolm Cowley. Viking $6.95

In this brief meditation, an expansion of a Life magazine article, Malcolm Cowley limns, for the younger reader, what life is like for the aged. Peppered with anecdotes and quotations from such diverse writers as Emerson, Yeats, and De Beauvoir, Cowley’s essay calls for a humane treatment of the elderly. Society’s younger members, he argues, should renew the respect and reverence once bestowed on the elderly in order to alleviate the agonies of enforced retirement. Cowley’s graceful prose and forceful reasoning testify to his own acuity at age 82.

LITERARY STUDIESCritical Essays on George Washington Cable, edited by Arlin Turner. G.K. Hall $25

There are two interesting things to be noted in this collection of reviews and comments ranging in time from 1879 to 1973. One is the shift in critical estimates of Cable and his work from 19th-century gushiness and sentimentality (Northern critics) and censoriousness and rage (Southern critics) to more perceptive and unprejudiced judgments. Whereas earlier critics were likely to praise Cable’s weaker writings on the same level as his better work, later writers have pointed out the strength and durability of his nonfiction as well as the enduring worth of Old Creole Days, Madame Delphine, and The Grandissimes, the latter not only in its own right but as a precursor of Faulkner and other later Southern writers. The other interesting matter is the shift in style to be noted between the 19th- and early 20th-century critics and those from 1929 (Edmund Wilson) on. With the exception of Lafcadio Hearn, whose style is not dated, the later critics are far better writers as well as more discerning and unbiased judges. There is, of course, a good deal of repetition to be found here. We are told the story of The Grandissimes over and over again, but this too is interesting since it shows a great variety of approaches to the same tale.

Postmodern American Poetry, by Jerome Mazzaro. Illinois $13.95

Critics and commentators on modern American poetry rival in number and, occasionally, in mellifluity their own ostensible subjects, the poets themselves. However, in making Randall Jarrell’s criticism the basis of his argument, Mazzaro skews the whole focus of the postwar period to fit a restrictive, even parochial thesis. How one longs in reading his bumpy prose for the clairvoyance of a Helen Vendler, the preciseness of an Irvin Ehrenpreis, the sympathy of a David Kalstone. Cast elsewhere for insight.

Robert Penn Warren: A Vision Earned, by Marshall Walker. Barnes & Noble $23. 50

Warren has been writing for so long and has written so much that even though he is still going strong and, by some estimates, writing better than ever, the time has come for some specialized studies of his work. No doubt doctoral candidates are preparing such studies right now. But they will find this uninspired survey, which leaves off with Warren’s latest novel, A Place to Come To (1977), of little use, except for the bibliography and an interesting interview with Warren. Still, the undergraduate with a short paper due the next day should be able to find here a quotable sentence or two.

Poet of Exile: A Study of Milton’s Poetry, by Louis L. Martz. Yale $22.50

Many of the chapters here have appeared as critical essays elsewhere, some 13 of 16 by count. But reworked and rethought, and by the author’s successful intention, they all cohere. Professor Martz brings to his reading of Milton, and it is evident he has done it often and well, a deep sensitivity, an acute perception, and a vast knowledge of classical literature, particularly of Ovid, one of Milton’s two favorite poets, according to his daughter. Eleven of the chapters are on Paradise Lost, exploring structure, sources, and intention, The essays show clearly that the poet who was an exile from his society by his blindness and sordid contemporary politics was no exile from the culture of the past; in such a role he recognized deeply his duty to be a transmitter of it, not only for his generation but for the many to come.

The Movement, by Blake Morrison. Oxford $23.50

The group of poets and novelists (many of them both) which formed The Movement flourished in England in the 1950’s. Like many literary associations it came into being in Oxford as the result of sympathetic friendships—Amis, Larkin, Jennings—later to be joined by Wain, Enright, Gunn, and Davie, amongst others. Did postwar England create them or viceversa? They strongly cultivated provincialism; in an interview published in the April/May 1980 London Magazine, Larkin might be speaking for them all: “. . . I love the commonplace, I lead a very commonplace life. Everyday things are lovely to me.” Now in their fifties, they are dispersed, many of them Establishment figures. In this excellent book Blake Morrison has produced a timely, well-written, and careful study of an important passage in English literature.

Kipling, Auden & Co. : Essays and Reviews, 1935—1964, by Randall Jarrell. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $17.95

The qualities that made Randall Jarrell a remarkable and splendid poet also made him a remarkable and splendid critic, and they illuminate all the essays and reviews in this fourth and final collection of his critical prose. Even a short review of a banal versifier is charged with Jarrell’s special grace of word and phrase. “Few books are as rewarding as their dust jackets,” he wrote in “A Job Lot of Poetry.” That is not true of this book. It’s of no use to try to pick out examples of his wit and acumen and predilections. Take the whole book and enjoy it. You will soon have a warmer feeling for and understanding of not only those named in the title, but also of a wide range of novelists, poets, and, not surprising to anyone who knew Jarrell, of sportscars and their drivers.

Blake & Freud, by Diana Hume George. Cornell $15

While a number of studies on Blake have explored the possibility of a Jungian interpretation of the poet’s work, Ms. George’s essay is one of the first to interpret Blake from a Freudian perspective. She discusses The Songs of Innocence and Experience, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and Milton as well as many minor works. It is a fascinating topic which will no doubt encourage similar attempts on the same topic.

Wordsworth’s Philosophical Poetry, 1797—1814, by John A. Hodgson. Nebraska $17.50

To understand Wordsworth’s early works it is necessary to establish the relationship betwen beliefs and poetic techniques. In so doing Hodgson argues that there is a major shift in the poet’s attitude toward such questions as man, God, and the world. Among the major poems included in this period are “The Boarders,” “Tinturn Abbey,” the “Immortality” ode, the “Prelude,” and the “Excursion.” The book should be especially useful to graduate students who are struggling to come to terms with Wordsworth.

Sex and Sensibility: Ideal and Erotic Love from Milton to Mozart, by Jean H. Hagstrum. Chicago $25

This book is first of all a substantial contribution to 18th-century scholarship. But more interestingly, it inquires, precisely and eloquently, into the literary and visual interpretations of erotic love from the Restoration up to the Romantic period. Professor Hagstrum offers his authoritative summation to complement the new social history of that period. Instead of preserving the usual distinction between ideal and erotic love, he studies their varieties as they intersect, as cultural assumptions subject to historical change. His discussion of the best-known writers of the century is as illuminating as his study of those who are now virtually unread. The text is graced by 32 black-and-white plates.

Milton and the Art of Sacred Song, edited by J. Max Patrick and Roger H. Sundell. Wisconsin $17.50

The eight essays here are designed to center, as the editors tell us, on Milton’s lifelong dedication to sacred poetry. The first two essays examine Milton’s literary uses of scriptural and apocryphal writings; the next two explore the process of poetic inspiration and the subsequent sacred force of it. Other essays look at Milton’s knowledge of music, his revolution against rhyme, his departure from tradition in the use of the Archangel Michael, and finally “one more time” the hero of Paradise Lost. Interestingly, Professor Shawcross in that last essay concludes that the hero may be—not Satan, Christ, or Adam—the reader himself.

Novels and Novelists, edited by Martin Seymour-Smith. St. Martin’s $19.95

This guide and compendium analyzes 3284 novels by a star system, awarding up to five stars in the four categories of readability, characterization, plot, and literary merit. Fifty-four novels earn five stars in all four categories, including some idiosyncratic choices to tempt new readers. Accompanying essays detail the history of the novel, techniques of literary analysis, the working habits of novelists, and the associations of novels with illustration, the cinema, and the book trade.

FICTIONBellefleur, by Joyce Carol Oates. Dutton $12.95

From the first pages of Bellefleur, one is almost physically propelled into a world where time, in the author’s words, “twists and coils,” and where myths are created and enacted by seemingly conventional characters who, at second glance, are not at all conventional. It is as bizarre as the novel itself to suggest that Bellefleur is a book Ovid might have written had he been William Faulkner, but perhaps such a statement helps to define what may have been Oates’ ambition. She has written a novel about six generations of Bellefleurs, a family plagued by a baby-snatching vulture and a vague curse, a family with such diverse supernatural powers as the ability to turn into birds and to carry on affairs with images that appear inside of mirrors. Yet it is a family whose lives are intertwined with those of historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, who, according to Bellefleur legend, was not assassinated but rather chose to “retire” to the Bellefleur mansion. This book is hugely entertaining. While reading it, one feels himself being woven expertly into a web by someone who has been weaving all her life.

Prisoner of the Devil, by Michael Hardwick. Proteus $9.95

In 1895 Mathieu Dreyfus asks Sherlock Holmes to clear his brother, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, of the charge of treason for which he has been court-martialed and imprisoned. Holmes at first refuses to take the case because he can see no substantive evidence of Captain Dreyfus’ innocence. When he begins to investigate the matter, he is prompted as much by a request from his queen as by his conclusion that Dreyfus is innocent. As his search takes him from England to Europe and to Devil’s Island, Holmes realizes that Dreyfus’ conviction is more than a miscarriage of justice, and his opposition mounts until it includes not only the French High Command, government, and anti-Semitic press, but also his brother Mycroft. This is one of the best and most exciting of the recent flood of “newly discovered” chronicles by Dr. Watson. The characters are close to Doyle’s creations, and the story is well-crafted.

Fatal Demonstrations, by Elizabeth Moulton. Harper & Row $9.95

This is a novel wherein the radicalism of the 1920’s meets the turbulence of the 1960’s. They converge in the person of Isobel Greenough Storer. In an attempt to assist a boorish young scholar, she resurrects her past by making available to him the personal papers of a friend from a generation before, a radical writer whose life was inextricably linked with hers; and the resurrection is not without its pain. This is a fascinating book and clearly a first novel worth reading. Highly recommended.

Moscow to the End of the Line, by Venedict Erofeev. Taplinger $8.95

This tale of a drunken train ride has been kicking around dissident circles in Russia for a decade or more, and a French translation was published a few years ago. It is difficult to understand the fuss. As a morality tale, the novel lacks depth; and as a political tract couched in a cute literary device, it simply fails. The English version is doubly bad: a translator who can render Elsa Triole (Triolet) and Canosa (for Canossa, where Henry IV ate crow) is making a feeble effort ludicrous.

Joshua Then and Now, by Mordecai Richler. Knopf$11.95

The fare which Richler, a talented Canadian novelist, offers in this new work, (his first novel in nine years), is disappointing. This volume lacks not only the brilliant wit of Richler’s earlier novels but the engaging characters as well. It is the story of Joshua Shapiro as he grows up the son of an ex-boxer and an exotic dancer, as he approaches success as a journalist in Europe, only to be humiliated by a Nazi in Spain, and as his quest for revenge destroys himself and those he loves. Joshua is at last a victim of his own egocentricity and is judged without the sympathy of the reader.

Bring Down the Sun, by Betty Lambert. Viking $10.95

Betty Lambert carefully unravels a story of Vicky Ferris and her lover Mik. Two people of very different backgrounds— macho Mik and a highly educated writer bound together in an unexplainable attraction. Vicky’s ideas and experiences are recorded with a combination of humor and hostility. Repetition/reflection are the key to insight which the author exploits in the Saul Bellow style.

Last Courtesies and Other Stories, by Ella Leffland. Harper & Row $12.95

Eleven of the (14) stories in this first culling of short pieces by an established novelist are either set in a foreign country or about an alien, but the devastating culture shock here arises as often from a violent opposition of eras as of regions. The prose is impressive: a dexterity with the imperative third person, a feel for resonant, natural endings, and an affinity for the delicate or rude perceptions of children and the feebleminded seem especially successful despite an occasional naïvité. Ms. Leffland is a prophetess of failure whose sorrowful, bemused but powerful voice deserves attention.

Castang’s City, by Nicholas Freeling. Pantheon Books $9.95

Attention to detail and characterization make this an exceptionally good detective story. The protagonist is a perceptive, overworked French police inspector, and the book is as much about him as about his case. Depth and richness are achieved without giving up a strong plot. Grammatical errors only slightly mar this enjoyable mystery.

Confederates, by Thomas Keneally. Harper & Row $12.95

This humanistic account of one man, Usaph Bumpass from a farm near Strasburg, with his fellow Confederates, reflects the diversity in ideology of those who fought in the Civil War. They are introduced with a passionate and compassionate flavor. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson plus many more are real men placed in action against the background of battle.

The Very Rich Hours of Count von Stauffenberg, by Paul West. Harper & Row $12.95

This is the best book that this reviewer has ever read on the anti-Nazi movement. In a brilliant tour de force, Paul West has wormed his way inside the dark souls of the Hitler thugs and has turned them inside out. His device is the fictional memoirs of Count von Stauffenberg, a main leader of the July 20 plot against Hitler’s life. No exalted hero himself, Stauffenberg’s motives were not of the highest order, and West does not idealize this modern-day Teutonic knight. The bungled conspiracy and the indescribably monstrous aftermath are told here as they have never been and probably never will be by the historian.

The Spanish American Short Story, edited by Seymour Menton. California $19.95

This collection was originally published in Mexico in 1964, and roughly a quarter of the selections are from Mexican authors. The stories are organized by literary movements with critical commentary following each story. Some of the selections have more of an historical significance than an appeal as works of art, but very fine stories by authors such as Lillo, Sínon, and Augustín make up for this. Biographical sketches, a bibliography of other anthologies, and discussions of the various literary movements that have evolved over the period from the 1830’s to the present day add to the volume’s usefulness as a representative anthology.

Never Cross A Vampire, by Stuart Kaminsky. St. Martin’s $8.95

Down-and-out gumshoe Toby Peters, who specializes in Hollywood problems, suddenly finds himself with two cases: Bela Lugosi hires him to investigate death threats, and Warners wants him to clear their writer, William Faulkner, of a murder rap. As corpses begin to pile up at an alarming rate, Toby finds himself the target of a vampire who resorts to mundane but effective mayhem. In spite of the sometimes forced takeoff on Sam Spade, Kaminsky has created a series of unforgettable characterizations and a well-done mystery.

To Keep Our Honor Clean, by Edwin McDowell. Vanguard $10.95

McDowell’s first book, this story of Parris Island during the Korean War, stands well to the rear of Leon Uris’s Battle Cry or Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead. It does, however, broach some timely questions about the place of Sparfan military ideals in a postmodern democracy and suggests the influence civilians temporarily (drafted) under arms can have on a necessarily (up to a point) brutal system. McDowell’s protagonists are three drill instructors with contrasting approaches to recruit-training. Unsettling. Inconclusive.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRSWhich Way Is South Africa Going, by Gwendolen M. Carter. Indiana $12.95

In spite of the barrage of books, articles, and news stories concerning South Africa, seldom has such a lucid, balanced, comprehensive analysis been provided for the interested layman. In only 150 pages Carter presents a concise, insightful overview of the complex political and economic situation in this troubled nation. There is a determined effort on the part of the author to give the reader an objective presentation of the full range of institutions and forces working for and against change in South Africa. To this end, Carter examines not only black consciousness, but Afrikaner nationalism as well. This objectivity is maintained throughout the book in discussing the role of the press, business, churches, and the trade unions. The issues of apartheid, homelands, internal and external security are also analyzed. Shunning both the self-righteous indignation and the defiant rationalizations of the political left and right, Carter reaches only one conclusion: change must and will occur in South Africa. The manner in which it will occur and its end result is left for the prophets and soothsayers to determine.

Making It Perfectly Clear: An Inside Account of Nixon’s Love-Hate Relationship with the Media, by Herbert G. Klein. Doubleday $14.95

Most observers have portrayed this relationship as one in which love played a distinctly secondary part, on both sides. Klein has his own explanation for this state of affairs, particularly during Richard Nixon’s White House years: “The problem stemmed not from a lack of attention to the media, but more from obsession with it.” In this rambling volume Klein recounts examples of this obsession, comments on the frustrations it caused, and offers suggestions for more productive White House-press relations.

The American Establishment, by Leonard Silk and Mark Silk. Basic Books $13.95

Though hardly a work of uncommon erudition, this book addresses the question of who participates in and—yes, who is the American Establishment. You will find all your favorites here: Richard Nixon, David Rockefeller, Margaret Mead, the Ford Foundation, the Brookings Institution, and even Jimmy Carter. Is the “Establishment” some evil force or a presence necessary to obtain cohesion in our uncohesive and pluralistic society? The Establishment is more than anything else a notion that had its origins in the origin of America itself. And, moreover, it is an idea that has undergone much change. This book is readable if not entertaining, but one must ask if one will be reading it 20 years hence.

Arabs in the Jewish State: Israel’s Control of a National Minority, by Ian Lustick. Texas $19.95

This is a must book for those interested in the future of Arab-Jewish relations in Israel. Written by an American Zionist, the book explores in a rather objective manner the methods used by the Israeli government to keep its Arab minority under control. Lustick looks at the isolation and fragmentation of the Arab minority, Arab economic subordination to the Jewish sector, and the cooptation of Arab elites from structural, institutional, and programmatic levels of analysis; and he relates these to the Zionist context and objectives of the Jewish state. Lustick’s major conclusion is that the system of control works, and there is no need, accordingly, to change it radically or to find alternatives that make for more humane and better relationships between Arabs and Jews in Israel. This is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of a book that otherwise reflects the situation in Israel factually and objectively.

Roy Medvedev: On Soviet Dissent. Interviews with Piero Ostellino. Columbia $10.95

Why does the Kremlin tolerate Roy Medvedev? The author of the best history so far of Stalin’s crimes, Let History Judge, Medvedev continues to act as an unofficial spokesman for the Leninist opposition in the Soviet Union. In this series of interviews he outlines the growth of the dissident movement since the early 1960’s. His judgments are cool and well reasoned if not always plausible, and his attack on Solzhenitsyn’s political lunacies (moving all Russians to Siberia and turning technology back to 1795, for example) is a much-needed corrective.

Thunder on the Right, by Alan Crawford. Pantheon $13.95

Despite the title, there is really very little thunder in Crawford’s criticisms of the New Right. Instead, there is a sort of drizzle of complaints about various people and groups identified with the right wing in American politics. Crawford, who calls himself a conservative, has good reasons for not wanting to be associated with the John Birch Society, the Klu Klux Klan, or John Wayne. He is right that direct-mail fund raising, which is used by many conservative organizations, is scandalously inefficient. He is right that many conservatives have regional, class, and racial prejudices which are unjustified and dangerous. He is certainly right that many of the people working for conservative causes are really motivated by personal ambition and private interest. The problem is that all of these observations do not come together to form a coherent indictment of American conservatism. Crawford’s efforts to reveal a storm brewing on the American conservative political scene end up reminding us that the right wing in the United States is a highly diverse collection of people, issues, organizations, and philosophies that is rarely able to unite itself into an effective political force.

Soviet Dissidents: Their Struggle for Human Rights, by Joshua Rubenstein. Beacon Press $12.95

This amiable account of a deadly clash between freedom and tyranny has no major flaws, but it likewise lacks any major virtue. As a distillation of newspaper articles, it is reasonably accurate, but it adds not one single new piece of information or insight. It concentrates heavily upon Jewish dissidents, and that distorts the picture in precisely the way the Soviet government likes to view it. Lacking any expertise in Soviet affairs, Mr. Rubenstein has relied upon good intentions. That is not enough.

Presidential Decision Making: The Economic Policy Board, by Roger B. Porter. Cambridge $18.50

How to organize the White House for effective presidential decision making is a perennial issue that gets its most serious attention every four years when the possibility exists that someone who has spent years running for office may suddenly have to think about running the country. Roger Porter has written a book about the Economic Policy Board in the Ford administration that should be useful to Ronald Reagan, as he takes over the Oval Office. Porter argues that the “multiple advocacy” model of decision-making developed by Alexander George was put to the test in the formation of economic policy during the Ford presidency and that it proved to be an effective way of making and coordinating policy. Porter served as secretary to the EPB and has put together a richly detailed account of its origin and operation. Unfortunately, good policy-making procedures won’t make the substantive economic issues faced by the new president any easier. At best, good organization gives a political leader the opportunity to think and act with a minimum of extraneous bureaucratic problems. Controlling bureaucratic restraints on presidential leadership is not the only problem that a prospective president must consider, but it surely is one of them.

The Writing on the Wall: Inside Higher Education in America, by Gail Thain Parker. Simon & Schuster $9.95

The young author of this critique of American higher education was for four years president of Bennington College. On the basis of rumors that have drifted southward about her stormy tenure, one might have hoped for either a roman à clef or a precocious memoir of the sort that Norman Podhoretz produced in Making It. But the personal is oddly absent from this heavily derivative polemic. Even the occasional witticisms usually spring from someone else’s imagination.

Rolling Thunder: Understanding Policy and Program Failure, by James Clay Thompson. North Carolina $14

One of the lessons supposedly taught by the Vietnam War is that bureaucratic restraints inhibit the effective conduct of American foreign policy. The national security organizations of the government fail to produce objectively, implement, or evaluate major policy decisions because organizational interests are substituted for national goals, because substantive arguments among agencies are disguised in consensus recommendations, and because information, for a variety for reasons, is distorted as it moves through military and civilian hierarchies. These and other complaints about the organizations responsible for national security affairs are well documented in this case study of the bombing of North Vietnam between 1965 and 1968. The problem with the case study, and with most studies of bureaucratic politics, is the assumption that policy failures are evidence of organizational problems. Was the futile bombing of North Vietnam the product of organizational routines and bureaucratic momentum or the logical consequence of presidential misperceptions and mistakes in defining the objective of American policy in Southeast Asia? Thompson does not have a convincing answer to that fundamental question, though he does offer many details which support the former conclusion.

POETRYThe Various Light, by Alfred Corn. Viking $12.95

Alfred Corn is a reflexive poet in the best sense of the term; he has not abandoned external realities in pursuit of solipsistic musings. Rather Corn fashions form to natural life (“Herb Garden,” or. “Grass”); he frames acts in speech (“Reading Pericles in New London,” or “Town Center”); he celebrates the endurance of strong performance (“The Outdoor Amphitheater”) The best poems, both witty and urbane, recall his acknowledged masters: Stevens, Lowell, and Merrill. Corn’s last volume, A Call in the Midst of a Crowd, was at times confusing, mixing lengthy snatches of source material with Hart Crane-like, subterranean meanings. These poems also perplex; yet Corn’s humanity, his ability to say (with Stevens) “hiho to blank zero,” and his studied shifts from actor to spectator assure us that his poems are worth all the effort.

Setting the Table, by Linda Pastan. Dryad Press $3. 75

If Gilbert Sorrentino can publish a book of poems about oranges, then Linda Pastan surely can publish a much slimmer chapbook (16 poems, some of which have appeared in her earlier volumes) about various kinds of foods. In Setting the Table, Pastan etches still lifes, sings of chocolates and croissants, and discourses on the historic apple. Unfortunately, she allows the language of stones—that tired idiom of much contemporary poetry—to slip into her soup. Can we learn from food? Pastan reminds us that civics lessons come from salad, “where all lettuces are equal.” At their wittiest, Pastan’s culinary gems recall the best food poems of our time (Daniel Halperin’s “How To Eat Alone” for example). Yet I’m afraid she frequently takes her light morsels too seriously; she chews on more than she bites off.

Classic Ballroom Dances, by Charles Simic. Braziller $3.95

Simic, a devastating poet who has won several awards, achieves even greater simplicity in this collection without sacrificing any of the subtle violence of his other books. All his work has a sense of having been drawn from the dark innermost sources of thought. He illuminates the pathetic disparity between the formal events of our “civilized” world—like the title poem—and the injuries they hide. These poems confirm that things are never what they appear to be, but what we always suspected they might be. Simic depicts a cold, menacing life in which war, prison, exile always hover at the edge, if not dead center of each subject. The “Great Dark Night of History,” in particular Eastern Europe of World War II, haunts him constantly, yet several pieces in this volume show he can write delicate elegies as well.

The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown. Harper & Row $12.95

This gathering of Sterling Brown’s poetry is something of a literary event. Brown has long been one of the heroic presences of Afro-American literature—an Old Master of the vernacular—but his verse has remained largely unavailable. Southern Road was more than 40 years out of print, and many of the poems assembled here are either previously unpublished or previously uncollected. What is finally made accessible, however, reveals Brown as a master and a presence indeed. Although he is not a lyricist of any distinction, and although his effective range is narrow, he is a first-rate narrative poet, an eloquent prophet of the folk, and certainly our finest author of Afro-American dialect. His bindlestiffs, criminals, ramblers, gamblers, and “bad niggers” grow out of an unself-consciously revolutionist folklore, which he is determined to make both explicit and heroic, and his characteristic note of protest may remind us that the bulk of his verse was composed during the 1930’s. His anger, however, does not censor his ear, which is sensitive and hospitable, and he makes use of many other voices as well. He elicits a generous comedy from the Anglified inflections of West Indian speech, and one of his most successful poems celebrates the triumphant piety of rural women. He turns even the grunts and pauses of the work-song to the uses of a good poem. No one who is interested in American poetry can afford to ignore this delightful collection.

Arcadia, by Christopher Reid. Oxford $8.95

The poetry which Reid creates employs a number of elements from domestic life in order to create an ideal life which lies behind those facets of reality we don’t ordinarily subject to such close scrutiny. Yet despite the idealism of his metaphors, they betray an essentially comic vision which, in many ways, affirms our common life together. The idealism present in these poems is not one which seeks to escape our earthiness and earthboundness.

Selected Poems, by W. S. Graham. Ecco $12.95

W. S. Graham is Scottish by birth. His early poems were written in the manner of Dylan Thomas. The poems in his fifth book, The Nightfishing (1955), were bare bones compared to those, and in a review of that book James Dickey called Graham “the most individual and important young poet now writing in English.” Now in his early sixties, author of two further collections, he is an elder poet of even greater distinctiveness; and this selection (almost if not exclusively of poems from his latest three books) is more than important—it is necessary. Graham is acutely conscious of the silence within which language exists— that silence which is also the abstract dimension, the space, containing the sensual world. These poems emphasize our relationship to that silence and that space, while considering ways by which we can relate to ourselves, to others, and to our world of things. How utterly disconcerting this strategy is! You cannot read Graham’s Selected Poems without becoming almost unbearably tense. It is as if something is gripping you—that something which is your need to be sure of the weight of your flesh and the audible beat of your heart.

Born of a Woman: New and Selected Poems, by Etheridge Knight. Houghton Mifflin $10.95

Etheridge Knight became and has remained best known as a prison-poet, whose settings discover an ultimate metaphor for the condition of being a black male in the United States. The typing is crude but valid: Knight’s work is truly subterranean, tense with the hardness, paranoia, and bitter humor that have characterized criminal poets since Villon. But Knight is more than simply a talented psychopath, and his poetry develops a remarkable range. Once one has discarded the inevitable, programmed poems of propaganda, there remains a substantial body of work that is distinguished both for subject matter and technique. There is, for instance, a scattering of striking haiku—

Eastern guard tower
glints in sunset. Convicts rest
like lizards on rocks.

—and there are some surprisingly subtle and interesting experiments with internal rhyme. There are intensely painful love poems, hallucinations, blue raps, folk narratives, and meditations upon ancestry that assume naturally a biblical pace and diction. The theme is freedom, the need of the spirit for the wind and the sea, and Knight usually invokes it ironically—by the definition of his world as both physical and psychological prison. He has distinguished his voice and craftsmanship among contemporary poets, and he deserves a large, serious audience for his work.
A Draft of Shadows, by Octavio Paz. New Directions $9.95 cloth, $4.95 paper

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