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Notes on Current Books, Autumn 1994

ISSUE:  Autumn 1994

From literary translation to the work of copyists at the Louvre, “rewriting” and its analogues have become a central concern of post-deconstructionist scholars. In this rich, clear, lively book, a distinguished Merton College historian examines how different representations of the past (the Revolution, for instance, or the career of Joan of Arc) have been manufactured by competing political communities (especially the extreme Left and Right) to define their identities, determine their goals, and disqualify (or even demonize) their adversaries. Apart from exploding the myth of a monolithic French consciousness, Gildea shows in the most compellingly possible terms that history is less factology than versions—shaped, colored, and textured by institutional or ideological forces. This is a fundamentally important book which deserves to be read and reread—not only by historians.

Poor Whites of the Antebellum South: Tenants and Laborers in Central North Carolina and Northeast Mississippi, by Charles C.Bolton. Duke $39.95 cloth, $16.95 paper

Like everything else in the history of the antebellum South, slaveless whites have been argued about for more than 150 years. To some, they seem the inevitable byproduct of slavery, testimony to white aversion to work and the monopoly of the wealthy. To others, they have seemed romantic figures, disdainful of the pressures of the market and of elite expectation, living their lives with a reckless and appealing hedonism. Charles Bolton, in the most thorough study yet of these people, will have nothing of either of these caricatures. In Bolton’s telling, the poor whites were poor because, unlike the yeomen with whom they are often confused, they had neither land nor slaves. As a result, they were prey to economic exploitation, enjoyed little upward mobility, were a worry to those in power, and rejected secession in considerable numbers. Bolton offers the deepest and most sensitive study we have of these people. It is something we needed.

The Conquest of a Continent: Siberia and the Russians, by Bruce W.Lincoln. Random House $30

Vivid, breathless, and sweeping, Lincoln’s narrative of Siberia from the Mongol hordes to the Red Army is Book of the Month Club history at its most facile. An entertaining and instructive read.

Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism, by Jenny Franchot. California $55

This sophisticated religious, cultural, and literary history of the attitudes of native-born American Protestants toward 19th-century antebellum Catholic immigrants to America reflects the positive trend toward interdisciplinary analysis which is now only beginning to emerge in the academy of the 1990’s. Its treatment of politics is solid although somewhat sparce given the importance of the political arena during the era, but its constrained yet judicious reliance on literary technique and interpretation, coupled with its complete avoidance of social science methodology, more than atones for that one weakness, making this one of the most interesting and readable works of American literary and religious history of recent memory.

Stalin Against the Jews, by Arkady Vaksberg. Knopf $24

This book’s distinguished publisher calls it “richly documented, “yet the author rarely cites any sources at all, at least not in such a form as to make it possible to check them. A first-rate investigative journalist, Mr. Vaksberg fails the most rudimentary research test in that he provides no way for others to check his findings. That said, there is reason to accept much, but not all, of his argument concerning Stalin’s anti-Semitism. That is not new, of course, but in this account Vaksberg sketches a deeper and infinitely more methodical campaign than we have previously understood.

Never Again: Britain 1945—1951, by Peter Hennessy. Pantheon $30

After the victory, Britain faced a new, less deadly but still colossal battle: how to acknowledge, at long last, her decline to second- or even third-rate status in the world, and how to survive in that new situation, Clement Attlee lacked the ability to inspire, but this was not the kind of struggle that called for stirring rhetoric. Somehow the nation muddled through, though it would not end rationing until 1954, and gradually most people understood and accepted that the flag would now set on the Empire. This is a good if rather sophomorically written account of those postwar years.

A Dance Between Flames: Berlin Between the Wars, by Anton Gill. Carroll & Graf $23

For a little more than a decade, from the Versailles Peace Settlement to Hitler’s accession to power in January 1933, Berlin was Sodom and Gomorrah, Camelot, Paris, Vienna—all the good and sinful places rolled into one. It inspired Christopher Isherwood and Bertolt Brecht, Marlene Dietrich and Kurt Tucholsky, a whole raft of outstanding scientists. Tellingly, it was Hitler’s least favorite city in Germany precisely because it was so open, so gay, so intellectually alive. Anton Gill sketches a beautiful portrait of the glory that was Berlin in the 1920’s.

The New Regime: Transformations of the French Civic Order 1789—1820$, by Isser Woloch. Norton $35

Was the French Revolution a disaster of unintended consequences for France? An irrelevance (after all the dust settled)? A modernizing force? Woloch examines with consummate expertise the framework for collective public life erected by the revolutionaries and Napoleon. His nuanced views, centering on state-building, contribute to a controversial debate having wide implications.

Children of Grace: The Nez Perce War of 1877, by Bruce Hampton. Holt $27.50

Bruce Hampton seems caught between the two genres of history and literature. His work is, as one reviewer has said, “meticulously researched, “but he does not engage his sources critically enough to please professional historians. He relies at times almost wholly on other secondary works to carry his narrative. And while he is careful to weigh contradictory primary sources, he doesn’t bring those contradictions to the fore, as we might expect in such a contentious, multifaceted story as the Nez Perce War. Similarly, in his effort to present us all the facts, he is unable to bring an effective style to bear on the narrative. Bound by his scrupulous attention to detail, Hampton fails to give us the satisfaction of either the interpretive boldness of Patricia Limerick, or the lyrical and searing prose of Cormac McCarthy. Western history is served best, it seems, by writers like Wallace Stegner, who excel both as novelists and as historians.

Peace/Mir: An Anthology of Historic Alternatives to War, edited by Charles Chatfield and Ruzanna Ilukhina. Syracuse $49.50

Does humankind have to make war? History would seem to answer that question in the dismal affirmative, yet one way or another people eventually tire of war; no quarrel lasts forever. In this interesting compilation the authors bring together a variety of case studies and documents from various historical periods in support of their call for a renewed effort to find peace. Sponsored by the Russian Academy of Sciences and the U.S.Council on Peace Research.

A New World: An Epic of Colonial America from the Founding of Jamestown to the Fall of Quebec, by Arthur Quinn. Faber and Faber $35

This book is a collection of biographies of the European men (i.e., French, English, and Dutch) who shaped the early history of the United States. The faces and stories are familiar ones—John Smith, Samuel de Champlain, John Winthrop, William Penn, etc.—but the tales are told with style and verve approaching that of Francis Parkman or Henry Adams. Quinn is a professor of rhetoric and is clearly reaching for an epic style. Some of the language is overwrought, while some is starkly beautiful. There are few false historical notes; Quinn has read most of the recent scholarship, and his accounts reflect it. As a result, general readers interested in the period will find the book fascinating.

The South and the New Deal, by Roger Biles. Kentucky $23

Roger Biles’ previous work includes volumes on the New Deal generally and on the New Deal in Memphis, so he is very well situated to undertake the current project. The book’s organization is excellent, with chapters devoted to each of the obvious topics: labor, politics, race, etc. Biles’ take on things is the regnant one: those New Deal measures which made the South less “Southern”, thus more like the rest of the country, should be praised, while any lost opportunity to bring the South into the suburban/industrial/biracial mainstream is to be lamented. The colorful politicians and impoverished common folk of the Old New South (New Old South?) are what make the book worth reading. They don’t make ‘em like Eugene Talmadge anymore, but then, would we want them to? Biles perhaps exaggerates the New Deal’s importance as the catalyst of the decline of Southern distinctiveness, and he fails at times to distinguish the New Deal from the Depression, but The South and the New Deal is nonetheless a successful book.

Latin Literature: A History, by Gian Biagio Conte. Johns Hopkins $65

This is a superbly clear and concise translation and revision for the Englishspeaking market of Conte’s Letteratura latina, published in 1987.It stands out as an authoritative, comparative, and comprehensive survey of the literature, beginning with Livius Andronicus and finally shading off and thinning out in the period of Gregory of Tours and the Venerable Bede. Written on a high level of scholarly sophistication, it is an encyclopedic reference work in the true sense of a circle of knowledge, in which the historical background of the literary text and its author is emphasized, the place of the text in the development of its literary type is defined, and the ways in which later readers have judged its value are examined. The selection of works is reasonable and intelligent, and the commentary on each is done with great skill and perception. Included are up-to-date bibliographies, chronological tables and a glossary of literary terms. On a reference shelf heavy with Teuffel, Schanz, Duff, Albrecht, and the Cambridge History, there will now have to be a place made for Conte.

The Nation and Its City: Politics, “Corruption, “and Progress in Washington, D.C., 1861—1902, by Alan Lessoff. Johns Hopkins $45

The Nation and Its City traces the impact of politics upon urban development in the nation’s capital during the 40 years after the beginning of the Civil War. This period of Washington’s history witnessed not only explosive growth, but also extensive modernization. Lacking the industrial or commercial base that powered development in most 19th-century American cities, Washington provides Lessoff with an especially valuable field of study in which to observe the political forces at work in Civil War, Gilded Age, and Progressive Era America. The author, as a result, casts light on both the complex contributions of politics—national, local, and bureaucratic—to the shaping of the city and the value of the history of urban development as a window on American politics. By paying close attention to the intent and result of various proposals by city bureaucrats, Army officers, and federal policymakers, Lessoff makes clear the inherent difficulties of pursuing “”public” goals in a “public-minded” fashion.”

LITERARY STUDIESRecovering American Literature, by Peter Shaw. Ivan R. Dee $22

This book provides a lucid and comprehensive survey of the current state of the criticism of American literature. Shaw reviews the way in which five masterpieces of American fiction have been received over the years by critics: Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Melville’s Moby-Dick and Billy Budd, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, and James’s The Bostonians, As Shaw argues, over the past few decades critics have turned from treating these works in aeshetic terms to using them to pursue their own ideological agendas. In the process, they have reduced complex artistic and philosophical issues to the level of political sloganeering and thereby radically impoverished our view of our cultural heritage as a nation. Some will no doubt charge that Shaw is unfair in his account of contemporary critics. He does tend to exagerrate their vices, as well as the virtues of their predecessors. Still, on balance, he is correct in the account he gives of the descent of American literary criticism into the stranglehold of political correctness. Anyone wishing to get a sense of what is going on in the world of literary criticism today would do well to pick up this book.

Poetry of Mourning: The Modern Elegy from Hardy to Heaney, by Jahan Ramazani. Chicago $42

Ramazani discovers the elegy as central to the development of the lyric in this century. Not as a source of consolation, but as exploration of grief. He focuses upon poets who have renewed the genre, beginning with Hardy as a transitional figure. His range is wide, extending from Wilfrid Owen, Wallace Stevens, and Auden to Langston Hughes and the blues and lynch poems. Sections on the American Family Elegy embrace Lowell, Berryman, Ginsberg, Harper, Plath, then Sexton, Rich, and Clampitt. At least one.contemporary has found in the study a tradition for his work. The close readings themselves make the book a pleasure.

The Snowflake on the Belfry: Dogma and Disquietude in the Critical Arena, by Anna Balakian. Indiana $39.95

This is a rich and suggestive collection of essays. Together they constitute a powerful and at times moving challenge to the reigning dogmas of the literary critical establishment today. Writing out of the best and most humane tradition of the study of comparative literature, Balakian takes on a variety of the theoretical approaches that have come to dominate literary studies over the years, such as structuralism and poststructuralism, as well as the ideological movements they have helped spawn, such as multiculturalism. Her essay on “Canon Harassment,” for example, does an excellent job of clearing away the many confusions that have come to surround this explosive issue. Given her hostility to current trends in criticism, many will try to dismiss Balakian as a cultural conservative, but as these essays—and her whole career—show, in fact her approach to literature has been progressive in the best sense of the term. As a comparativist she has been open to discovering a wide range of new works of literature; it is just that she has insisted on applying to all works the same high standards of aesthetic judgment, refusing to embrace them merely for the sake of being different or representing some politically correct point of view. Against the divisiveness of the current emphasis on ethnicity in literature, Balakian reminds us of the highest goal of comparative literature as a discipline: “the discovery of new relationships in literature through the breakdown of the national and ideological barriers that separate literary figures.

The Culture of Literacy, by Wlad Godzich. Harvard $18.95 paper

Less a book about literacy than theory (there is a “difference”), this book is a gathering of essays on various contemporary writers in hermeneutics, including Jauss, Pavel, and above all Paul de Man. Some readers will observe the author’s almost flip indifference to de Man’s wartime writings. Not written for a broad audience (despite the hype from Coetzee and Eco) this is a must for grad students in English.

The Deceived Husband: A Kleinian Approach to the Literature of Infidelity, by Alison Sinclair. Oxford $49.95

The topic of the deceived husband is one of seemingly endless fascination in a developed culture where an artificial social structure runs counter to natural feelings. Adultery points up the fragility of marriage, the importance of inheritance, and the sanctity of honor in a male-dominated society. It reveals the impotence of the husband whose status is suddenly changed involuntarily, who then becomes the object of pity or of riducule, and who, if ho is not ignorant of the affair, must either accept the new arrangement or take vindictive action. An attempt to define these intricate and nuanced relationships is made in this literary study by reference to two models, based on modern psychological theory, of the cuckhold (here identified as the passive manic depressive), and the man of honor (the active paranoid-schizoid). There follow some quite interesting, if not always convincing, comments on Western society and male anxieties with examples drawn from the treatment in Boccaccio, Chaucer, Calder6n, Flaubert, Fontane, Tolstoy and others. Some minor lapses apart (“gendered terms, “”marginated character, “”parameters”), the book is pleasantly free of modernist jargon.

Britannia’s Issue: The Rise of British Literature from Dryden to Ossian, by Howard D.Weinbrot. Cambridge $49.95

Weinbrot has produced a masterful survey of the development of literary categories in the 18th century. British literature, he argues, was not the result merely of an Anglicized classicism, but rather of the confluence of several cultural influences, Celtic and Hebraic among them. Taking a lesson from the excesses of the current historicist debate, he pays close attention to the many strands of discourse that constitute literary history and to their historical contexts, yet he steers well clear of a “totalizing” theory of that history. As a result, the book is quite long, but Weinbrot’s sensible readings and clear prose make it enjoyable, as well. Weinbrot’s judgment of Pindar’s influence demonstrates the clarity with which he distinguishes the objects of his scrutiny: “Pindar is revered as a icon, ignored as a paradigm, and scorned as a maker of plots. “Thus the Pindaric ode becomes the object of differing perceptions and uses rather than a simple “model, “and one strand of Britain’s literary history is shown to comprise several smaller strands. Weinbrot’s analysis is erudite, clear, and, to the extent possible, comprehensive.

The Hidden Law: The Poetry of W. H. Auden, by Anthony Hecht. Harvard $16.95

Hecht, as a poet himself, is perhaps more acutely conscious than most of the difficulty in making critical sense of a poet’s work. His own method in this study is one of probing diffidence, curious yet modest explorations of themes and images running through Auden’s verse. The result, however, is far from slight; The Hidden Law is fascinating throughout, as tireless in its scrutiny as it is generous in its celebration of one of this century’s most engaging and humane lyrical voices.

Beyond Theory: Eighteenth-Century German Literature and the Poetics of Irony, by Benjamin Bennett. Cornell $42.50

This book is both wide-ranging and provocative. It attempts to reopen the question of the character of 18th-century thought, and to show that many concerns that are now thought of as peculiar to our century were already being explored by 18thcentury writers in Germany. Thus, in contrast to theorists like Foucault, Bennett sees the 18th-century lying on this side of the great divide between modernity and traditional thought. The book consists of several chapters devoted to exploring carefully a number of dense and complicated texts, such as Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre, Lessing’s critical essay Laokoon, and Holderlin’s ode, “An die Parzen. “Though the book will obviously be of interest chiefly to Germanists, scholars in all fields of literary study and intellectual history should pay attention to its forceful argument. Indeed the book is a good reminder of how the parochial national horizons of literary critics often skew their view of cultural history. English and French texts have generally provided the basis for conceptions of the 18th-century, with the result that it has been characterized somewhat one-sidedly as the Age of Reason. By showing us that German texts need to be integrated into a broader conception of the age, Bennett reminds us of the place of what Kant called the critique of reason in the period and hence of the importance of skepticism and what Bennett calls the poetics of irony in any full understanding of 18th-century culture.

Up Against Foucault: Explorations of Some Tensions Between Foucault and Feminism, edited by Caroline Ramazanoglu. Routledge $59.95 cloth, $17.95 paper

This volume is an interesting collection of feminist studies of Foucault’s work on power/knowledge, on institutionalized and shifting clusters of power relations through changing discourses, and on the relation of gender to power. Of the 11 contributors, 10 are women, mostly from Britain. They assess the extent to which Foucault’s understanding of power can be helpful in correcting the tendency of some feminists toward male and female essentialism and a “universal patriarchy” as though maleness as such brings with it an inherent claim to power. Foucault denies that power is group-specific and instead suggests it as discourse-specific: power is the result of a certain self-definition of a group and can be challenged only by rival discourses and constructions of power. At the same time, Foucault is also taken to task for his obliviousness to sexual, biological differences. Thus for example the physical power of men, physical experience of abuse, and physical sex-specific experiences of pleasure also need to be taken into account in any study of power and gender that is to be less abstract than Foucault and less rigid than biological essentialism. An important work in women’s studies, political theory, literary theory, sociology, and philosophy.

Presenting Paradise. Dante’s Paradise: Translation and Commentary, by James Torrens. Scranton $18.95

Most undergraduates in medieval history, it would appear, never make it to Paradise. If Dante is read at all, it is usually only through the Inferno, so that the symmetry of the visionary journey is abandoned and the meaning lost. It is true, nevertheless, that the last part of the poem demands greater concentration and reflection, as the author intended it should, and rightly or wrongly it has always been viewed as more challenging and less accessible to a general audience which has long discarded the medieval image. This new edition, therefore, with a running commentary interwoven with the text in each canto, is particularly welcome and useful. The English translation, if not lyrical, is fluent and reliable, and it studiously avoids the trap of trying to improve the sense of difficult passages. The notes, based on Scartazzini and Singleton, are helpful and to the point. With this volume clutched firmly in hand, our undergraduate may now have the courage to be saved.

A New World of Words: Redefining Early American Literature, by William C. Spengemann. Yale $28.50

Following up on the questions he posed in his 1989 book A Mirror for Americanists: Reflections on the Idea of American Literature, William Spengemann argues in A New World of Worlds that early American literature should be defined not by the citizenship of its writers but by the engagement of its texts with the presence of the New World—”wherever the literary presence of English writings can be attributed to the stylistic innovations arising from the historical presence of America among their circumstances of production. “As such, Spengemann notes, early American literature would include “some of the most historically and literarily important English writings of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, from the English translation of More’s Utopia to Robinson Crusoe and beyond. “Thus, in the texts he examines in detail, Spengemann includes Milton’s Paradise Lost, Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven and Hell, “and Austen’s Northanger Abbey alongside Smith’s True Relation, Franklin’s Autobiography, and the history of the word “Columbus. “While this book may not cause as much of a stir as Spengemann’s earlier reflections, A New World of Words presents a more cohesive, more detailed argument that is sure to win him additional converts.

LIVES & LETTERSJane Austen: The Woman, by George Holbert Tucker. St. Martin’s $23.95

Jane Austen once said, “I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible vanity, the most unlearned and uninformed female who ever dared to be an authoress. “Such teasing self-mockery is of course far from the truth, and it is the truth of the author’s “real life” which the author attempts to re-create after peeling away the layers of myth that still cover it. Scarcely the recluse she is still sometimes made out to be, Jane Austen emerges here as a lively, welltraveled woman, whose life was far richer than is often supposed.

Wild, High and Tight: The Life and Death of Billy Martin, by Peter Golenbock. St. Martin’s $23.95

This is the saga of the brash brat of baseball. In more than 500 pages, Golenbock presents seemingly every detail of Billy’s bullying, boozing, and barroom brawling. This is a pathetic story of competitiveness and self-destruction, of a man whose life had meaning only on the playing field. To a lesser extent, it is the story of the even more odious George Steinbrenner, owner of the Yankees and Billy’s adversary. Golenbock gives us a vivid glimpse into professional sports at their ugliest.

The Man in the Mirror: A Life of Benedict Arnold, by Clare Brandt. Random House $25

At last we have a good biography of the most quintessential traitor in American history. What drove Arnold, an enterprising colonial businessman and ardent Revolutionary patriot hero, to attempt his ill-fated colossal betrayal of the American Revolutionary cause? The author argues convincingly that Arnold’s lifelong yearning for status and wealth, which his family ignominiously lost during his childhood, haunted him all his life, warping his personal inner life and spoiling his every relationship with his contemporaries. Using detailed primary sources, Brandt masterfully and painstakingly traces the growth of that jaundiced perspective which ultimately led him into the treachery for which he is so infamous. What emerges is a fascinating story of an intelligent, talented, and superior individual who was blindly trapped by his own complex personality, his insecurities, self-centeredness, and ambitions.

Hanging Rock Rebel: Lt. John Blue’s War in West Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley, edited by Dan Oates. This Burd Street Press $24.95

This wonderful spirited autobiography of a Confederate cavalry soldier chronicles not only his own trials and tribulations during the Civil War but also provides a window into the everyday experiences and hardships dealt out to those brave enough to defend their homeland once the Union took control of the border states’ territory. Originally published in the post-war serial, The Hampshire Review, Blue’s story is riveting, humorous, and instructive on every page. Blue, who gathered intelligence for Stonewall Jackson, was captured several times and even managed to survive the freezing concentration camps of the Great Lakes during one of the coldest winters on record. Living throughout the war with a bounty on his head, the audacious young rebel always eluded death, survived the war, and eventually entered West Virginia politics in 1892.

Shade of the Raintree: The Life and Death of Ross Lockridge, Jr., Author of Raintree County, by Larry Lockridge. Viking $24.95

In 1948 Ross Lockridge’s first novel was a best seller, a Book-of-the-Month Club Main Selection, recipient of a large prize. Two months later he killed himself. One of his sons, then five years old, now reconstructs the arc of his father’s life from achievement to despair. The result is both scrupulous and moving. It is of interest as well as a context for reassessment of the novel, which is being reissued.

Frank Lloyd Wright—The Lost Years, 1910—1922, by Anthony Alofsin. Chicago $55

Architectural historian Anthony Alofsin seeks to set the record straight on Frank Lloyd Wright’s “lost” years spent mostly in Europe, and the web of influence between European architects and Wright himself. Wright denied observations that he was influenced by European and Japanese architecture, tending to see only how his work influenced 1920’s building in Europe in particular. Alofsin, however, shows the extent to which Wright’s early time in Europe from 1909—11 led to a deep, seemingly unconscious influence of certain European styles on his creative psyche, and how this led to the articulation of a set of architectural principles more subtle and complex than his own or that of his European muses had been before. Intended as the scholarly work it is, this book is illustrated so lavishly with halftones and produced so beautifully in general that it can double as a coffee-table book.

Thomas Hardy’s “Studies, Specimens & c. “Notebook, edited by Pamela Dalziel and Michael Millgate. Oxford $39.95

Kept during the mid-1860’s, “Studies, Specimens, & c, “is one of the few notebooks to have survived from this early period of Hardy’s life, when he was still working as an assistant to a London architect and groping his way toward a literary career. The editors provide a useful general introduction, a bibliographical description, and a typographical facsimile of the manuscript. Their painstaking labors, especially the annotations, make this an essential reference book for Hardy scholars, and demonstrate the validity of Dr. Johnson’s observation, “The minute changes made in their compositions by eminent writers are always a matter of both curiosity and instruction to literary men, however trifling and unimportant they may appear to blockheads.”

Medieval Lives: Eight Charismatic Men and Women of the Middle Ages, by Norman F. Cantor. HarperCollins $23

Reported conversations, whether found in medieval manuscripts or in yesterday’s newspaper, are always suspect. Invented conversations, lifted from the novel and masquerading as history, are not only silly but dangerous. It is too easy to shape a person’s character, about which we know next to nothing, by putting words into his mouth. It is difficult to take this book seriously. The text, moreover, labors under a stiff and awkward writing style, and by the need, desperate at times, to cram as much historical information as possible into a few sentences. The result is that the people portrayed often speak, unnaturally, like college textbooks. At certain points we are misled into thinking that Marie de France (if there was a Marie de France) disguised herself as a modern feminist, that “Thomism” was a term that came easily to Robert Grosseteste, that the Franks pursued a policy of ethnic cleansing, or that Thomas Becket was slain in front of the high altar at Canterbury. All in all, it is better to leave this kind of flight into fantasy to the professional story-tellers, whether Chretien de Troyes, Giovanni Boccaccio, Amy Kelly, or G.A.Henty.

Entering the Sacred Mountain, by David A. Cooper. Bell Tower $20

The subtitle of this book, A Mystical Odyssey, further reveals its esoteric nature. Alternating selections from his journals with time, place, and expository sections, the author recounts his personal spiritual growth steps over a 12-year period by detailing his experiences with his wife Shoshana in a series of retreats ranging from rural Virginia through Jerusalem, Massachusetts, New Mexico, the Sinai Desert, and other places. The retreats were as brief as seven and as long as one hundred days, Eclectic in its range, from Sufism, to Buddhism, Cooper’s search for his spiritual home ultimately returns him to his roots in Judaism. Not a work to be skimmed, the reader will find deep reward in the time invested in it.

E. M. Forster: A Biography, by Nicola Beauman. Knopf$30

“The key to Morgan’s life, “his latest biographer states at the point where her subject enters the university, is “the pull between the conformity of [sub-urbia] and the individuality encouraged at Cambridge. “This is the key to the novels and, later, to Forster’s journalism and lectures too, as Beauman convincingly illustrates. Yet if the early formulation of this basic theme indicates that Forster’s life harbored few dramatic changes, that life as recounted here is more than the sum of its daily routines. Forster lived with his mother until she died, gaining full autonomy only at age 66.Though he grasped freedom in brief respites before her death (enough so that he could experience a flurry of adolescent sexual experimentation around the age of 50), he never rebelled against her constraining conservative values. Instead, he used his disapproval of the genteel lifestyle he himself enjoyed as the fuel for his fiction. In his novels he deftly hid critique within charming irony, an irony meant not to upset his mother, even as it allowed Forster to expose the follies of the English upper class. Readers will also find his subtle, yet keen, understatement amply displayed here in the many excerpts from his letters and diaries.

The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America, by John Demos. Knopf$25

Told with the narrative flair of a novel and based on a careful weighing of the historical evidence, The Unredeemed Captive is the story of Eunice Williams, captured as a girl by the Indians in a raid on Deerfield, Massachusetts, in 1704.Despite the efforts of her family over decades to “redeem” her, Eunice spent the rest of her days among the Indians. Demos weaves together the events of her life in the light of larger considerations of race, religion, the place of women, and the clash of two cultures.

Minor Heresies, Major Departures: A China Mission Boyhood, by John Espey. California $25

A collection of short autobiographical sketches and essays culled from three volumes, the first of which was published in 1944, the book recounts the experiences of the author growing up in a Presbyterian mission in mainland China. At its best, Espey’s work is reminiscent of Kenneth Grahame’s essays on childhood: touching, funny, clear-sighted. His portraits of the indulgent, perplexed Chinese encountering the earnest foreign missionaries are pleasantly wry. It might be uncharitable to wish that Espey did not write with so uniformly light a touch in recounting the extraordinary hubris of the mission project—but perhaps such a departure would have tarnished what is, through and through, a light, charming book.

A Surgeons’ Civil War: The Letters and Diary of Daniel M.Holt, M.D., edited by James M.Greiner, Janet L.Coryell, and James R. Smither. Kent State $28

These writings of an upstate New York country doctor serving in the Army of the Potomac give an insider’s view into how medicine was practiced on the Virginia battlefields during the Civil War. Linking together and providing context and continuity for the “educated and articulate” surgeon’s reminiscences are the editors’ graceful and informative head notes, which, when combined with meticulous annotation, make this a superb scholarly documentary edition of a Civil War manuscript.

FICTIONMacauley’s Thumb, by Lex Williford. Iowa $22.95

The ten impressive stories in Macauley’s Thumb capture and keep one’s full attention. Williford’s ear for the spoken word and his eye for the quirky detail is accomplished. When a husband and wife bicker about their accommodations in a run-down Mexican motel, the dissolution of their relationship is undeniable. When a dying woman’s dementia makes her mistake her nephew for her husband, one doesn’t question the strangeness of the situation because he trusts the voice telling the story. Williford’s focus falls on people under the pressure of daily life in the modern world—the betrayal or loss of a spouse, the pain of growing up without a father, the way work saps lovers of their passion. These are stories that feel “lived in. “They ring true.

Book of Dreams, by Craig Nova. Ticknor & Fields $22.95

In The Book of Dreams Craig Nova has an interesting story to tell but seems unwilling to let the material take flight on its own. In an attempt to get descriptions “just right, “Nova too often allows his prose to feel indecisive. Similarly, by structuring the book so that each chapter focuses on a different character’s actions and thoughts, he insists on making his controlling presence felt. This technique adds a certain sense of complication to the characters’ actions, but it ultimately deadens the narrative drive. Throughout the book one gets the feeling that Nova is saying, “This is important. “For instance, near the end of the book Nova has a dying character repeat the word “twinkie” over and over, in reference to a happy childhood memory. Clearly, one is supposed to think of “rosebud” and its famous use in Citizen Kane, but the effect here seems forced and leaden. Following the very solid Trombone, The Book of Dreams is a disappointment.

Without a Hero and Other Stories, by T. Coraghessan Boyle. Viking $21.95

Boyle is undoubtedly our most audacious and verbally inventive novelist. A defect of those virtues is tautology, repetition, and redundancy in action, character drawing, and viewpoint. All of this his readers not only tolerate but usually delight in, because Boyle knows exactly how to get away with it. In this collection of short fiction, however, he largely goes to the opposite extreme. The high-risk situations subsist, but the style is tightly controlled and the action as well as the psychology and narrative voices are almost schematic. Less fun, but in its own way no less impressive, as a tour de force.

The End of Vandalism, by Tom Drury. Houghton Mifflin $21.95

This is a first novel by an author already much published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, and the Mississippi and South Carolina Reviews. Knowing this, the reader can be prepared to find here the kind of fiction that such publications usually accept: a gem of real interest surrounded by many red herrings of plot and character. There is a story here, somewhere, but one is put into the position of looking for it. It’s a long while before you can be sure who the central character is; and while doing that, you become fascinated and engaged with some of the many minor beings who move in and out. The locale has its own interest: Grouse County, somewhere in the Midwest, not a graffiti covered urban neighborhood as the title might suggest. If you are willing to stick with it, you will find this a rewarding book, but it may be hard to get involved with the characters or the plot.

A Woman’s Place, by Linda Grant. Scribner’s $20

In the fourth mystery in this entertaining series, Catherine Saylor, the head of her own detective agency, poses as an employee of a cutting edge software company to expose whoever is harrassing the firm’s female employees. A straightforward case of pranksterism turns ugly, however, when a top sales executive is found murdered in her office. Grant sets her story in an interesting situation—a clash of corporate cultures, the stress of bringing new products to market, the resentment of men as they are passed over for promotion to the advantage of women—and for a time the suspense is sustained by the sheer brutality of the crime. But the plot fizzles rather than explodes as Grant telegraphs the ending. Readers of Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky, however, will find Grant a congenial companion.

The House of Eliott, by Jean Marsh. St. Martin’s $20.95

Jean Marsh is perhaps best known as Rose the parlormaid on Upstairs, Downstairs, a series she helped create. Now another BBC television serial (also, in part, her creation) provides the title and substance of this, her first novel. In brief, it is a desultory melodrama about two sisters who become London couturieres during the 1920’s. The novel scarcely abounds in literary innovation (it reads like a TV script to which ligatures of competent expository prose have been sparingly added), nor does it delve into the depths of its characters with particular zeal; but as the light fare of a leisurely afternoon, it is entertaining enough to recommend.

As Max Saw It, by Louis Begley. Knopf $21

Twenty years after graduating from Harvard, Max—a law professor—catches up with his classmate Charlie, an architect whose professional reputation is as impressive as the Rabelasian excess of his appetites. With Charlie is a young man whose androgynous beauty captivates Max, drawing him closer into Charlie’s circle of friends. Not too close, however; as the title of the book might imply, Begley is interested less in sexual desire or repression than in the ways both fineness of moral perception and disastrous misreading of the world one observes can coincide in an individual consciousness. The resulting novel, though admirably crafted and absorbing, is indebted less to Henry James than to another, less exalted craftsman— Louis Auchincloss, like Begley a lawyer turned novelist whose abilities are outpaced by rather imposing ambitions.

Wednesday’s Child, by Peter Robinson. Scribner’s $20

This is the sixth in a mystery series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks, and a fine series it is too. The abduction of a seven-year old girl lies at the heart of this story, and it unleashes an investigation that reaches surprising dimensions in the relative backwater town of Eastvale in Yorkshire. Banks and his finely-drawn cast of colleagues uncover all kinds of nasty crimes in their search for the girl. Robinson’s smooth writing and gift for characterization often mask the grimness of these police procedurals, but there is no doubt this is serious and compelling storytelling.

Knowledge of Angels, by Jill Patton Walsh. Houghton Mifflin $21.95

This is a medieval thriller set in a Mediterranean Island (Majorca?) before the Reformation. A castaway is on trial as a heretic and the recurrent themes of unquestioning faith, tolerance, moral certainty, loving kindness, and murderous cruelty all conflict with and contradict each other. The heroine is a wild, flesh-eating child captured by mountain shepards. She is faintly reminiscent of Rima in Green Mansions. The magical fable is destined to become a contemporary classic since all of the emotions and issues it discusses have such great relevance to all of us today.

Straitjacket and Tie, by Eugene Stein. Ticknor & Fields $19.95

The world of schizophrenia is a world of terror. Those who suffer from the disease experience daily horrors, often from the paranoid fears that plague their waking hours, or the psychotic visions that—like bad dreams—intrude unexpectedly into consciousness. Friends and families also live in terror both of the disease and the person who embodies it—never knowing when or in what bizarre or threatening way madness will erupt. This novel, a semiautobiographical rendering of the anguished relationship between Philip, an older, schizophrenic brother, and his junior sibling Bert, communicates both types of terror. It also portrays the humor, the patient compassion, and the familial fatigue that is the lot of those who live with chronic mental illness.

The Wisdom of Stones, by Greg Matthews. HarperCollins $23

A native born Australian has written a swashbuckling novel about life in the Continent Down Under during and after WAV. II.Some readers may find it too violent and lusty for their taste, but the fascinating insight into the culture, lifestyle, and philosophy of the illiterate local Aborigines whose land was invaded and destroyed by the whites is alone well worth the price of admission.

Perfectly Pure and Good, by Frances Fyfield. Pantheon $20

This mystery novel is a sequel to Fyfield’s Shadows on the Mirror, which featured the remarkable Sarah Fortune as its main character. Sarah is a beautiful young lawyer whose honesty and directness are used to heal the lucky few upon whom she chooses to dispense her kindnesses. Her presence in the seaside town of Merton, brings to a boil all the lies, resentments, and repressed desires that have simmered for a generation. Fans of Ruth Rendell and P.D.James will enjoy Fyfield’s psychological portraits and meandering plot; fans of good writing will thrill to her lyricism.

White Shark, by Peter Benchley. Random House $23

Although the explanation for the existence of this “white shark” is Benchley’s most unbelievable tale of tails, this novel is fast-paced, colorful, and hard to put down. His characters are delightful, especially the hero, whom the author uses to pass on to us some of the mysteries and discoveries of parenthood. Also he has included some history of marine life and the present state of the marine industry, which is interesting and believable, not like the title character itself. The actual flaw in this novel’s “creation” is that Benchley tries to introduce an explanation for its existence much too late in the book. But overall, this is a quick and fun read, and it will be a popular “major motion picture” someday.

Amnesia, by Douglas Cooper. Hyperion $19.95

Douglas Cooper’s first novel demonstrates that the “psychological thriller” can, in the right author’s hands, do more than keep a reader turning pages. This novel is not only a page turner; it is an admirable piece of literature. As Cooper thrills us with his exciting plot twists and mysteries, he subtly explores questions about the nature of human identity. We wonder whether or not we can with assurance label any of his three main characters “sane,” and the author teases us with tantalizing clues but offers no easy answers. Luring us into the minds of deeply disturbed and violent people, Amnesia is not a book for the faint-hearted.

Fine Lines, by Jim Lehrer. Random House $20

This is another in a line of One-Eyed Mack mysteries about the honest and upright lieutenant governor of Oklahoma. There is precious little mystery in this novel about the killing of state legislators who are about to vote against a public school initiative. There are any number of off-beat characters whose antics provide a modicum of amusement for the reader. But although the series is touted as political satire, the stilted dialogue and contrived situations set it more properly in the theater of the absurd.

Beyond the Aegean, by Elia Kazan. Knopf $25

The author is a triple threat player on the modern cultural scene: (1) autobiographer, (2) novelist, and (3) Hollywood/theatrical director. His latest work is perhaps his most successful. It is another episode in the saga of a Greek, Stavros Topouzoglou, who fled to the States to escape the aggression of Turkish rule. After a failed love affair with an American woman, he returns to Anatolia where he foregoes his dream for love and wealth to take up the cause of Greece in a level of sacrifice and heroisim he did not know he possessed.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRSThe Assassination of Paris, by Louis Chevalier, translated by David P.Jordan, with a foreword by John Merriman, and a new epilogue by the author. Chicago $29.95

“Paris is changing,” lamented Baudelaire, “new palaces, scaffolding, stone blocks, and old suburbs have all become allegories to me. “More than a century after Baudelaire, Louis Chevalier, of the College de France, cites office towers, vanished trees, and the unrestrained accommodation of motor vehicles as embodiments of technocratic folly, presidential ambition, and commercial greed. Not only a brilliant polemicist, Chevalier is a thorough-going historian, tracing the intricate chain of economic and administrative causes that yielded such abominations as the Pompidou Museum, La Defense, and the Tour du Maine, the replacement of Les Halles by a giant bunker, as well as the transformation of Right Bank quais into noisy, air-fouling expressways. Avoiding the risks of complexity, Chevalier says predictably little about serious efforts of renewal (in the Marais district, for instance) or creative preservation (e.g., of the great Orsay railroad station), and his dismissal of the Pei pyramid at the Louvre betrays incomprehension not only of the palace’s decorative programme but the Egyptomaniac aspect of its setting (the Concorde obelisk is still visible). Nor does Chevalier offer alternative responses to the demographic challenges that provoked so much inept urbanisme. In sum, then, a thoroughly engaging book to be read with utmost caution.

The Wild Girls Club, by Anka Radakovich. Crown $18

“We concluded that women want to find one man to satisfy their many needs while men want many women to satisfy their one need,” states the author of this very funny, very frank, and very perceptive commentary on the War Between the Sexes. Anka Radakovich is by turns crude, outrageous, and hilarious in this collection of pieces from Details magazine, where the author writes a sex advice column for her young male readers. She covers everything you know (and some maybe you didn’t know) about sex in the 90’s. Her lovers are turned into “research assistants,” and she demonstrates herself to be an enthusiastic and able researcher. While at times the book verges on the disgusting, it is always provocative and corrosively honest. Like birth control pills, perhaps it should be taken in small doses; but also like mother’s little pills, it is relatively safe and very liberating.

In Europe’s Name: Germany and the Divided Continent, by Timothy Garton Ash. Random House $27.50

In this work, the prize-winning chronicler of Central Europe’s recent revolutions examines West German efforts between 1969 and 1990 to overcome the division of both Germany and Europe. More specifically, he evaluates how Germany’s Osf politik contributed to the success of the European revolutions and of Germany’s reunification. The motives of West Germany’s diplomatists are key issues. Were they advancing Germany’s cause in Europe’s name, or were they working in the European interest? Although neither purely one nor the other, “at its best, it was the work “of German patriots in European responsibility-.” “

War and Existence, by Michael Gelvin. Penn State $16.95

Recently our nation has indulged in a nostalgic return to D-Day. An interpretation of Gelvin’s book is thus most timely. His “Philosophical Inquiry” is most ambitious, considering the immense literary efforts expended on the subject of war. To a philosophically naive reviewer, the book is surprisingly readable and at the same time, deeply provocative.”All who are sensitive and intelligent abhor war. Yet though they abhor war and condemn it and deeply regret its occurrence, few are pacifists.” This is Gelvin’s “Paradox of War.” His “Essence of War” is not defined until late in the book. In between these pages, he describes the nine elements (or marks) of war. For the sensitive and intelligent few who think deeply about the meaning of existence, this book can be a revelation, considering the “Paradox of War.” An American fighter pilot, Quentin Aanenson, summed up his experience this way: “If a person has a cause for which he is willing to give his life, he stands. . . . People must be prepared to stand up at moments in history.” Perhaps this simple statement is the “essence” of Gelvin’s lucid commentary on “War and Existence.”

Contesting Castro: The United States and the Triumph of the Cuban Revolution, by Thomas G.Paterson. Oxford $27.50

Of all the embarrassing consequences of United States foreign policies in Latin America over the last century, in Venezuela, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, surely the most egregious is that in Cuba. In minute detail Paterson inventories the personalities, particularly the U.S.ambassadors in Havana and Batista and Castro in Cuba, and their actions that have resulted over the past 35 years in the two countries being in an acrid confrontation towards each other. Though not overtly judgmental, the author clearly implies that our policy-makers of the 1950’s misperceived the depth of anti-U.S.sentiment in Cuba, which ultimately gave Castro the upper hand, and allowed a real rupture to develop and fester.

Westminster’s World, by Donald D. Searing. Harvard $49.95

What is it like to be a British parliamentarian? How do M.P.s act and interact in the “world’s greatest club?” Why do some rise to power while others languish on the backbenches? In this fascinating study, distilled from two decades of research and consideration, Searing analyses the roles played by members of the House of Commons in an effort to understand the dynamics of Westminster. The resulting study is indispensable for any serious scholar of the British political system.

The Devil We Knew: Americans and the Cold War, by H. W. Brands. Oxford $25

Maybe we need more perspective; after all, the Cold War’s corpse is still not cold. H.W.Brands, a professor at Texas A&M, tries to produce a rather hip obituary in this spotty book and does not really pull it off. He pushes


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