In this new book based on his prizewinning Yale dissertation, Michael McGerr traces the development of political style in the Northern states from the torch-and-banner popular politics of the 1860’s and 1870’s, to the “educational” style of the 1880’s and 1890’s, to the “advertised” style of this century. As partisanship declined, voter turnout dropped drastically; while agreeing with 19th-century reformers that partisanship in the popular era was taken to absurd lengths, McGerr denies that partisanship was repressive. The popular style not only held voters to the two major parties but also accustomed them to the idea of partisan commitment and popular agitation, without which third parties such as the Populists and Socialists would not have thrived. Partisanship and popular politics also introduced young and immigrant voters to the political process, an initiation long-abandoned by the time 20th-century voters (including new voting groups such as women) came of age. McGerr’s thematic organization has drawbacks, and he perhaps gives too much credit to liberal reformers in creating the educational style, but this is an extraordinarily thoughtful and thought-provoking book. While specialists may quibble with McGerr’s treatment of some matters in this broad 63-year period, his thesis is original and convincing, and his book is of interest not only to historians but also to those trying to understand or reform the politics of today.
In 1660, the only punishments that English courts could inflict on even the most serious criminal offenders were hanging, on the one hand, or, on the other, setting the felon free with either a branded thumb or, less often, a whipping. By 1800, the whole system of criminal justice had changed and began to look like ours (lawyers, for instance, have entered the courtroom). According to J.M. Beattie, the main elements of this transformation were the invention of two forms of secondary (i.e., less than capital) punishment: transportation, devised by an Act of 1718, and imprisonment, the slow growth of varied practices in the last decades of the 18th century. Beattie makes the nature of 18th-century crime, courtroom procedure, and punishment lively and accessible, particularly in his careful attempts to explain legal change by reference to larger social concerns; Crime and the Courts should be read by anyone interested in 18th-century history and the emergence of modern social practice.
Who says business can be dull? Author Dary does, although that is not his message. But with all the makings of a rousing book, he has managed to separate the wheat from the chaff and given us mostly the latter. Of course there are Indians and lots of buffaloes (those robes were for a time big business), but what we see mostly are wagons and thirsty men traipsing in all directions in search of profits. And unless we unleash a William F. Cody (and Dary does not), then the story becomes a bit shopworn by page 300. The Santa Fe trail looms large, but again the excitement is passed over. The anecedotes that would have been so useful are missing. (How was the fabulous Josiah Gregg killed? In a barroom brawl or on the trail?) Not a hint that women had anything to do with the Western business, either. Ambitious in scope and researched with care, the narrative lacks vim and the rustle of petticoats. The Harvard business school trainees will find it more useful than any Western buffs ever will.
This is the very model of a Napoleonic campaign history. In addition to a lively running account of all the major engagements of the conflict, the book is crammed with extras for the military history buff: maps of all kinds (from tactical to strategic), orders of battle, a great many illustrations taken from art of the period, and chapters on warfare in general during the Napoleonic era. Gates is very balanced in his appraisal of the 1807—13 Peninsular war: the French are credited with gallantry and military skills despite having made the mistake of becoming involved in Iberia in the first place; and the Spanish contribution is explored more fully than in previous accounts, as well as the brilliant “total war” strategies of Moore and Wellesley. The slight crudity of many of the maps is the only blemish on this otherwise excellent book.
Professor Mayers, who teaches at the University of California at Santa Cruz, apparently does not know either Russian or Chinese, and so he has his work cut out for him when he assays an investigation of American policy toward the Sino-Soviet alliance. He displays an embarrassing lack of understanding of that alliance, and thus his attack on American policymakers falls flat. It is all very well to write in 1986 that we could have done things differently in 1949, but in 1949 we did what all our experience and the public mood commanded.
The conventional view of the attitude of German student youth toward Hitler and Nazism has long held that the universities were a stronghold of ultra right-wing sentiment. Professor Giles of the University of Florida refutes this claim in this exceptionally well-researched and written study. As always, students were volatile and apathetic, conservative and radical, optimistic and pessimistic about Germany’s future— and their support for Hitler was at best marginal.
There are times when consensus in historical explanation emerges prematurely, and nothing can be healthier than a judicious muddying of the waters. David Underdown does just this in his study of the roots and conduct of the English Civil War in three western counties: here the conflict was not between rich and poor, elite and lower class, Anglican and dissenter. A diversity of local concerns governed partisanship—mainly concerns about traditionary legal rights and festivals. Underdown provides the best kind of confusion, in which may be found hints of a new and better kind of historical explanation.
This is a sympathetic look at a group of World War II victims who seldom get much attention—German civilians who endured the war at home. Beginning in 1942, as the Allies undertook the most concentrated bombing program in history, men, women, and children in Germany’s major cities spent endless nights in shelters awaiting attack. Allied technology improved, and what began as nuisance raids escalated into devastating assaults, the fire bombings of Hamburg and Dresden being the most infamous examples. Despite shortages of food, clothing, and shelter, civilian morale remained surprisingly high. Of course fear of reprisals by Nazi officials went a long way toward limiting open expressions of discontent. As the military situation disintegrated, what disenchantment existed became secondary to the rapidly closing pincers of the Allies. Professor Beck, an American veteran of the European Theater of World War II, has produced an enlightening, highly readable account of life in the war-ravaged Third Reich.
In this class-centered discussion of events leading up to the creation of the Federal Reserve System, Professor Livingston attempts to show how corporate “elites” set the terms for the national debate over monetary reform. According to the author, bankers were not the driving force behind establishment of the “Fed”; rather the advocates of a new corporate capitalism worked for a system that would stabilize their financial power. Through a concerted publicity blitz involving trade and financial associations, economists, and politicians, they gained hegemonic control over the dialogue of reform. The details of this effort are set out in a fascinating, if sometimes complex, book, for the author has mined source materials rarely examined by other scholars. Like many Marxist histories of the United States, it is difficult to pinpoint who, exactly, the elite were. One also wonders if they were satisfied with their creation and if they achieved their economic goals as the author suggests.
This is a top-to-bottom history of England from the accession of James I to the downfall of the Protectorate. Over the past few decades, scholars have produced a rich body of literature on the Stuarts and Cromwell, especially in the field of social history, and Professor Hirst has drawn on these materials in presenting his overview of the period. The first half or so of the book is devoted to the stuff of the social historian—family life, religion, economics, the courts, government at the local level. The remainder concentrates on major events of one of the most turbulent centuries in English history. This latest volume of The New History of England series is an ideal introduction touching on the most salient historical themes.
Brazilians landed hundreds of thousands of captive Africans, most of them illegally, between 1810 and 1850. Impious Portuguese, British, and Americans gladly joined in to circumvent their own nations’ bans against slaving. Conrad has clearly exposed the hypocrisy, cupidity, and cruelty with which these sanctions-violators went about a grisly business made all the harder on its victims by well-meaning abolitionist pressure. Distinctively the book explores the resonances of the trade in the domestic politics of the early Brazilian empire and focuses on slaving itself in the midst of a mostly Whiggish literature on the self-proclaimed achievements of the abolistionists. Conrad’s underlying cynicism dispels any lingering trace of the romantic illusions that once detected mildness and paternalism in slavery in Brazil.
The 50th anniversary last year of the beginning of the Spanish Civil War has stimulated the publication of several books designed to remind us of the significance of that terrible conflict and to put it into perspective. Carr’s excellent contribution contains a short narrative history of the events of the 30’s plus a chronological pictorial history of them. The pictures are photographs from private collections and professional sources and drawings and paintings done by artists on both sides of the contest. They add up to a shattering testimony of the bitterness of the struggle, the deep ideological divisions which made reconciliation impossible, and the graphic reality of war. The Spanish Civil War engaged the famous (Hemingway, Orwell, Picasso) as well as thousands of now nameless citizens in a protracted struggle that only the recent return to democracy has finally brought to an end.
In this beautifully written and illustrated book, Clyde Bresee describes his stay on the Lawton plantation, where his father was the manager, from the year 1920 to the year 1930. Located on the Ashley river right across from Charleston (S.C.), this plantation surprised and enchanted the four-year-old Pennsylvania and introduced him to Southern society, a rural economy, racial differences, and the presence of the past. “The years as a Southerner did not pour me into a mould—(. . .) but certainly a “sense of history” was greatly intensified by the James Island experience,” and certainly, C. Bresee shares with us a “sense of history” through his memories of conflicts that separated the South from the North—the living presence of the Civil War, the privileges that made the young Bresee a “Mister.” But he conveys also the warm memories kept from those formative years and people—friends, teachers, and workers—associated with his quiet but fruitful daily life. Rich in details, factual, and emotional, C. Bresee’s account of his Southern childhood portrays a time that has now vanished but whose influence and legacy have remained.
Biographies almost invariably err in one of two directions: either they assume that their subject’s life is so inherently interesting that all they need do is recount the facts, or, to the contrary, they assume that the true interest lies not in the facts but in the interpretation they choose to impose on them. Prater definitely embraces the former shortcoming, particularly since he eschews any commentary on Bilke’s works which does not reflect immediately on Rilke’s life. A Ringing Glass is straightforward, factually complete, and well-documented. It is also a bit dull. The radiant moments occur when Rilke himself speaks in the frequent excerpts from his letters. It is the liveliness and creativity of these bits of the life which suggest that Rilke would merit and could inform a livelier biography.
When Franz Schubert died of venereal disease at the age of 31, the poet Franz Grillparzer, like so many of the composer’s friends, was too stunned and saddened to say much of anything. Two years later, however, Grillparzer wrote the lines which adorn the monument in Vienna’s Central Cemetery: “The art of music here interred a rich possession and even fairer hopes.” He was the greatest composer of his age after Beethoven, and his all too brief life is the stuff of high drama, tragedy, anil genius. Robert Osborne has given us a wonderful biography.
Unlike his brother Roy, who has a solution for everything and an answer to nothing where Soviet politics is concerned, Zhores Medvedev—trained as a scientist— is more cautious in his judgments. His so-called biography of Gorbachev is little more than a compendium of what is known from the West European and American press spiced by some juicy Moscow gossip supplied, perhaps, by Roy. But because Zhores is a careful writer we at least have a useful summary of what we know, and thus this book has some merit for the specialists as well as the general reader.
Thomas chronicles the life of a true cavalier of the Civil War, J.E.B. Stuart. In the process, he enlivens the biography by revealing humorous anecdotes and bold combat maneuvers. Stuart, who had humble beginnings in Virginia, was never close to his parents but did adopt his mother’s abstinence from alcoholic spirits. He did well at West Point and soon learned the value of forming acquaintances with the “right” people to further his career. As a result of his success as a cavalry officer, Stuart became a legend for the Confederacy. However, his desire to be recognized and his refusal to acknowledge defeat affected his leadership:leadership that resulted in his late arrival at Gettysburg, a factor which some believe may have caused the defeat of the Confederacy.
This biography of Daniel Boone really doesn’t shed any new light on his legend. It’s a nicely written retelling of what other biographers have already said. One speculates about how much of the Boone legend is based in fact. The story goes that he escaped death at the hands of the Indians, the French, and the British on numerous occasions. If so, he had more lives than a cat. A cynic (like this reviewer) might wonder if all this really happened. Lofaro has not used footnotes to make reference to his sources, but in a bibliography he mentions that he drew on information found in a number of books written in the late 18th century. Anyone familiar with biography and history produced during this period will probably agree that authors back then were prone to exaggerate a wee bit when discussing patriotic heroes. Still, even if these accounts arc no more real than the imaginings of a James Fenimore Cooper, it’s fun to read about an audacious risktaker who somehow survived to die in his own house, in his own bed, at age 86.
Former ambassador Spasowski is nut. contrary to what he and his publisher claim, the “highest-ranking Communist official ever to defect to the West.” but he was indeed a powerful man in the Polish government and his defection was an important coup for the United States. In his brutally frank memoirs Spasowski describes his journey from loyal Communist to friend of Solidarity to renegade. This is one of the most important works on Eastern Europe under Communist rule ever to see the light of day.
A self-styled history of Cambridge University’s secret society, this collection of anecdotes about Tennyson. Bertrand Russell, Keynes, and countless other illuminati dwells heavily on the seamier side of its subject. Homosexuality, alleged serial murder, and—above all, of course— treason receive more than their due. though the account of Blunt. Burgess, and Michael Straight is disappointing: a less-than-perfectly reliable rehash of other sources.
This book is a large section of Francisco García Lorca’s memoir of his brother, the great poet and dramatist, Federico, originally published in Spanish as Federico y sumundo (1980). Francisco, professor of Spanish literature at Columbia University for many years, recounts his childhood with Federico and makes valuable connections between early experiences and certain images which later appear in Federico’s plays and poems. Although Francisco is naturally rather circumspect and protective of his brother’s memory (Federico’s homosexuality is nowhere mentioned, for example), the book is rich in personal testimony, family history, genealogy, anecdote, and scenes of life in rural Andalusia and Granada in the first part of the century. Nearly half is devoted to subtle critical readings of Lorca’s plays. Prologue by Mario Hernández; translation, valuable explanatory notes, and index by Christopher Maurer.
For Edward Lozansky, a Ukrainian of Jewish origin, marrying a Soviet general’s daughter was a ticket not to a life of ease but to a bitter conflict with Soviet authority. When he and his wife decided, for reasons not made clear in this book, to leave the Soviet Union, the full weight of the state appeared to come down on them. Lozansky himself finally received permission to emigrate, but his wife was kept behind for six years. This is their story, or at least part of it.
Surprisingly, there has been up until recently no modern scholarly biography of one of England’s most celebrated medieval figures, Thomas Becket. But now, from one of the most preeminent historians of Anglo-Norman and Angevin history, Frank Barlow, comes a work which should stand as the standard for at least this generation. It is a masterful biography, remarkable in its detail and clearly reflecting a breadth of knowledge. Far from sensational, this is a judicious and considered account, quite likely to be the last word on a most complicated and fascinating man.
Christopher C. Dahl’s short biography provides an overview of the polished, prolific, contemporary novelist of manners. Louis Auchincloss. Auchincloss was torn as a child between a desire to be part of his mother’s world of book reading and leisure activities and his obligation to enter the masculine sphere of business and law. Despite his partnership in a prestigious Manhattan law firm, Auchincloss has managed according to Dahl to establish with his 20 novels a reputation as a literary successor to Henry James and Edith Wharton. Dahl’s biography succeeds in its limited goal of briefly surveying the life and literature of a previously-unstudied literary figure and whetting the readers appetite for Auchincloss’s fiction. However. Dahl’s failure to probe into Auchincloss’s thoughts, motivations, and ambition prevents his work from being a definitive biography of an interesting contemporary novelist.
Georg Lukács is one of the most remarkable and important figures in the intellectual history of the 20th century. No one did more to revive Marxism as a legitimate intellectual force, and if later figures like Adorno and Benjamin have- been more influential on Anglo-American criticism, Lukács is in many respects more authentic as a Marxist and more systematic as a thinker. These excerpts from Lukács’ correspondence give a fascinating glimpse into his intellectual development in the early stages of his career. The letters were selected from a cornucopia of Lukacsiana discovered in 1973. A suitcase containing 1600 letters to and from Lukács, together with a diary and manuscripts, was found in a bank vault in Heidelberg. Lukács’ list of correspondents reads like a Who’s Who of 20th-century intellectual life: Georg Simmel, Ernst Bloch, Martin Buber, Karl Mannheim, Max Weber, Ernst Troeltsch, Karl Jaspers, Heinrich Rickert, and Thomas Mann. Since this volume includes letters to Lukács as well as from him, it ends up providing a rich cross-section of intellectual life in the all-important first two decades of this century.
Though originally intended as a mark of esteem by Irvin Ehrenpreis’s many colleagues and students, this volume has become, since his unfortunate death in the summer of 1985, a tribute to his memory. The range of topics is appropriately wide-ranging, given Professor Ehrenpreis’s own animated interests in things 18th century and 20th, whether biographical, aesthetic, cultural, or poetic. The collected essays focus, for example, on Augustan epitaphs and elegies, Clarendon’s historical method, the relation of Restoration plays to the novel, and the transformation of landscape description in poetry and prose. The quality of these discussions is mixed, perhaps because many of the contributors offer their pieces as preliminary speculations, in the spirit, it would seem of Ehrenpreis’s eagerness to break new ground. The papers by Ralph Cohen, Susan Staves, Maximillian Novak, Margaret Doody, and G.A. Starr are weighty and significant analyses; others start off interestingly, but fall short of persuasive theses; still others, unfortunately, fit Mary Lascelles’ description of her own argument as “brief and slender.” Taken together, however, this collection musters a great deal of interest and variety and is a fitting gesture of regard for a scholar whose influence has been both personal and profound.
Ronald Sharp’s book is an unusual work, clearly out of the mainstream of standard literary-critical studies. The tone here is more one of an essay or learned contemplation of the way friendship figures into the modern artistic consciousness. As a result, the work emerges as a splendidly humanistic and refreshingly modest reconsideration of this culturally vital—though now often ignored—topic. While some readers may object to the author’s somewhat anecdotal style and may have reservations about the final chapter’s treatment of The Merchant of Venice, the book should strike all as provocative and stimulating.
It takes real determination to finish reading a book which early on contains sentences such as: “Surely no one can read Melville without rejoicing in the verbal exuberance, in the sheer delight of handling words, of touching them, of rolling them around in the mouth, almost as if they were the globules of sperm in the hands of Ishmael and his crewmates.” In fact, one might as well give up as soon as possible on such a slight and shallow volume. A book-length treatment of the theme of homosexuality in Melville would be welcome, but the subject would have to be handled with more tact and taste than Martin can muster and less tendentiousness. Martin wants to enlist Melville on behalf of his own cherished left-wing political programs: “male friendship is not, of course, the only alternative to the ideology of aggressive male domination nor is it Melville’s subject per se; but it is an important part of a larger movement that can ally itself to feminist and ecological thinking.” Martin cannot quite be accused of reducing Moby Dick to the level of a “Save the Whales” campaign, but he conies close. He relentlessly pursues his narrow thesis, quickly becoming repetitive and tedious in the process, while radically oversimplifying the complexity of Melville’s works and losing sight of the genuinely tragic vision at the core of Moby Dick.
Budick has written an intelligent hook on chaos and disorder in Dickinson’s poetry, arguing that the “highly dissident nature of Dickinson’s symbolism” is the product of a skeptical and deeply philosophical mind. According to Budick, the problem of Dickinson’s “inability to either perceive or create order” was also the inspiration and guiding light of her poetic intelligence, reflected in her fragmented, stop-and-start form, her sensory perceptiveness, and ultimately her deeply personal and radically innovative symbolism.
Large begins his story with a cursory review of 17th-century attempts to create a “universal character,” but the special value of this book begins with his treatment of later 19th-century language “reformers” and especially with his detailed and fascinating account of the fortunes of Esperanto and its rivals (Ido, Occidental, Latino sine flexione, and interlingua). The Artificial Language Movement is the most useful and readable volume to appear so far in Blackwell’s Language Library series.
Using Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time, and Gogol’s Dead Souls as vehicles to carry the flow of the story, Professor Todd examines the creation of modern Russian literature in the early part of the last century. It was a brilliant and at times savage period when a genuine revolution took place in Russian letters—heretofore almost exclusively the province of the clergy. This is an outstanding work.
This book is typical of the sort of poststructuralist. Derridean gobbledy gook presses are routinely churning out these days. Ronell discusses the way Goethe has haunted subsequent figures in German literature, serving as both an inspiration and a source of trauma for them. Given this topic, one would expect at least a nod in the direction of Harold Bloom and his theory of the anxiety of influence. But Bloom is no doubt too tame an intellectual figure for Ronell. Indeed, she accomplishes an amazing feat: she manages to make Bloom’s prose seem positively clear and sober by comparison with hers. Take, for example, this comment on Frankenstein: “Wether in a sense telecommand the monster’s “auto”-destruction”. I checked: the book is not translated from a foreign language.) A measure of the intellectual substance of the book can be taken from the fact that it begins with a probing analysis of that deepest of modern phenomena: the nightly weather report: “Goethe’s insights on weather forecasting . . .can be taken as an early figuration of what is required when analyzing Goethe’s heritage. . . . The weather forecast usually comes after the news, extending past the news to offer a reading of foresight that combines divinitary skills with a certain calculation of probability.” (I wonder if Willard Scott knows that that’s what he’s been doing all these years as Faustian forecaster for NBC.) This book has all the predictable Derridean gestures; one wonders when university presses will wake up to the emptiness of this kind of pretentious, self-indulgent, and ultimately pointless prose.
This kind of study of both the practice as well as the theory of 18th-century language use requires years of careful reading, as well as the gifted ear of a scholar such as David Nichol Smith or Geoffrey Tillotson. Carey McIntosh is not yet so accomplished, and so his book inevitably disappoints. He is most interesting in isolating a “courtly-genteel” language rooted in feudal and religious piety which was (and to some extent still is) a hallmark of politeness; he has trouble generalizing about (as well, of course, as locating) lower-class style, though he has much that is useful to say about gestures toward such style in the novels of Defoe.
It’s always useful to be reminded that Renaissance poets—especially lyric poets—rarely wrote for “publication” in our sense; Marotti takes this insight many steps further in rereading Donne’s poetry, early to late, in light of the small coterie audience to which it was originally directed. (Only much later, when such verse was printed and printed for a mass audience, does a modern notion of it as “literature” emerge.) Of course, our knowledge of the details of Donne’s biography is fragmentary, so that much of Marotti’s interpretation (including sometimes matters of chronology) must be speculative; but if even half what he has to say turns out to be true, he has given us an important new approach to a major poet—and intriguing new readings.
Few editors sing their own praises as loudly as does McGann—and few have so much right to do so. His Byron is a landmark both in correcting a body of famous and much-studied texts, and (to a lesser extent) in textual methods. Volume V is given over to Don Juan, which McGann has untangled both textually and interpretively. His ample notes are especially sensitive to Byron’s diction and to his habit of taking up contemporary politics and history into his poem; they comprise in effect an important new reading of the work.
This is a timely book that should be read by literary theorists as well as historians of philosophy, both of whose disciplines are nowadays widely receptive—too much so, in Rockmore’s view—to the kinds of thinking whose historical origins, content, and limitations Rockmore traces. Focusing on the early Differenzschrift and the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, Rockmore finds in the work of Kant, Reinhold, Fichte, and Bardili a growing epistemic crisis that led to Hegel’s anti-foundationalism—a position that seems annually to be discovered anew, and that here receives criticism from within as well as from without.
Volume I of Pope’s prose, edited by Norman Ault, appeared in 1936; now, 50 years later, Rosemary Cowler worthily completes the project in a volume typographically less splendid, but far more usefully annotated, than Ault’s. She wisely omits the Memoirs of Scriblerus, so well presented already by Kirby-Miller, in order to give full attention to Pope’s criticism and lesser-known works; while Cowler’s notes present little information that will be new to readers of Pope—except perhaps in relation to the Letter to a Noble Lord—they are always full and apposite.
In his book Putnam offers a convincing and splendidly insightful analysis of the 15 poems comprising Horace’s final book of odes. Exploding the notion that the last installment of Horace’s great work marks a sycophantic regression into propaganda for the Augustan political regime, the author demonstrates how the poet actually sought poetically to refashion the ambitions and self-image of the cultural program Augustus was trying to implement. As such, Putnam’s study touches down in areas of interest far outside the narrow limits of his specified focus.
This book tries very hard to be a serious analysis of popular literature and to grapple with the problems of literary historiography. What is “literature”? What is “popular culture”? What is the difference between the two? Is there a difference? The various authors—José Antonio Maravall, Wlad Godzich and Nicholas Spadaccini, Michael Nerlich, Constance Sullivan, Jenaro Talens and José Luis Canet, Ronald Sousa, and Javier Herrero—approach different aspects of Spanish Renaissance and Baroque literature from a multiplicity of perspectives, but they always keep in mind the goals of the original symposium that brought them together, that is, “to indicate ways in which a historical consciousness in the study of literature could be restored to a field that has used literary history to make itself immune to it.” The most interesting pieces, those by Maravall, Nerlich, and Herrero, are clear and interesting approaches to this complicated topic. Other contributions suffer from a certain rhetorical stiffness and overdependence on jargon.
Trevor, a supremely talented and insightful writer, has given us yet another superb collection of stories. Beneath the diverse subjects, characters, and settings. lie backgrounds rich in history, most often related to Ireland’s turbulent past and present. For Trevor’s characters cannot find peace. Their attempts to love or to communicate never entirely succeed. Most striking in this particular collection is the unwitting cruelty many characters deal to others, while struggling to make sense of their own lives.
This brilliant little volume collects short, episodic stories from seven Japanese writers who grew up, so to speak, with this century-: Shiga Naoya, Ozaki Shiro, Yasunari Kawabata, Shimaki Kensaku, Hayashi Fumiko, Dazai Osamu, and Kobo Abe. Their work ranges from naturalistic discoveries of life in the midst of death Shiga, Shimaki) to psychological reexaminations of the changing situation of women (Hayashi) to the mordant “suicide notes” of youth (Dazai) to Kafkaesque immersions in the frightening flux of things (Kobo Abe). Through them all, however, runs a bitter-sweet sensitivity to the passage of time and the fullness of the transitory moment, a remarkably unsentimental assumption of kinship with the animal world, and a haunting ability to evoke the shadows, echoes, and innuendoes of sensibility that go with being human. The stories seem almost startlingly immediate and right. The translation and selection of them is in itself a small masterpiece of transcultural bridging.
This well crafted novel concerns a South Vietnamese ex-soldier working as a waiter in the Washington suburbs. It succeeds in touching the reader not only through its character portrait but as a meditation on history, war, and modern urban life. It also evokes a strong sense of place, both of Vietnam and the Washington area. Anyone who reads fiction for the experience of being inside another person’s thoughts and feelings will find that experience here, as well as a flowing plot, accounts of military tactics, and some intrigue, woven together in a clean writing style. Those looking for ways to understand the meaning of the Vietnam War will benefit from this book. But The Exile of Sergeant Nen, by a U.S. veteran of the war, also tells as much about the strangeness of life in the United States today. And the musings of Sergeant Nen, now captain of waiters, on his lonely visits to U.S. Civil War battlefields, are haunting and memorable as a reminder of the ancient and continuing tragedy of men killing other men.
Clive Irving is an excellent writer who needed the editor he didn’t get. Many scenes could have been cut from this overly long novel of the Spanish Civil War and characters dropped from the too-large cast of outsiders—Americans, Russians, English, Germans—drawn to the Spanish cockpit for their various reasons. The central love story between a fallen away Spanish aristocrat turned anarchist and American journalist Mary Byrnes, a fallen away Catholic turned humanist, does not convince, probably because the anarchist is too idealized a figure. Still, the author, who may not have been born in 1936, manages at times to invest his many-sided story with a sense that it was experienced rather than researched. Battle scenes have a remarkable vividness and clarity. Good lines abound. Reading Comrades may be one profitable way to pass the time on that long flight to Madrid.
The late Vasily Grossman was a fine writer, and he deserved a better fate. The Kremlin ideologist, Mikhail Suslov, allegedly remarked that Life and Fate could not be published in Russia for 200 years; and this was no doubt a conservative estimate. Loosely an account of the Battle of Stalingrad, the novel seeks to weave an intricate pattern of Soviet life in the Stalin years, emphasizing the pain and fear that gripped an entire nation. It is ultimately unsuccessful, but it is a praiseworthy effort and Grossman deserves a large readership if not for his talent then certainly for his honesty and courage.
The passionate rise to wealth and fame of the miserly wretch, Francisco Torquemada—and his subsequent fall into moral disgrace—were fabricated by Galdós in four brilliant novels (1889—1893), here translated into English for the first time by Frances Lopéz-Morillas. Galdós presents his usual rich gallery of characters, with their histories and their twitches, their obsessions and their tics. His powerful social observations, combined with his innovative narrative techniques and subtle use of language and irony, make this tale of ambition, hatred, and vengeance a moving experience.
Maureen Howard is a highly respected writer who has written a book that is a chore to read, nearly 300 pages of undisciplined stream of—not consciousness, but detritus of unconsciousness. It would seem she has dumped her old files and fragments, those ill-assorted discards that surround every writer, and bound them in a book. Margaret Flood, the central character, is a spunky, self-indulgent woman writer who has just had serious heart surgery. As she reflects on her past, her memory slips back and forth in time, silting through real life as well as her own fiction, dwelling on former husbands, lovers, bosses, events. The reader, trying to find direction through this web of memory, is challenged. Where is this book going? However admirable Howard’s style, uncanny her eye for detail, the material keeps tumbling out of what seems a footlocker full of trinkets, and only a loyal, or dutiful, reader who enjoys dizzying stylistic techniques will try to sort through for connections and chronology to make his way to the end. Perhaps Howard will, in her next work, use her fine writing gifts to produce a narrative that does not tax the reader’s patience.
A clever and occasionally lurid mystery set in contemporary Sussex. Characters run to the depth of a television show (albeit British), and the action moves quickly enough to satisfy a producer. False leads and carefully induced mistaken assumptions set up a nicely contrived surprise ending, which may appeal to hard-core enthusiasts. Others may simply feel crassly manipulated and put off by the slick and ultimately condescending tone throughout.
This complex and subtle novel has three parts. It is told in the first person by an 85-year-old retired diplomat, who is “dragging the sputtering pen of memory across and against the blank sheet of our own impending destruction.” Jeremy Burnham’s first post is as Vice-Consul in Venice in 1923, where he is drawn into a singular web which ends in a brutal murder. More than 20 years later he is consul in Amsterdam in the bitter winter following the end of the Second World War. Here what he did not understand in Venice is, little by little, revealed to him. For a first novel this is a remarkable achievement. Bhabra has been compared with Lawrence Durrell. His story is as complex but not as ambiguous as the Alexandria Quartet. The settings are fully and richly set forth: Venice in the early ascendancy of Mussolini ‘s Fascism, a shattered Amsterdam in the wake of military occupation and destruction.
The title is a misleading one, though only until you begin the book. The Dancing Lady is a ship which in 1892 is scuttled off the coast of Mexico, after delivering a cottonseed- mill destined for Shreveport to Galveston and a contraband shipment of rifles along the Mexican coast. Throughout the tale you learn much about marine insurance and much also about transfer of ship ownership, corruption, and international intrigue. Although the police investigating the insurance fraud and the ensuing murders are the London police (Harrison’s Sergeant Bragg and Constable Morton, who have appeared in earlier Harrison novels), the scene also shifts to America and to France. This book is a distinct advance in style and substance over Harrison’s earlier novels.
In this book, d’Alpuget, author of Turtle Beach, wrestles with a contrived, poorly constructed plot and the compulsion to editorialize, all the while providing a fine overall view of Israel, its people, landscape, its social and political problems and contradictions. Her heroine, Danielle Green, an Israeli-born Australian, arrives in Israel during the Lebanese crisis to write the script for a film about Masada. Talented, hard-driving, yet insecure and vulnerable, she falls in love with the film’s director, a sleazy, untrustworthy womanizer with no redeeming qualities. d’Alpuget’s characterizations are deft, but her story, however suspenseful, is unfocused. She repeatedly shifts point of view, a surprising weakness in a writer so skilled at descriptive detail and dialogue, and her concluding chapter, supposedly a diary, is merely a feeble device to allow her to slip into the ease of first-person narrative.
After having written 67 novels which sold 70 million copies worldwide, the author was bound to write a bad book. This is it. Now that it is out of his system, he can return to his capacity to entertain us with a new plausible plot, featuring sparkling dialogue, the usual philosophical insights, and with a sprinkling of sex and a smashing climax.
The Legend of Ladysmith is a rare achievement among suspense novels: it combines literate dialogue, occasional humor, and genuine suspense with multiple narrative modes and time frames. An American author accepts a commission to write the biography of a Scottish laird-doctor, hailed by his family for his heroics and fine medical care during the Boer siege of a town called Ladysmith in South Africa during the Boer War. But as the author works on a number of diaries relating different views of the siege and the past life of the doctor, he finds a different picture of Ladysmith and uncovers secrets which someone else prefers hidden. Murder and mayhem in the Highlands ensue. Highly recommended.
Carol Maso’s first novel is a family chronicle, a hazy, unfocused story, written in sometimes poetic, more often hallucinatory prose, stretching over lumps of quotations, and interspersed with bits of wisdom that have the ring of “insights” from an old college notebook. All the family members are, to some degree, unstable. The central character, Vanessa, is obsessed by love for her mother, a famous poet, the most unbalanced of the family, totally lacking in lovable qualities. The father is a shadow. Maso tries, without success, to employ the musical technique of repeating motifs, and too frequently skates over the edge into fantasy; Vanessa’s lover, for instance, is so enormous he makes her refrigerator look like a little white box. After her mother’s death, Vanessa makes love to the woman who, for 25 years, had been her mother’s lover. This is a disturbing book by a gifted writer hypnotized by her own prose; her occasional clichés, and the misuse of “like” for “as” are puzzling, coming from a writer so dedicated to style.
The World Anti-Communist League is about as anti-Communist as the old Anti-Comintern alliance, or Axis, and given half a chance it will pose the same threat to Western liberties. A collection of crackpots, psychopaths, mad professors, and megalomaniac former military officers from a number of countries, the League would be a joke if it did not have so much money at its disposal—and so many weapons. Active in every state and many foreign countries, it is, as this book shows, a clear and present danger to democracy the world over.
There is not much about the Soviet Union that escapes the attention of Mr. Bialer, a former Polish citizen now affiliated with Columbia University’s Harriman Institute. The subtitle of his book, “External Expansion, Internal Decline,” sums up his basic thesis, which is simply that the Gorbachev era may go down in history as the time when the USSR shifted gears. The external expansion cannot continue without bringing the Kremlin into direct conflict with Washington, and the internal decline must obviously be halted if the regime is to survive. A useful summary of sophisticated thinking on Soviet affairs.
Hailed by its publisher as “brillant,” this book is in fact a negative, cynical analysis of American politics by two disgruntled advocates of a left-liberal Democratic party. The authors resurrect the widely discredited view that shifts in the American political world are produced almost entirely by a handful of powerful business interests and monied individuals, and they decry the supposedly nonsensical movement of the Democratic party to the right at the same time as the public has been moving—they claim—leftward. In the process they take potshots at everyone and everything from former Virginia Gov. Chuck Robb—derided for his sensible centrism— to that bastion of right-leaning, status quo propaganda, the press. (This latter charge will come as a surprise to most conservatives.) While this book is sure to be on the bedstands of every paid-up member of the Americans for Democratic Action, its recipe for Democrats is equally certain to keep the party in the losing column—if party leaders and voters are silly enough to take its poorly supported, conspiratorial assertions seriously.
This is the first extensive account of the effects of the sordid Red Scare on American Universities. The author presents the background to the McCarthy era—dealing with academic communists and radical politics of the 1930’s and 1940’s—before discussing the academic blacklist and its ravages. She concludes that “it is easy to accuse” universities of hypocrisy because they believed that firing controversial colleagues “was in the nation’s interest.” Her own findings indicate, however, that these institutions often succumbed to various pressures from alumni and others. Their failure to protect academic freedom more than merely eroding the academy’s moral integrity was itself a moral failure.
Miller, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker, has produced an interesting journalistic photograph of one week in the life of the nation’s highest law making body. The book, which focuses on the daily activities of three senators and three Senate staff members, is reminiscent of Eric Redman’s 1973 The Dance of Legislation; Miller displays a skillful capacity to weave seemingly disparate events into a coherent story line. Nonetheless, his reliance at times on gossipy anecdotes and his only occasional departure into serious, analytical reflection severely limit the usefulness of Miller’s work to the initiated reader. To the uninitiated, however, the book serves as a sensitive introduction to the subtle complexities of legislative politics.
For all the Kremlin’s alleged adventurism, it ultimately pursues a low-risk foreign policy—most of the time. There are, as Rajan Menon points out in this careful study, some exceptions, but not since Khrushchev s Cuban misadventure has the Soviet Union really gone to the brink of conflict. Menon draws a convincing picture of a cautious, cost-conscious Soviet leadership perfectly willing to expand Soviet influence in any area where it can do so without endangering the security of the mother country.
Eminently qualified to identify and discuss the theory and practice of America’s concept of national security in the post-World War II period, Graebner and seven colleagues provide us with a brilliant volume. From the Cold War through Korea to Vietnam, the reader is sensitized to successive administrations’ struggles with arms control questions with the USSR, examining both their foreign and domestic consequences. Highly recommended for experts and novices alike.
The Italian Communists have long posed an enormous problem for the Kremlin. They are numerically the most numerous party in Western Europe, and they have long occupied important positions in Parliament and in municipal government. They ought to be Moscow’s kind of party, but they are not, probably because most are first and foremost Italians and not a few who call themselves Communists are at heart anarchists. Professor Urban’s excellent study of the Italian party is a welcome addition to our knowledge.
The former chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany is a man with a mission. His goal is to save this planet’s underprivileged populations from wars and starvations. Brandt forcefully argues, not only on moral grounds but also on pragmatic even altruistic ones, that industrialized wealthy states should do a great deal more to h