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Notes on Current Books, Winter 2000

ISSUE:  Winter 2000

One in a series of Greenwood Press short books on historic events of the 20th century, The End of Apartheid in South Africa is an excellent introduction and reference work, written with clarity and authority. An American who has lived and taught in South Africa, Lindsay Michie Eades writes that “every facet of South Africa is complex.” She then attempts the daunting task of describing the rise and fall of apartheid in 122 pages of text. A very brief account of the “historical background” is followed by four incisive chapters on the basics of recent South African history, including the system of racial classification undergirding apartheid, the composition of the parties involved in the system’s overthrow, an estimate of the relative importance of external and internal forces in its demise, and the early accomplishments of the Mandela government which she views with cautious optimism. Twenty-five brief biographical sketches of the main players in the struggle for and against apartheid are followed by 13 “primary documents,” ranging from the 1955 Freedom Charter to the 1996 Constitution.

The Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages, edited by Norman Cantor. Viking $40

This junior reference work, weighty in pounds, if not in scholarship, provides the reader with some 450 pages of short entries on well-known persons and topics in European history from the 3rd century to the 16th. If this is, indeed, “the” encyclopedia of the Middle Ages, then one should expect a major publication rich in lengthy and important articles with full apparatus which summarize traditional scholarship, present current views and interpretations, and occasionally break new ground. Unfortunately, none of these things is to be found here. The articles are brief and unsigned and lack any bibliographical references; they are descriptive rather than analytical; and they are written in a style that does not rise above the level of an elementary textbook. Magna Carta: “one of the most well-known . . .documents”; St. Francis: “one of the most honored saints . . .” ; Belisarius: “one of the greatest generals . . .” ; Beowulf: “one of the most important poems . . .” ; Chrétien de Troyes: “one of the finest medieval writers . . .” . Some of the information is wrong: “John Lackland put his seal on Magna Carta”; the Provisions of Oxford: “a document . . .” ; “The Golden Horde was an attempt . . .” ; some is inadequate: “Jihad”; “Boccaccio”; “indulgences”; “exchequer”; “Chartres cathedral”; some is simply potted prose: “Abelard”; “Anselm”; “Benedict”; “Andrew the Chaplain”; and some entries appear to take up space to no purpose, e.g., “Yugoslavia”; “South America”; “cosmetics”; “inns and taverns”; “Très riches heures.” But even more astonishing is what has been left out. Editors of books may, of course, choose what they like, but to have omitted serious treatment of Plato, Virgil, Tertullian, Ibn Khaldun, Savanarola, Machiavelli, the Council of Constance, the Golden Bull, St. Gallen, humanism, pilgrimage, the sacramental system, and Caroline minuscule, in a book that finds room for references to Aristotle, Dante, Ambrose, Matthew Paris, the Medici, the Borgia family, and St. Denis, seems only to confirm the unbalanced and unprofessional nature of the production. The volume will be of interest chiefly to school children who may find some useful information for their historical projects.

Essays in English Architectural History, by Howard Colvin. Yale $60

Beautiful for its insights and its images, this elegant, learned work will reward both the scholar and the casual onlooker. With considerable authority, Colvin takes the reader on a journey through English history using the country’s architecture as guideposts: its homes, monuments, and churches, its castles, theaters, and bridges. Though thooughly academic, the result is simply delicious, combining Martha Stewart’s eye for detail and adornment with Julian Barnes’ wordsmithing. Representative essays include an introduction to Medieval royal gardens, an investigation into the recycling of monasteries by the Tudor government, and a brilliant and far-reaching piece on the revival and survival of the Gothic style.

Before the New Deal: Social Welfare in the South, 1830—1930, edited by Elna C. Green. Georgia $36 doth, $18 paper

This collection seeks to bridge the gaps in current historiography both of the South and of social welfare. Implicitly addressing the question of Southern distinctiveness, the essays explore the development of social welfare, from Confederate veteran pensions, to homes for the insane and for unwed mothers. Throughout, the essays examine the impacts of cross-class and cross-racial interaction. Ultimately, the volume demonstrates that the development of social welfare in the South was not a “carbon copy of the nation” though the editor suggests the South differed more in degree than in kind. The South’s distinctive economy, experience with slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction shaped how local, state, and federal government entities developed social welfare programs.

The Real American Dream, by Andrew Delbanco. Harvard $19.95

In a tour de force of thoughtful intellectual and cultural history, the author reflects broadly on the history of the American dream. Moving deftly from the Puritans to contemporary America, Delblanco laments the loss of a common culture in our modern commercialized New Age. As a “meditation on hope” he follows Emerson, who wrote: “let us do what we can to rekindle the smouldering nigh quenched fire on the altar.”

The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788—1828, by Saul Cornell. North Carolina $55 cloth, $19.95 paper

This tightly argued volume traces the post-Revolutionary evolution of Anti-Federalist ideology into a dissenting tradition of political and constitutional thought that has persisted down to the Reaganism of the 1980’s and continues to define the soul of American politics. Cornell stresses the heterogeneity of the Anti-Federalists by examining the class and regional tensions within the movement after Ratification. All anti-Federalists shared a faith in the emerging public sphere as the best means of uniting the new nation, and the author shows how they used voluntary societies, the press, and popular politics to channel traditional localist impulses against the elitism and centralism of their political opponents. Anybody interested in early and modern American politics will enjoy reading this well-written and nuanced study.

The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932—1939, by J. Arch Getty and Oleg V. Naumov. Yale $35

This collection of nearly 200 formerly top secret Soviet documents contains both the most exciting and the most chilling revelations yet from Russian archives. Assembled and annotated by a leading American historian of the purges and the deputy director of a major Moscow archive, these documents and the penetrating commentary contained within this massive volume mark a milestone in the historiography of the Great Terror. This collection, the finest contribution to the Yale “Annals of Communism” series to date, is a fascinating journey into the unfolding of the Stalinist terror of the 1930’s and how the party elite, led by Stalin, agreed on the necessity of the mass arrests, purges, and shootings that affected millions of Russians. A riveting and important work.

Steam Laundries: Gender, Technology and Work in the United States and Britain, 1880—1940, by Arwen P. Mohun. Johns Hopkins $48

Surely steam laundries are rather like dirty clothing—always present, but hardly the stuff for an interesting (let alone intellectual) discussion. Yet, in Ms. Mohun’s expert hands, the laundry takes on a larger meaning, as reflective of the impact and implications of changing technology, rising consumerism, and the regulatory environment in Anglo-American business and culture.

Gentile Tales: The Narrative Assault on Late Medieval Jews, by Miri Rubin. Yale $30

This absorbing and deeply disturbing book is the history of a story that emerged in Europe shortly before 1300, according to which the Jews desecrated the host, the very manifestation of Christ’s body during the Mass. The story spread widely during the next centuries and was retold in texts and images throughout Europe as part of a series of anti-Semitic persecutions of the Jews. Particularly fascinating is the author’s analysis of the story as it came to be pictured in altarpieces, nowhere more famously than in predelle paintings made for the confraternity of the Corpus Christi in Urbino, images which not only exhibit the desecration of the host but also the horrific execution of a Jew, his wife and children by fire.

Empire and Others: British Encounters with Indigenous Peoples, 1600—1850, edited by Martin Daunton and Rick Halpern. Pennsylvania $24.95

The Age of Discovery dramatically altered the practice of politics and trade in Europe. With the discovery and subsequent settlement of such far-flung places as Australia and North America, Great Britain forged the last empire of the pre-industrial world. Empire and Others is a collection of essays that examines the development of a national “British” identity, the treatment of indigenous cultures (including Africans, Indians, Native Americans, and Australian Aborigines) by European settlers and traders, and the emerging world view that gave rise to nation-states, industrialism, and capitalism. Readers and scholars of history will revel in this book, although the stilted academic language may deter some. Nonetheless, it is a fascinating investigation of the forces that created the political world in which we now live.

Confederate Home Front: Montgomery During the Civil War, by William Rogers. Alabama $29.95

This book is an important contribution to recent scholarly interest in the social history of the South during the Civil War. Although a great deal is known about Richmond, Rogers tells us of all states and conditions, fireaters and unionists, blacks and whites, and many other things in the first Confederate capitol. Information concerning medical care, military transportation, contributions of blacks and foreign emigrés, and reaction to the lingering death of the CSA are particularly noteworthy. The remarkable abundance of fresh information from so many sources gives rise to slight issues of organization and selection. This hardly detracts from the depth and intimacy of this scholarly and thoughtful book which will appeal to anyone interested in the Civil War as more than a succession of battles.

Science and Technology in World History: An Introduction, by James E. McClellan III and Harold Dorn. Johns Hopkins $55 doth, $18.95 paper

In this excellent introduction to a surprisingly complex topic, the authors mindfully draw the important distinction between science and technology, arguing that the convergence of these two fields is a relatively recent phenomenon in the long history of humankind. They vigilantly contend that for much of our past, technology has been the domain of artisans, that it has been rather a craft than an “applied science.” Their approach is broad in scope, re-examining eminent Western figures such as Copernicus, Galileo, and Einstein, as well as acknowledging the scientific achievements of numerous non-Western cultures. The result is a thoroughly fascinating, delightful, and readable tale that takes us on a whirlwind tour of the prehistoric through to the post-modern—a wonderful panoply of human failure and achievement.

A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle-Class Home in Victorian Britain, by John Tosh. Yale $30

A cynic might be tempted upon reading Tosh’s title to dread yet another contribution to the ever-bulkier field of “men’s studies.” But rest easy: this serious study by an established scholar addresses some long-standing concerns in 19thcentury British social history that despite their veneer of faddishness have major implications for how we interpret the work, play, and the business of family for Victorian professional men. Such a book as this is long overdue and takes its place as an essential companion to the earlier efforts of (for example) Lenore Davidoff and Catherine Hall on the domestic life of 19th-century women. While A Man’s Place does its part to further discredit the argument for men’s and women’s “separate spheres,” it also leaves one with the sense that when it comes to choosing a site in which could be found all the ambiguity, paradox, and anxiety that defined the realities of the period, there really was no place like home.

Dominion & Civility: English Imperialism & Native America, 1585—1685, by Michael Leroy Oberg. Cornell $42.50

Professor Oberg develops the thesis that early British colonial experiences in the Americas can be explained through study of the conflicts between the religious, imperial and commercial intentions of “metropolitans” in the British Isles and the actions of their protagonists, English of a “frontier” mentality. This approach fails to acknowledge the native Indian leaders and populations as active participants in their acceptance of European “civility,” acquired as a natural consequence of the expansion of European markets into the American continent. Unfortunately, this approach also confuses motivation with result. British on the American frontier were just as motivated by opportunities for profit and the extension of British civilization as were the London metropolitans—the difference was in the means employed to acquire both. The greatest strength of this work is the detailed examination of Anglo-Indian relations, pre-1650, in a transatlantic context.

The First World War, by John Keegan. Knopf $35

In The First World War John Keegan returns to the subject that first earned him a reputation as a brilliant military historian, in his essay on the Battle of the Somme in The Face of Battle, originally published in 1976. Keegan is clearly at home with his subject, as is apparent in his clear and convincing explanation of the causes and conduct of the conflict. At the same time, his knowledge is combined with a deep sympathy for the participants that is reflected in his largely non-judgmental interpretation of their actions. Keegan also succeeds by avoiding the temptation to attempt too much. This is essentially a traditional military history of the war, and although Keegan discusses the plight of the common soldier he does not venture to explain the cultural significance of the war or its long-term impact on European culture. This is a decision for which Keegan has been unfairly criticized. The cultural history of the war, on which other historians have lately written some good books and a great deal of nonsense, is a massive subject that could not be adequately summarized without doubling the length of Keegan’s book and reducing its readability. Ironically, the popularity of cultural history has resulted in a neglect of more traditional studies of the war, and in this sense The First World War is indeed fresh and exciting.

LITERARY STUDIES World of Relations: The Achievement of Peter Taylor, by David M. Robinson. Kentucky $29.95

Much of this book focuses on the psychological formation of Taylor’s characters, especially as they resist social norms and family pressure. Robinson argues that the family and its effect on the “emergence and wholeness of personality” is a central to Taylor’s work, and he uses extensive close reading for support. If nothing else, this critical work demonstrates the enormous complexity of Taylor’s characters. Robinson leads us through several short stories, novels, and plays, detailing father-son and mother-son relationships, racial divides, and the pitfalls of Southern identity. Sometimes, Robinson’s nearly page-by-page psychological character analysis becomes overwhelming while historical and biographical information remains scant; there is a brief mention of Taylor’s early fascination with the Southern Agrarian movement, for example, but we learn little about the Agrarians or how Taylor grew skeptical. Still, the book provides an extensive critical discussion of Taylor’s last two works, The Oracle of Stoneleigh Court and In the Tennessee Country, and Robinson’s insights on earlier works show a keen understanding of Taylor’s concerns.

The Cambridge Companion to Modern Spanish Culture, edited by David T. Gies. Cambridge $19.95

This book provides a thorough and penetrating view of modern Spain. Written by top experts and intended for a wide audience, it contains not only literary culture but also history, politics, film, dance, media, music, sculpture and painting, and architecture in its 23 individual chapters and introduction. Anyone who has traveled to the Iberian Peninsula in the past 25 years, recognizes that Spain is dramatically different than it was under the Franco dictatorship (1939—1975), so truly different, that the ever-increasing possibilities for understanding those changes can be daunting. Bull fights, castles, sangría, and flamenco still exist, yet there are other elements of Spanish culture that are suddenly being exported throughout the world, but why? Readers of this volume will find thought-provoking explanations and critical interpretations of this “new” and multifaceted Spain. David Gies situates the volume in place and time, reducing the general chronological markers to three: 1868 (the shift from one world-view to another), 1936 (the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War), and 1975 (the death of Francisco Franco). Following an overview of the various factors that have contributed to Spain’s transformation, the first two chapters are devoted to defining modern Spanish culture against a backdrop of new interdisciplinary currents such as cultural studies and feminist criticism. Other chapters highlight the post-Franco central government’s response to the age-old regional demands for cultural and political independence, the political realignments that are shaping language and culture in the autonomous regions, and Spain’s incorporation into the united Europe of the future. It is increasingly difficult to keep abreast of the constant exciting cultural changes that are taking place in modern Spain. The only book of its kind, The Cambridge Companion to Modern Spanish Culture will help guide the reader through this complicated yet dazzling era in Spain’s cultural history.

Decolonizing the Stage: Theatrical Syncretism and Post-Colonial Drama, by Christopher B. Balme. Oxford $85

Post-colonial literature is one of the most exciting fields of study in literary criticism today, but attention has generally focused on fiction, and hence writers such as Achebe and Rushdie. Balme’s book makes a major contribution to the emerging body of criticism dealing with post-colonial drama. He goes all the way back to the Indian author Rabindranath Tagore and takes up such major figures as Wole Soyinka, Derek Walcott, and Ngugi wa Thiong’o. But the real merit of this book is the extraordinarily wide range of dramatists it covers, many of whom will be unfamiliar even to scholars supposedly well-versed in the field. Balme does a good job of finding common elements in this extremely diverse mass of material, while at the same time doing justice to the genuine differences among the authors he analyzes. He treats the plays as works to be performed and not just read, and he pays careful attention to the new performative practices associated with post-colonial drama. And, though he pays the obligatory homage to several of the famous post-colonial theorists, his own work is mercifully free of their jargon and indeed presented in admirably clear and straightforward prose.

Fantasm and Fiction: On Textual Envisioning, by Peter Schwenger. Stanford $45

What do we really mean when we say that we “lost ourselves in a book,” or that a book “carried us away”? Such statements imply a certain loss of subjectivity. In this extraordinarily original book, Schwenger takes this idea as his starting point for a cogent analysis of the visualization process inherent in the experiences of both writing and reading fiction. He argues that the gaps between words activate the reader’s imagistic faculties. Beginning with Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, Schwenger proceeds to posit a theory of literary envisioning as an equivalent to hypnagogic states of experience (which perhaps helps explain Freud’s enduring legacy amongst literary scholars). He does this well. Throughout his book, however, Schwenger relies heavily upon the theoretical work of both Derrida and Foucault, presenting selected quotations to support his argument, and any readers unfamiliar with the work of these two theorists will find them-selves at a serious disadvantage. An unfortunate barrier, I would argue, for an immensely interesting and insightful book.

Escaping Into the Open: The Art of Writing True, by Elizabeth Berg. Harper Collins $23

Pick up you pen and write! In this stimulating book, Elizabeth Berg provides the advice that any hesitant or blocked writer needs to put pen to paper and get going. The author of seven novels, Berg dispels all the common myths about writing and encourages her readers to write naturally, from their hearts, about what they know best. Good advice. Escaping Into the Open, a delightfully honest and amusing memoir cum how-to guide, contains a variety of exercises designed to free the inner writer that Berg feels lives and breathes within every one of us, as well as advice on almost every aspect of the writing process from getting started to getting published. Whether you have published or not; whether you write poetry, or fiction, or in a diary; whatever your goals or aspirations as a writer, this book has something for you. Savor it.

History, Rhetoric, and Proof, by Carlo Ginzburg. New England $14.95

The Menahem Stern lectures of 1993 printed here were the occasion for the author to ponder the relations of rhetoric to historical truth. Reacting to the tendencies of extreme skepticism in our times, Ginzburg returns to the rich tradition of Aristotle for whom “proof,” far from incompatable with rhetoric, is the fundamental core of history. Ginzburg’s point of departure is these dove-tailing essays is Nietzsche. He moves masterfully through the ages from Aristotle’s Poetics to Flaubert’s fiction, which offers us the exemplary potential of narrative in history.

Victorian Sappho, by Yopie Prins. Princeton $18.95

In this elegant, dense, artfully-constructed study of Sappho as an artifact of Victorian poetics, Yopie Prins uses her contribution to Victorian and Sappho studies to reveal much about our own relationship to the literary works and myths of the past. She uses four 19th-century recreations of the poet in order to ask complex and wide-ranging questions about the gendering of genre, literary-historical mythmaking, the theory and practice of translation, and much more. Carefully limiting the focus of her study to Wharton’s Sappho in fragments, Michael Field’s lesbian Sappho, Swineburne’s “Sapphic Sublime,” and Sappho’s impact on sentimental women’s verse, Prins opens up these moments through her thorough knowledge and incisive close readings.

Proust’s Lesbianism, by Elisabeth Ladenson. Cornell $32.50

A remarkably close reading of Proust’s remarkably long novel, Ladenson’s persuasive book will change the way we interpret A la recherche du temps perdu. While Proust’s treatment of male and female homosexuality has attracted much critical attention since his work was first published in the 1920’s, Ladenson’s study skillfully reexamines that scholarship, focusing on how the knotty issue of male representation of female homosexuality becomes even further complicated in the context of a work written by a gay man. The result is a ground-breaking analysis of “Gomorrah,” of Proust’s authorial guile, and of the public’s long misunderstanding of female homosexuality. Ladenson’s prose is also quite gratifying to read—a rare thing in the Academy that makes this erudite book both provocative and immensely entertaining.

A Community of Writers: Paul Engle and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, edited by Robert Dana. Iowa $17.95

The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop is the oldest, most famous and most influential writing program in the country. While some critics doubt that writing can be taught and belittle the concept of the writers’ workshop, most writers value the chance to meet other writers and exchange criticism with them. These essays by graduates of and teachers in the program provide an interesting look at its early years. In the words of W.D. Snodgrass, the writers and critics gathered there “brought an air of intelligence, seriousness, commitment to and concern for literature. One never doubted—as so often since—that one belonged to a genuine university community, a body of scholars, critics, and writers who, even when dead wrong, truly cared about their subject.” Besides Snodgrass’s overview of his time in and around the program, highlights include Philip Levine’s powerful “Mine Own John Berryman,” Gail Godwin’s touching reflections on Kurt Vonnegut’s teaching tenure. Add this book to the list of hundreds of good ones that have originated in Iowa City.

Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness, by Carole G. Silver. Oxford $29.95

What does the poetry of W.B. Yeats have to do with a metabolic disorder called phenylketonuria? Predicated on such questions, this book does best in its central three chapters (on changelings, fairy brides and dwarfs), where information predominates over speculation, where it functions as a systematization of folk-tale usage and theory among “Victorians.” The term is broadly applied for the purposes of this book, and rather too broadly painted as well. Ms. Silver weakens some of her points with condescending generalizations about “the Victorian mind” and what it encompassed. References to literature are sparse and brief in some chapters, and draw on instances from throughout (and beyond) the period. It remains very centered on England, notwithstanding some remarks on “the Celtic fringe,” Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.

Manifestoes: Provocations of the Modem, by Janet Lyon. Cornell $18.95

Janet Lyon’s subject is the intersection of radical politics, feminism, and the aesthetic avant-garde. The point of synthesis is the manifesto, the literary genre which not only conveys the demands and prophecies of revolutionary movements but also, as the author explains, exposes the contradictions of modern conceptions of the political subject. The book is suggestive in its argument and expansive in its topics. It begins with a rhetorical analysis of the manifesto form, continues with an analysis of gender issues in tracts of the era of the French Revolution, addresses gendered revolutionary discourse in the British avant-garde of the early 20th century, and concludes with the feminism of the 1960’s and 1970’s. This book is recommended for all readers who are interested in the history of political modernism.

The Broken Estate: Essays on Literature and Belief, by James Wood. Random House $24

The essays in this collection revolve around the relation of fiction to reality, of belief to non-belief, of the reader to the novel, and of religion to literature, approaching these sometimes-uncomfortable associates from a wide range of starting points. In each of the 21 essays in this volume, Wood writes about these themes by focusing on an aspect of one author’s (two in the final essay) writing or thought; the range of authors is impressive—from George Steiner to Toni Morrison, from Sir Thomas More to Don DeLillo. He has a penchant for metaphor, describing Steiner’s prose as “the sweat of a monument” and Richard Swinburne’s theodicy as a “greedy man’s salad” and writes with a rare combination of clarity of thought and richness of expression—his essays are both precise and elegant, both learned and a pleasure to read.

Religious Reading, by Paul J. Griffiths. Oxford $39.95

This book will interest anyone interested in books and their readers. While it seems to fit nicely among the many books mourning (or whining about) the decline of reading in our culture, close reading belies this easy shelving. Griffiths’ is not simply a philosophically deeper and historically broader argument for the old saw of “the death of literature” (though it is partly that); it uses that narrative to argue more pointedly that a certain kind of reading—what he calls “religious” reading—is largely lost to us, and that the practices of the academy—one of the most “bookish”parts of contemporary culture—daily corrode what residual capacity for such reading we still possess. To warrant this claim he details how books were treated (and not simply “read”) in two different religious cultures of the first millenium—Christian Roman North Africa and Buddhist India—by reconstructing both the Weltanschauung and the practices of readers in those cultures. It is hard to know what is more remarkable, the resemblances between those worlds, or the vast distance separating both from us. Either way, Griffiths’ profound book shows us, as far as it can, how subversive, strange, and possibly unrecoverable for us is “religious reading” today.

Henry James on Culture: Collected Essays on Politics and the American Social Scene, edited by Pierre A. Walker. Nebraska $50

Most of us know Henry James (1843—1916) as a brilliant novelist and essayist, a 19th-century expatriate who was more concerned with perfecting the art of the novel than discussing the political affairs of his day. But Pierre A. Walker has uncovered work which contradicts this assumption. In the essays he has collected for this volume, he presents James as a political and philosophical writer, collecting a few pieces from the late 1870’s, but focusing on early 20th-century writings which follow the composition of The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl, his last major novels. Reading James on the possibility of life after death, on the horrors of World War I, on American suffrage and British parliamentary politics adds a new dimension to our understanding of this great author.

Literature at War, 1914—1940: Representing the “Time of Greatness” in Germany, by Wolfgang G. Natter. Yale $35

This brilliant and compelling study of German texts written about the First World War demonstrates how literature shapes national identity and historical events in a direct and indelible way. By examining literary and archival sources from 1914 to the beginning of WWII, Natter shows how the German war machine both participated in and benefitted from the vast proliferation of literature about the war written during this period. Natter’s argument has significant implications for the way literary historians must approach particularly thorny questions such as the institutional and nationalistic bases of modernity. Natter’s is a landmark study.

Conversations with Isabel Allende, by John Rodden and Virginia Invernizzi. Texas $24.95

Isabel Allende is not only one of the world’s most successful modern novelists (The House of the Spirits, Of Love and Shadow, Eva Luna, Paula, Afrodite, and the forthcoming Daughter of Fortune) but also one of the most generous in her willingness to share her thoughts with her readers. Her witty, amusing, insightful, and very honest responses to questions posed by writers and students have endeared her to an enormous public. Here, Rodden and Invernizzi collect (and translate from the Spanish, when necessary) 34 interviews, four of which have never before appeared in print. The result is a rich, entertaining, and informative look at the life-in-progress and work of an extraordinary woman. With a chronology, introduction, photographs, and bibliography.

LIVES & LETTERS Robert Gwathmey: The Life and Art of a Passionate Observer, by Michael Kammen. North Carolina $49.95 cloth, $29.95 paper

With a large number of beautifully reproduced color plates, this is a very worthwhile biography of an interesting and historically significant American talent. Using the paintings, some interviews with peers, and the few comments of the artist himself, Kammen reconstructs the life of the social realist painter. The work does an admirable job in contextualizing Gwathmey’s work, showing how it is in conversation with the photography of Margaret Bourke-White, the fiction of Erskine Caldwell, and the painting of Jacob Lawrence. While Gwathmey’s life outside of his painterly production is lightly touched on, Kammen does an excellent job providing commentary for specific pieces and arguing that they indicate a commitment to economic and racial justice by exposing inequalities. This is a handsome and enlightening work.

But Now I See, by Fred Hobson. Louisiana $30 cloth, $14.95 paper

But Now I See is a thorough piece of scholarship constructed around the biographies and confessional memoirs of several white Southern writers who, before and during the Civil Rights Movement, “saw the light” amidst the cultural darkness of segregation in which each writer was raised. With control and fluid organization, Hobson explores and contrasts how each writer, from Lillian Smith to Willie Morris, was transformed from racist into critic of the Southern culture that nurtured this racism. Based on the comparisons of each writer’s class and abstract levels of racial awareness, Hobson suggests that the future of Southern studies must be where race and class intersect. However, while this may be a viable and potentially fruitful method of trying to understand the evolution of contemporary Southern culture, But Now I See consistently resists any attempt to “understand” Southern or American race relations and racism today. Each personality of whom Hobson writes is kept locked away in his or her own isolated history, seemingly disconnected and nonconversant with today, a history still being made, a history still suffering from racial misunderstanding and racism.

The Correspondence of William James: Volume 7: 1890—1894, edited by Ignas K. Skrupskelis and Elizabeth M. Berkeley. Virginia $60

This seventh of a proposed 12-volume series approved by the MLA Committee on Scholarly Editions presents the texts of 488 previously unpublished letters and calendars of another 510. The most significant subject covered is the publication of James’s long-awaited Principles of Psychology. Other topics include his major essay in ethics, “The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life,” Harvard faculty matters, the birth of his last child, and the death of his sister. James’s two-year sabbatical in Europe occurred from 1891 to 1893. Annotations provide necessary contextual information, and a biographical register identifies people mentioned in the letters. A detailed analytical index makes accessible this valuable volume’s mass of material on the foundations of modern psychology in America.

All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies, by Elizabeth D. Leonard. Norton $27.95

In this clearly written, readable book, Leonard gathers stories of various women and their roles in the Civil War. She narrates the cases of those involved in espionage and resistance; those she groups under the heading “army women” (soldiers’ wives and other female relations, laundresses, cooks, provisioners, nurses, providers of sexual favors, and “daughters of the regiment,” whom soldiers looked on as guardian angels or mascots); and those who dressed as men and served in the ranks. In her final chapter, Leonard turns to the question of what motivated these women. Acknowledging that patriotism, connections to men, and love of adventure played their parts, she moves toward the important, and overlooked, conclusion that choosing army life “provided a superior alternative to the limited forms of waged work available to such women in civilian life.” Thoroughly researched and scrupulously documented.

Lorca: A Dream of Life, by Leslie Stainton. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $35

It is certainly courageous (or perhaps fool-hardy) to write a “new” biography of Spain’s greatest contemporary poet and yet include only one slight and passing reference (in a footnote on page 546) to the individual who has written the most—and most brilliantly—about Lorca. Stainton’s reticence about citing Ian Gibson’s work (The Death of Lorca, The Assassination of Federico Garcia Lorca, Federico Garcia Lorca I-II, Federico Garcia Lorca: A Life, etc.) is puzzling. Still, Lorca’s passionate life and death make a powerful tale, which Stainton tells well.

George Washington’s Diaries: An Abridgment, edited by Dorothy Twohig. Virginia $65 cloth, $18.95 paper

With the general reader in mind, the editor has culled almost 500 pages of entries, annotations, and illustrations from her and Donald Jackson’s 20-year-old 2,900-page edition of Washington’s Diaries. The elegant result reveals the lifelong preoccupations of the private and public Washington, but does not truly illuminate the inner man, as he never wrote introspectively as a diarist. The abridgment commences with Washington’s first surveying work in 1747—8, when he was sixteen, and his trip to Barbados with his half-brother Lawrence in 1751—2. Further entries, later improved stylistically by Washington, describe his involvement early in the French and Indian War and document his activities before the American Revolution. Selections written during Washington’s postwar retirement, presidential administrations, and final retirement from public service are also included. Unfortunate gaps exist, however, especially from 1775 to 1780, and June 1791 to September 1794, not from the editor’s abridgments, but from the nonexistence or destruction of the originals.

Remembering Randall: A Memoir of Poet, Critic, and Teacher Randall Jarrell, by Mary von Schrader Jarrell. HarperCollins $22

Randall Jarrell died at 51 some 35 years ago. His wife of 14 years of marriage remembers vividly word and voice and face of many moments these many years later. The book is a small tribute to him, providing a variety of photographs, one for almost every chapter and two for the book as a whole, while reprinting several poems as topics at appropriate points. His books are listed. But much of the focus is on that of close relationships—with Robert Lowell, Peter Taylor, and Maurice Sendak. Gregory Corso and Jack Kerouac also appear. At the end Mary Jarrell reprints a savage review of her husband’s last book of poems, then quietly establishes that his death a few months later, hit by a car, was accidental. The book itself is full of life.

Sherman’s Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860—1865, edited by Brooks D. Simpson and Jean V. Berlin. North Carolina $45

This fine documentary edition includes more than 400 of Sherman’s letters covering the whole of his Civil War career. Sherman’s letters are detailed and opinionated and make for interesting and informative reading. Though his critiques of his fellow generals were often vitriolic, and he was unafraid to question Ulysses S. Grant’s grasp of strategy, Sherman was willing to give credit where it was due; his opinions were informed (though often wrong) rather than mere mud-slinging. The editors have selected the letters carefully, and their chapter introductions and notes enhance but do not distract from the letters themselves. Importantly, the professional transcription (language and grammar are retained in their original form) allows Sherman’s style to shine through without editorial interference.

Moab Is My Washpot, by Stephen Fry. Random House $24

Do I understand the title yet? No. Too erudite for me; akin to this autobiography’s subject, a little pompous, a little annoying in the need to demonstrate intellect and knowledge. Fry’s story is advertised as that of a homosexual coming-of-age in boarding-school England, and it is; but more than that it is the story of a clearly repulsive and dishonest young man. That young man appears to have turned himself into an acceptable human being from about the age of 20 on, and his chief virtues—style in use of language, wit and intelligence—are on display to their best in the first half of the book, dealing with early childhood. It’s hard to know how to reconcile those entertaining and leisurely tales with the swifter glossing of adolescent idiocies, lies, and thefts which comprise the book’s last third. Overall, alas, the level of self-indulgence and immature glee is too high for real enjoyment. One suspects that his earlier fictional treatment of a similar life (The Liar) may have taken all the best of this book, and the reality doesn’t measure up.

Revolutionary Women in the War for American Independence, edited by Lincoln Diamant. Praeger $35

This book—a welcome edition for studies of early American women and American military history—resurrects the 150-year-old works of Elizabeth Ellet. Ellet, who was perhaps the first serious historian of American women, documented and preserved the Revolutionary war-time experiences of women in each of the 13 colonies. Ellet’s engaging historical narratives provide vivid and inspiring examples of the courage, self-reliance, and fortitude of the Founding Mothers.

St. Augustine, by Garry Wills. Viking Penguin $19.95

This biography, from Viking’s Penguin Lives Series, is probably the best introduction to St. Augustine available. Garry Wills, its Pulitzer Prize-winning author, informs readers from the beginning that Augustine was not what people, operating under preconceived, churchy notions, are likely to think. Yes, he was a bishop but a bishop on the extreme margins of classical culture—one of almost 700 African bishops in 395 A.D.—a “guru of the outback” who did not even speak Greek, the language of the intelligentsia. His tremendous influence in the development of Christianity grew not from the authority of his office, but out of writings that burn with the intensity of a great mental energy and a piercing intelligence, “drawn to and baffled by mystery.” Wills traces the development of Augustine’s thought and, most interestingly, takes issue with old interpretations. He is, in this book, as Augustine was, “impatient with all preceding formulations.” Wills even changes the title of one of Augustine’s most famous books, The Confessions, to The Testimony—and his reasoning makes one wonder why it was ever called any-thing else. This fresh approach, executed with clarity and an imaginative application of common sense, makes Augustine and his times live.

The Most Beautiful Man in Existence: The Scandalous Life of Alexander Lesassier, by Lisa Rosner. Pennsylvania $29.95

Rosner’s entertaining biography traces the fortunes and misfortunes of a man well-suited for the role of a Jane Austen villain. Alexander Lesassier’s lively journals span the period from 1803 to 1830, and his daily entries bring the life of this Regency rake into vivid view. A military man, a doctor, a would-be novelist, and a shameless opportunist, Lesassier embodied the energies and tensions of his time. Rosner quotes liberally from Lesassier’s own writings which were, until 1987, under seal in the archive of the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh. These manuscript sources reveal much about the living and working conditions of the upper middle class in the early 19th century, but they are equally valuable as a record of a past personality. If Rosner’s book has a fault, it is that it makes too broad an appeal, tries too hard to be liked by a general audience—a sentiment Alexander Lesassier would have recognized.

Him on the One Side and Me on the Other, edited by Terry A. Johnston, Jr. South Carolina $24.95

Nearly 80 well-edited letters document the experiences of two young Scottish brothers during the Civil War. One joined the Northern and one the Southern forces of their adoptive country; they fought against one another and nearly met at the Battle of Secessionville, S. C. in 1862. These moving letters home and to each other splendidly document the concerns of the common soldier, the differences of point-of-view imparted by short residence in different parts of the country, and the ardency for the “cause” so much more characteristic of soldiers fighting for the South. The vivid and insightful picture painted by the Campbell brothers includes information on military discipline, financial and other woes of the common soldier, imprisonment, and war-weariness of the men of both armies. These are brothers one would like to have known.

Before the Wind: The Memoir of an American Sea Captain, 1808—1833, by Charles Tyng. Viking $24.95

As with all memoirs written toward the end of the author’s life (in this case, about 50 years after his story ends), there is always the question of how much of the narrative is true, But Tyng’s account is so simply told and unpretentious, so straight-forward and unadorned, and fits so well into the framework of the period, that there seems to be no reason to doubt its authenticity. Sent off to sea at 13, and with a command at 25, Tyng records in sharp and pungent detail the privileged, physical, and brutal world of early 19th-century maritime life. But while he survived storms, shipwreck, pirates, mutiny, and disease at sea, he also managed to visit London and Paris, to meet Byron in Leghorn, and to tour the then very dangerous city of Havana. Altogether a lively and absorbing book, and far more rewarding than the current spate of “seacaptain” fiction.

Elsewhere A Memoir, by Julia Schueler. Louisiana $27.95

As a refugee on the run, Julia Schueler grew up forced to drop one identity for another, one language for another. Born Julia Israel into a Menchevik, Jewish family in 1923 Russia, she is an infant when her parents escape the Bolsheviks to Berlin. There her earliest memories are filtered through German. When Hitler comes to power, her family takes refuge in Paris, where the young author, uprooted from the security of a relatively stable life, finds her German self an object of French hostility. A remarkable French teacher comes to her rescue by using words linked to specific actions, (we would call this TPR today) turning the incomprehensible into the intelligible. In 1940 her family is once more displaced, forced to flee Paris in a blackout, barely moments ahead of the German army. America will be the final asylum where, not surprisingly, she will spend much of her adult life as a college instructor of French and German. Well written, this book provides vivid details of an historic time period and a morality lesson on the resilience of those who are forced by circumstances to rebuild their lives over and over again.

Dear Juliette: Letters of May Sarton to Juliette Huxley, selected and edited by Susan Sherman. Norton $29.95

May Sarton was Julian Huxley’s lover before she was his wife’s, Juliette. The letters begin skittishly as though even in the throes of her affair with Julian Sarton suspected Cupid’s aim. The letters, spanning nearly 60 years, build to a Sapphic climax, but the details of Sarton’s life, her trips out West, to Belgium and England visiting friends and other artists, her relationship with her parents and long time companion, the spurts of creative output and the bouts with illness and despair, prove just as fascinating. The letters of old age, written after a reconciliation with Juliette while both were in the process of preparing their papers, are heart wrenching. Even if one is not a fan of Sarton’s, as apparently many critics were not during her life, the letters add to a time and era rich with history and change.

FICTION Someone to Watch Over Me, by Richard Bausch. HarperFlamingo $24

If there is another master of the American short story equal to or better than Richard Bausch, he or she is keeping it a big secret. This book is Bausch’s sixth collection of stories. (He is also author of seven novels.) The twelve virtuoso tales of Someone to Watch Over Me, some of which appeared in such prestigious places as The New Yorker, Esquire, Atlantic Monthly and Playboy as well as the literary magazines and anthologies, are widely various in form and content and voice, ranging from the experimental “The Voices From the Other Room,” to the straightforward (and hilarious) “Nobody in Hollywood,” and all are marked by Bausch’s usual clarity, accessibility, and adventurous awareness of how we live now. By now he has demonstrated that he can do it all, leaving us, his growing body of readers, eagerly waiting for more.

The Way People Run, by Christopher Tilghman. Random House $21.95

Tilghman is extremely sensitive to the social dislocations of the past 20 years, especially as they affect men and their families, but each of these stories manages to wrest some affirmation, however limited, from moments of individual insight, faith, and strength gathered in the face of crisis. The effect is stories that are both tough and luminous, although despite the grittiness of the situations the characters face, Tilghman’s voice, his guiding hand, is gentle and humane. There is always the sense of the artist at work here, both in terms of the beautiful rhythm and word choice in each sentence, the density of the plots and characterizations, and the craft that sets up tension and conflict from the very first sentence of each tale to the resolution. These stories are remarkable for containing a novel’s worth of situation and character while still being paced crisply and, in some cases, relentlessly. There is strong emotion at work in and behind each story, but in spite of the gut-wrenching and even tear-inducing effects of many of the tales, they are an unalloyed pleasure to experience. Very high art and craft and, I would say, a must read for anyone interested in contemporary short stories.

My Father, Dancing, by Bliss Broyard. Knopf $22

In a busy season of the short story, this gathering of eight stories to make a first collection is an outstanding book. Linked by the theme of fathers and daughters, these stories focus intently on quiet moments with, in the words of Ann Beattie’s endorsement, “their own peculiarly strong reverberations.” Dedicated to the memory of her own father, the distinguished critic and reviewer Anatole Broyard, My Father, Dancing is at once funny and sad and marked by a clarity and control that would be rare at any age and stage. With this brilliant collection Ms. Broyard joins the ranks of the best and brightest story writers.

River of Darkness, by Rennie Airth. Viking $24.95

It could have been a robbery gone wrong, except the savagery of the killings on that rural English estate spoke of something much more chilling. Haunted by his experiences on the French front in World War I, Scotland Yard Inspector John Madden already carries a heavy emotional burden even before he’s assigned to the case. But as it turns out, he is more attuned to the killer’s ways than it might at first appear. In this debut, Airth has created a wonderfully atmospheric mystery, full of gripping detail and genuine effects. It is a terrific, well-written, story.

Close Range: Wyoming Stories, by Annie Proulx, illustrated by William Matthews. Scribner $25

In her second collection of stories, Proulx hits upon something Sam Peckinpah knew: the American West lends itself just as well to a violent picaresque as it does to the spare gritty realism of Richard Ford. The best stories in Close Range combine Proulx’s blowsy prose with a storytelling energy matched only by the characters who settled the territory. “The Mud Below” and “People in Hell Just Want a Drink of Water,” among the book’s best, display a rare compassion for rough men, telling their stories in vivid, headlong narratives. In others, however, Proulx’s style and energy feel untempered, over-whelming the short story form and making Proulx seem out of place. In “The Half-Skinned Steer,” she struggles to fit a grisly cowboy anecdote into a tragicomedy about an old man driving cross country to die. Other pieces feel like fragments or exercises. An often wonderful but uneven collection.

30: Pieces of a Novel, by Stephen Dixon. Henry Holt $30

Dixon has the powerful fusion of style and sensibility that changes writing, as this collection of 30 linked stories about the author’s alterego Gould Bookbinder amply shows. Some of the “pieces” (one of which appeared in these pages) function better as stories, exhibiting Dixon’s controlled run-on style and anxious reflection. In the best of them, the seemingly haphazard structure itself contributes to meaning, like a Gehry building. Others work better as chapters in a novel, advancing Gould’s struggle to be a decent son, husband, and father while squeezing some enjoyment out of life through the pursuit of art and sex. And yes, a few feel like filler with Dixon just jamming, but his endless sentences so rarely lose their way and he can nail an observation so well that even when he’s annoying you still want to listen.

Letters from Yellowstone, by Diane Smith. Viking $24.95

Smith’s first novel is told in epistolary fashion, as a team of scholars and explorers in late 19th-century Yellowstone Park deals with problems still relevant to many contemporary readers: limited funding strained through a bureaucratic funnel and the struggle to preserve natural resources from the encroachment of industry (here, the railroads, promising progress and limitless profits). Smith picks a fascinating historical backdrop against which to mix sharply divergent personalities and her heroine, a willful young botanist with a family legacy to uphold and a willful desire to rebel against societal constraints. The parallels between the end of another century and ours, as well as Smith’s presentation of a variety of character sketches revealed through the delight of reading their letters, makes her novel a pleasurable tour through the last refuge of the old West.

The Kansas City Investigation, by Rudolf II. Hartman. Missouri $24.95

This book contains two detective


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