BOOK REVIEW / In Brief: Inshallah - Oriana Fallaci: Chatto, pounds 15.99

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In a prodigiously ambitious project, Oriana Fallaci, who appears in the novel as 'the Saigon journalist', recreates Beirut 1983. Her myriad characters - mostly Italian soldiers and Lebanese of all ages and factions - might scramble even Einstein's memory, but then the book's avowed search is for 'the formula of Life'. Angelo, dubbed 'Hamlet' by his friends, is a mathematician tormented by entropy theory, but expect no Scandinavian gloom here: Fallaci is in direct descent from earthy, joyous Boccaccio via the comic grotesqueries of Fellini. Thus, though her subject is war, it is Life, and in particular the life of that 'most touching of all the animals', Man, that she celebrates. The mutilations (plenty of them) are not for the squeamish, nor perhaps is the inflatable Lady Godiva; tears and laughter intermingled and, as Colonel Crazy Horse - with a Latin tag for every eventuality - might say: 'Life? Hic, omnia sunt. Yessir]'