BOOK REVIEW / Paperbacks

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The Independent Culture
The Italics are Mine by Nina Berberova, Vintage pounds 7.99. In this compelling memoir, Berberova paints vivid pictures of fellow poets in revolutionary Russia and of the literary emigre communities: the wall-eyed, stuttering monarchist Nikolai Gumilev, the 'company commander' of the Poet's Union; the gentle ironist Vladislav Khodasevich, with whom Berberova left Russia in 1922; the close-knit groups of frightened exiles and later the pantheon of greats - Gorky, Pilniak, Zamyatin, Shklovsky and Nabokov - she knew in America.

Freedom, The Individual and The Law by Geoffrey Robertson, Penguin pounds 12. The 7th edition of this classic survey is, regrettably, the longest: threats to civil liberties may have changed since its first publication in 1963, but they show no signs of diminishing. This edition is updated to include DNA sampling, the Asylum Act, PNC 2, Camillagate, Iraqgate and the Press Complaints Commission. In the light of the Guildford 4 and Birmingham 6, Robertson has expanded the chapter on the right to a fair trial, arguing for further safeguards against wrongful conviction. Valuable comment on civic freedoms from a lawyer and campaigner who has done as much as anyone in their defence.

Raven by Thomas Strittmatter, Vintage pounds 5.99. This funny and elegant German first novel transcends the average Bildungsroman through its enticing prose and rich characterisation. From the headmistress who assembles her pupils in the night to witness the disastrous birth of a calf to the poignant Deafman, brother of a local farmer, each character propels along the story of Raven, his near- deliquent friends at a rural boarding school in the 1960s, and his subsquent strange jobs, stranger sexual encounters and eventual grim mistakes.

Gurdjieff, The Anatomy of a Myth by James Moore, Element pounds 14.95. Gurdjieff is a difficult subject: was he a charlatan or a seer? He was born in the 1860s into a family of wealthy Armenian farmers, but there is a missing period of 20 years from 1887-1907. He pops up again in Moscow in 1912, and his renown quickly spread. It is hard to make out the man through the mist of controversy, but Moore offers a well-researched study, although his style (like Gurdjieff's own) is rather affected - 'he trod the way of everyman advisedly, and on a sumptuous carpet of experience' - and sceptics may find the portrait too admiring.

Blood Memory by Martha Graham, Sceptre pounds 12.99. This is a beautifully written and illustrated autobiography by any standards: that it was written when Graham was 96 is astonishing. She ranks with the giants of 20th-century dance, but she tells her story with great charm and wit, writing poignantly about her family and extraordinary range of friends, and an infectious passion for music, dance and theatre.

The New Quotable Woman ed Elaine Partnow, Headline pounds 10.99. 'The Serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.' Perhaps not the first words ever spoken by a woman, but the first in this hefty catalogue of female quotations. The quotes are too often chosen for their didactic quality rather than their pithiness, but there is the odd joke: 'She's the kind of girl who climbed the ladder of success, wrong by wrong' (Mae West). And this volume was badly needed; only 1% of the entries in the Oxford Book of Quotations are by women.

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