Books: Pick Of The Week

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The Independent Culture
John Pilger (right) remains one of the few fellows you can rely on to be more interested in confronting Robin Cook's limpness of resolve on arms sales to Indonesia than debating the foreign minister's firmness of purpose in the extra-marital bedroom. The subjects closest to Pilger's heart remain the very ones which the rest of the media construe as "slow news" - the on-going struggles of nameless, faceless "unpeople".

Shouldering the whole relentless weight of the world's multiple injustices, the Australian-born war correspondent and documentary film-maker will be appearing in London this week to give an update on the stories he exposed in his recent book, Hidden Agendas. Stirring indignation and defiance, Pilger rolls up his sleeves to delve into the behind-the-scenes power broking and laundering of unpleasant truths affecting ordinary civilians from Baghdad to Birkenhead.

The human rights gadfly will be sure to land on Augusto Pinochet, East Timor and South Africa; with a little time to spare for the Eric Cantona- endorsed footballs hand-stitched in the Punjab by a blind 11-year-old for 15p a day; the 275 girls burned to death in Thai and Chinese factories making plastic Bart Simpson and Barbie dolls; the 13-year-old schoolboys buried alive by the Burmese in Rangoon; and why Pilger smuggled a copy of Jonathan Coe's farcical novel What a Carve Up! through to detained Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

"My struggle was a body that wouldn't face atrocity, and vanished," declares the hero of Fredy Neptune, the gargantuan verse novel by Australian poetry colossus Les Murray. Unable to intervene when a group of Armenian women are doused in kerosene then torched, First World War merchant sailor Fredy mysteriously loses all physical sensation, doomed to wander the century impervious to pleasure or pain. Fredy's adventures come tastily spiced with Murray's earthy vernacular: "It's a mad giant's teapot, that country, shit, steam and wet leaves," he proclaims of Japanese New Guinea, before commenting, "I'd noticed that practically/ all the horrors done in my lifetime were by clean-shaven men/at the orders of clipped hairy-mouths."

John Pilger, Bookmarks, 1 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1 (0171-637 1848) Tue, 6.30pm

Les Murray, The Oak Room, Wycombe Swan, St Mary Street, High Wycombe (01923 283566) Fri, 7.30pm, pounds 7

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