A Week in Books: Prophecies of glory and of doom

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The Independent Culture

Two weeks ago, I planned to kick off this selection of forthcoming literary highlights with a grumble about the cosy predictability of our cultural scene.

Two weeks ago, I planned to kick off this selection of forthcoming literary highlights with a grumble about the cosy predictability of our cultural scene. After all, everyone already knew that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Bloomsbury, July) would dominate the world of books in 2005. Now, cosy predictability sounds a remote, even appealing prospect. It must, at any rate, appear so to the publisher who scheduled a disaster thriller for this February. It is (or was) entitled Tsunami. If events deplete the audience for such mistimed fantasies, they may expand it for Jared Diamond's bold blend of science and history to show why some societies survive environmental catastrophes while others succumb to them: Collapse (Allen Lane, January).

If the world feels less securely anchored now, it also feels far more closely knit. Globalisation and its discontents attracts prophecies of glory and of doom, with Thomas Friedmann's The World Is Flat (Allen Lane, April) in the former camp, and John Ralston Saul's The Collapse of Globalism (Atlantic, April) in the latter. We may dream, with economist-activist Jeffery Sachs, for An End to Poverty (Allen Lane, June), or agree with Joanna Bourke that the correct title for a history of the last, appalling century is simply Fear (Virago, February).

Solidarity with those who suffer most drives works of witness from Robert Fisk, in the Middle East ( The Great War for Civilisation; Fourth Estate, May); Caroline Moorehead, among the refugees ( Human Cargo; Chatto, February), and Fergal Keane, in his memoir, There Will Be Sunlight Later (HarperCollins, March). Richard Lloyd Parry's book on Indonesia's battles between repression and reform, In the Time of Madness (Cape, April), picks up an awful topicality. Advocates of a benign neo-imperialism to cure global ills should read two fine indictments of British crimes in Kenya: David Anderson's Histories of the Hanged (Weidenfeld) and Caroline Elkins's Britain's Gulag (Cape), due this month. Believers in Party-led revolution from above, meanwhile, must confront Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's biography of Mao (Cape, May).

World-changing campaigns to relieve injustice and distress are celebrated in Adam Hochschild's history of the anti-slavery movement, Bury the Chains (Macmillan, February), and Tony Gould's survey of the struggle against leprosy, Don't Fence Me In (Bloomsbury, January). The fate of animal and human realms in Asia connect in Ruth Padel's eco-travels, Tigers in Red Weather (Little, Brown, May), while Indian Nobel laureate Amartya Sen collects essays from a life-long quest for equality in The Argumentative Indian (Allen Lane, April).

Major fiction often pivots on ideas of empathy and solidarity, from Ian McEwan's doctor pursuing the good life in a dark time in Saturday (Cape, February) to the would-be suicides turned mates of Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down (Viking, May). Shattered bonds between parents and children shadow landmark novels, from Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore (see p22), Andrew Miller's The Optimists (Sceptre, March) and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go (Faber, March) to Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Hamish Hamilton, June) and Kamila Shamsie's Broken Verses (Bloomsbury, March).

From tropical Asia, suddenly the focus of every gaze, look out for revealing debut fiction from the Thai-American writer Rattawup Lapcharoensap ( Sightseeing; Atlantic, April); from the Malaysian Tash Aw ( The Harmony Silk Factory; Fourth Estate, March), and the Indian Vikas Swarup ( Q and A; Doubleday, April). In Tokyo Cancelled (Fourth Estate, February), Rana Dasgupta locates his own global village in an airport lounge full of displaced passengers. It may still be that the last word on the destiny of individuals adrift in a world deluged by loss will have to wait until May - in Penguin's new translation of Tolstoy's War and Peace.