Cover Stories: Saqi Books; Jonathan Aitken's book deal; Alistair Cooke's letters

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The Independent Culture

Many happy returns to Saqi Books, celebrating its 21st birthday this year, and still issuing titles that stimulate and challenge - books with "editorial audacity", as The Independent put it. Saqi came into being when two friends, Mai Ghoussoub and André Gaspard, fled Lebanon for London and decided to stay. Yes, they were asylum-seekers - and look how much they have contributed to our culture. Fred Halliday's Two Hours that Shook the World, for instance, is regarded by many as the finest book on September 11, while Saqi's fiction (from Maggie Gee to Moris Farhi) recognises no boundaries, as a trip to www.saqibooks.com shows.

* Michael Howard might have blocked Jonathan Aitken's attempts to rejoin Parliament, but at least the Tory ex-con has found a publisher. Robin Baird-Smith, a theologian before he left God for Mammon, has signed a six-figure deal with the former MP. Aitken will write four books for Continuum, including a volume of autobiography, Porridge and Passion, and another of biographical sketches. There's also to be a biography of the Watergate conspirator, Charles Colson. First into the shops, this autumn, is a short spiritual book: Prayers for People Under Pressure. Don't all rush.

* A new collection of the late Alistair Cooke's Letters from America will be out in time for Christmas. More interesting, however, will be the publication in 2005 of a "lost" Cooke manuscript: A Nation at War: American Lives on the Home Front, 1941-1945. The 400,000-word survey was ready to roll as Harry Truman pressed the red button in 1945, and Cooke always maintained that "Hiroshima killed the project". Publishers will surely be scrambling for rights, and publication next year would mark the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory.

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