Saturday 12 August 1995
Raised in Holland (where distrust of Germany still prevails) and having spent many years in Japan, Buruma is well placed to investigate how former Axis powers now view the war. On-the-spot reporting and historical analysis are combined with revealing results. Contrary to popular belief, many Japanese display the same shame as Germans when faced with unpleasant truths. Buruma wisely concludes: "Human nature has not changed but politics have in both countries: they can vote the rascals out"
Galileo by James Reston Jnr (Cassell, pounds 9.99)
A first rate popular biography of an irksome scientific genius living in dangerously interesting times. Despite occasional stylistic blemishes - it's a little unlikely that a 17th-century Italian would describe a star as "gleaming at night like a skunk's eye" - Reston has produced an absorbing account of enlightenment struggling against religious obfuscation. Recommended as historical background for those drawn to astrophysics by Hawking's bestseller. At least this is one book they will finish.
The Secret World of the Irish Male by Joseph O'Connor (Minerva, pounds 5.99)
There are good things in this collection of quotidian outpourings, particularly an account of a visit by Irish football fans to Disneyland, where the word "Mickey" (Irish slang for penis) causes much hilarity. But the overall effect is depressing. Amusing flights of imagination in newspaper columns appear frantic and hectoring when preserved in book form. Another weighty piece of evidence for making the re-publication of daily journalism an indictable offence.
Marquis de Sade by Maurice Lever (Flamingo, pounds 12.99)
A disturbing figure for our times, Sade emerges from this definitive biography as solitary, infantile and laughable rather than as any kind of sexual revolutionary. What made him exceptional was his prodigious energy, which found outlets in elaborate shenanigans (he once received 859 blows in a one-day bout) and the obsessional writings which gave his name to the world. Using new findings from the Sade archive, this fascinating work has the intensity of a macabre epistolary novel.
Closing Time by Joseph Heller (Pocket, pounds 5)
Half a century on, the survivors of Catch-22 now fight the uneven battle that is old age. Inevitably, their characters have changed - not always for the better. Yossarian, though corrupted, retains his barely controlled hysteria, Milo is a shadowy mogul flanked by foul-mouthed toadies. Chaplain Tapperman is a national asset passing heavy water worth $30,000 a gram. Great satire in hellish New York setting is flawed by Strangelove-style finale but as sequels go it's almost in the Huck Finn class.
Felicia's Journey by William Trevor (Penguin, pounds 5.99)
A pregnant Irish girl, searching the Midlands for her lover, falls into the hands of an obese batchelor with a habit of picking up lost young women. This simplest of narratives, related with quiet precision, exerts a relentless grasp on the reader. Trevor has a peerless eye for overlooked milieux - seedy back streets, desolate ring roads. While depicting Felicia's plight with the utmost sympathy, he also succeeds in creating a memorable monster, unspeakably creepy yet wholly credible.
Fear of Fifty by Erica Jong (Vintage, pounds 6.99)
Unlike other high priestesses of the menopause (Germaine Greer, Gail Sheehy et al) Erica Jong is prepared to admit that reaching 50 isn't fabulous, it's scary. But at least Jong, refusing to bow to the pressures of the "whiplash generation", seems to be having a good time of it. From her deluxe suite in the Cipriani, she sings the praises of Venetian lovers, female companionship and really good au pairs.
The Harem Within by Fatima Mernissi (Bantam, pounds 5.99)
"Aunt Habiba said that anyone could develop wings. It was only a matter of concentration." To fly out over the harem gate was every woman's fantasy, and as a young girl, Mernissi often felt her own wings about to sprout. In her gentle, atmospheric memoirs of Forties Morocco, she recalls the pleasures as well as the frustrations of life in a well-matched harem: picnics of couscous and nights of story-telling.
One Hot Summer in St Petersburg by Duncan Fallowell (Vintage, pounds 6.99)
In a funny, dense and highly camp account, Fallowell tracks the painful process of getting to know an alien city. Though his forays into St Petersburg get ever more daring, he always has his shabby room and suitcase of Jordan's muesli bars to fall back on. A comforting armchair adventure to make you sigh with relief that you didn't have to go through it all yourself.
Beside the Ocean of Time by George Mackay Brown (Flamingo, pounds 5.99)
Shortlisted for last year's Booker Prize, George Mackay Brown's book is a peaen to the wind-tossed headlands of a remote Scottish island. Told through the eyes of a young boy in the last days of the crofters, these stories of Vikings, shipwrecks and love-lorn selkies are spun with a salty simplicity that brings back the primeval pleasures of childhood reading.
The Bishop of San Fernando by David McLaurin (Flamingo, pounds 5.99)
Looking down on the murky lights of the Trinidadian port of San Fernando, the Bishop knows his days of anonymity are numbered. Not only does the unctious Father Salvatori want to rebuild the cathedral, the secret which has confined him to this tropical backwater for 20 years is finally out. This first novel of ecclesiastical malaise and small town corruption is told with stylish restraint.
The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy (Picador, pounds 6.99)
In the second novel of McCarthy's highly regarded "Border trilogy", set shortly before the First World War, 16-year-old Billy makes a series of crossings into Mexico, returning she-wolves to their natural homes and recapturing stolen horses in an attempt to right wrongs and restore natural balances. More sedate and leisurely than All the Pretty Horses but with the same resonant language.
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