Click to follow
The Independent Culture
! Drown by Junot Diaz, Faber pounds 6.99. "Ysrael was a different story. Even on this side of Ocoa people had heard of him, how when he was a baby a pig had eaten his face off, skinned it like an orange."A flurry of hype accompanied this first short-story collection when it came out last year. It was all completely justified: Diaz, a young Hispanic American who grew up in the Dominican Republic, writes like the real McCoy. The tales move without fuss or solemnity between the barrios of the old country and the New Jersey streets of the new. The attitude is energetic, inquisitive, and rigorously concrete. There are no epiphanies, no deliberate bathos, no signs of conventional short-story bad-faith sagginess at all.

! Liberty Against the Law: Some 17th Century Controversies by Christopher Hill, Penguin pounds 9.99. We all know plenty about "that general and inbred hatred which still dwells in our common people against both our Laws and Lawyers". But what we may not know is that the problem was recognised (by John Hare) as early as 1647, and that it has its origins in the English Civil War. The Parliamentarians, Hill explains, were fighting for "liberty and property". But why should the property-less majority uphold an ideal of freedom which never cared a whit about them? Hence highwaymen and smugglers, The Beggar's Opera and Robin Hood. Those essays have been criticised by specialists as thin and repetitive, the old wine of Hill's classic books about Cromwell, Bunyan, the Levellers and so on poured into yet another skin. But they are crisply written and dynamic, and a solid non- specialist historical read.

! The Dream Mistress by Jenny Diski, Phoenix pounds 5.99. Walking out of a Camden cinema after a row with her boyfriend, Mimi discovers a filthy old lady dying in the street. At the hospital, she is slowly unswaddled, and christened Bella by a nurse. The narrative which follows switches between Mimi's story and several possible ones for Bella: failed Jewish mother, failed Carmelite nun, reviled miracle-worker, a woman without a face. The title Diski has chosen for her eighth novel may lead you to expect standard-issue fancy-feminist stuff, but don't be misled. The imagery is bold, hard-edged, and painful: much of this novel seems to prefigure the appallingly sad and autobiographical Skating To Antarctica, published earlier this year.

! Knights in White Armour: The New Art of War and Peace by Christopher Bellamy, Pimlico pounds 12.50. A former soldier and academic, Christopher Bellamy has worked as a defence correspondent in Chechnya, Bosnia and the Gulf. His objective? To identify the most efficient modes of military intervention in our current state of "world disorder". His proposal? That the UN forces should reconstitute themselves on the model of the French Foreign Legion, as a super-professional, supra-national model army: "a little monastic, perhaps, tending the sick and conducting diplomacy as well as being fearsome in battle". Bellamy's historical framework is formidable - Sun Tzu and Clausewitz are key figures - but elegantly used. A postscript on Zaire updates his thesis to 1997. And there's a useful glossary of contemporary jaw-jaw - from "fog of war" to "sub-strategic deterrent" - hidden in the back.