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The Independent Culture
Writing Home by Alan Bennett (Faber, pounds 6.99) Now in a nice, chunky format, with a cheerful, crayoned self-portrait on the cover, this edition of Bennett's best-seller has been expanded to include diary selections from 1991 to 1995 and an introduction to The Madness of George III (Bennett describes the crumbling of his qualms about historical inaccuracy in the film script. "By the third draft I would have taken the King to Blackpool if I had thought it would have helped").

The book stands up wonderfully well - always perceptive, often very funny, occasionally shocking. As Mr B remarks of Russell Harty: "He had learned ... there was nothing that could not be said and no one to whom one could not say it." Reading Bennett's bits and bobs is a pure joy.

Real China by John Gittings (Pocket Books, pounds 7.99) Despite its sensational sub-title, "From Cannibalism to Karaoke", this is an insightful and learned survey of "Middle China" - the backwaters scarcely touched by Deng's economic revolution.

In the "heavily disadvantaged" Guangxl province, Gittings alleges that an outbreak of cannibalism took place during the Cultural Revolution prompted both by revenge and a belief in "the therapeutic value of certain parts of the human body".

On the karaoke side, he reveals that 30 old songs praising Mao have recently been re-released and "set to a disco beat". Dismissing Deng's ambition to transform Middle China into a mainland Hong Kong, Gittings bleakly predicts that this region is likely to become another Third World country "on a vastly larger scale".

The Lost Victory by Correlli Barnett (Pan, pounds 8.99) This is history with a passion. The case which Barnett makes against the 1945 Labour administration is hard to answer. He claims that in refusing to face up to Britain's diminished status, the Attlee cabinet frittered away the fruits of victory. Despite our "impoverished, obsolescent" economy, the government's strategy was "to persist in the ruinous make-believe that the UK was a first-rate world power and at the same time pursue the dream of New Jerusalem". This resulted in a leeching-away of the funds desperately needed for modernising industry. Though Barnett's polemic is flawed - the liberalism he condemns also produced postwar Germany's economic miracle - this furious book is essential reading.

Mukiwa by Peter Godwin (Picador, pounds 7.99) In this prize-winning memoir, Godwin describes growing up in Rhodesia (Mukiwa means "white man" in Shona) with the vividness of a great novelist. Reading it is like being there. When very young in the early Sixties, he saw at first hand the results of the guerrilla campaign. (A doctor's son, he had the task of spraying flies during the post-mortems.) At the time, this merely added interest to the life of a juvenile colonial. Godwin has an astonishing gift for recall, from school fights to the killing of a cobra. Later, the mood darkens. Alone with Ian Smith, he contemplates assassination. His sister is accidentally killed by troops. He encounters the atrocity of civil war. Despite the horror, this remains a powerful account of both childhood and Africa.

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