Beyond Berlin by Penelope Nelson (Allen Unwin 7.99):
Guenther, Romy and Hannelore are strict when it comes to commune rules and Libby Milroy realizes that what was acceptable behaviour in downtown Sydney will not do in Seventies Berlin. Checking in her camel-hair coat for a goat-skin jacket, she's soon attending fire-arms practice with the best of them. For those who suspected that life with the Baader Meinhoff gang wasn't much fun, Nelson's novel will only confirm the worst.
Journey through a Small Planet by Emanuel Litvinoff (Robin Clark, pounds 6.00)
The planet is a patch of the East End, where the author's parents arrived from Odessa, despite boarding a boat for New York. Passionate and brutally honest, this slim memoir has an exceptional vivacity. Its pages magically exude the "sour smell of London", but there is scant sentimentality here. Litvinoff's inamorata is seduced by a Yiddish actor, his dapper stepfather emerges as a compulsive gambler.
Slip-Shod Sibyls by Germaine Greer (Penguin, pounds 9.99)
This bulky exploration of female poets combines much stimulating criticism with views so outrageous they would be excised if the author were not so famously formidable. On page three, she opines: "The most successful poem of my generation was probably: "Eat a/Extra/Egg a/ Day", written by a woman." Fortunately, Greer's perverseness is more than outweighed by her brilliance in exhuming forgotten female poets.
Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth by Gitta Sereny (Picador, pounds 9.99) Though present at the Nuremberg war crimes trial, Sereny says in later years she "knew and grew to like" Hitler's second-in-command. Because he was recognisably human, Speer makes a far more fascinating subject than the monsters who achieved prominence in the Reich. At the end of this enthralling study, he admits to "tacit consent" in the murder of the Jews, despite previously denying involvement. Sereny says that such words would have hung him at Nuremburg. In a strange twist, prompted by a late love affair, Speer reneged on his admission. A towering work.
The Underworld by Duncan Campbell (Penguin/BBC, pounds 6.99)
From the Blind Beggar to Brinks Mat, the sagas of gangland Britain have become as familiar as fairy tales, but Campbell tells them with wit and a keen eye for detail. We learn that Frankie Fraser was hindered by his "straight" parents, "If they've been to prison, they can help with contacts." Fifties razor gangs rubbing shoulders with the "Mafia Inglesa" of the Costas ("the sort who like to be judges in Miss Wet T-shirt contests"). All great entertainment, unless you happen to be a security guard drenched in petrol or a bystander blasted in a pub "hit".
Naturalist by Edward O. Wilson (Penguin, pounds 8.99)
Elegant and laconic ("I am blind in one eye and cannot hear high-frequency sounds; therefore I am an entomologist."), this memoir by a top US scientist merits a readership far beyond the scientific community. We learn that his purblindness results from a fishing mishap with "perchlike, voracious Lagodon rhomboides" when seven. Far from putting Wilson off the natural world, by 15 he was wrestling a cottonmouth viper ("It twisted through my fingers and unfolded inch-long fangs"). At 67, his enthusiasm is undimmed: "So far, my surveillance [of a Florida ant hill] has lasted 60 years."
Yesterday in the Back Lane by Bernice Rubens (Abacus pounds 6.99)
After murdering a would-be rapist in the back lane, Bronwen Davies goes home to tea and gets on with her Middlemarch homework. It's only when the murder weapon (her aunty's best carving knife) comes into action on the Christmas turkey, that the true horror of what she's done sinks in. But, being the war, and being Christmas, there never seems a good time to speak up. Fifty years later Bronwen is still living with her secret. Booker Prize winner Bernice Rubens' funniest novel to date.Reuse content