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The Independent Culture
The China Voyage by Tim Severin (Abacus, pounds 8.99)

More high adventure from the re-creator of increasingly unlikely feats of oceanic transmigration. Here, he tests the feasibility of sailing from China to America on a bamboo raft. The crew of seven encountered pirates, a typhoon and a killer whale, while suffering ills ranging from broken ribs to near-madness. The craft fell apart a thousand miles from the US, but left a stirring tale in its wake. What next for Tim? Round the Horn by inner tube?

The Cure by Carlo Gebler (Abacus, pounds 6.99)

Based on a real-life case, this brooding fiction about a woman's persecution by her superstitious husband is set in rural Ireland a century ago. Her torment is terminated with his chilling remark: "I think we've burnt the fairy out". Sober and sympathetic, it is a corrective to current fashions for Celtic nostalgia and the supernatural. Such events are not confined to the past or the countryside: a similar case occurred in suburban Turin last year.

The Life and Death of Petra Kelly by Sara Parkin

(Pandora, pounds 9.99)

The world of green politics gives way to the darker milieu of Le Carre in this well-researched account of the leading green activist. Kelly emerges as energetic and intelligent but marred by deep insecurity. She was killed aged 44 by her lover Gert Bastian, a retired German general who also shot himself. Parkin discounts a suicide pact, pointing instead to Bastian's possible secret police links.

Dependence Day by Robert Newman (Arrow, pounds 4.99)

It's only when it's too late that Kevin realises his love for Svetlana, a Romanian high-jumper, was a many-splendoured thing. In letters to Kenny Rogers he tells the singer of the woman he can't have back "for all the milk in Lord Rayleigh's farm". Newman (of The Mary Whitehouse Experience fame) has an eye for the detritus of a failed relationship: an abandoned Bounty bar wrapper on the car floor, and the song on the radio that suddenly says so much.

The Complete Stories by Alice Walker (The Women's Press, pounds 7.99)

Alice Walker first realised how much she liked writing short stories when she saw how easily they could be fitted around other things; picking up a child from nursery, falling in love, tending a husband. Tackling marriage, abortion and pornography with a steady and humorous eye, some of Walker's stories can also be movingly offbeat - especially "Strong Horse Tea" in which an old woman braves the elements for a shoe-full of horse's piss.

In Pharoah's Army: Memories of a Lost War by Tobias Wolff (Picador, pounds 5.99)

Sometimes Tobias Wolff writes so clearly, it's easy to underestimate him. In the sequel to his wonderful childhood memoir, This Boy's Life, Wolff is now a young man, marooned in the Mekong Delta and running a black market trade in televisions and guns. As suspicious as ever of his own motives (even the good ones), the author successfully punctures any romantic notions about life in a war zone.

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