Recommended books

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The Independent Culture
The Palace of Dreams by Ismail Kadare, Tr. Barbara Bray, Harvill, pounds 7.99. Acute allegory of totalitarian life set in a ministry of nightlife. Winner of the Independent foreign fiction award for January /February. Review by Robert Winder, 26 February.

The Collision of Civilisations by Alain Peyrefitte, Tr. Jon Rothschild, Harvill, pounds 20. Excellent study of relations between China and Britain during the 19th century. Review by Godfrey Hodgson, 20 February.

The Blindfold by Siri Hustvedt, Hodder & Stoughton, pounds 8.99. Sinister, elegantly written first novel about a young woman's life in New York. Review by Justine Picardie, 13 February.

Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories by Jenny Uglow, Faber, pounds 20. Charlotte Bronte's biographer gets a fine treatment of her own in this readable and rigorous life. Review by Sue Gaisford, 6 February.

Swing hammer swing] by Jeff Torrington, Secker & Warburg, pounds 8.99. Deep and affecting novel about Glasgow life by a 57-year- old newcomer. Winner of this year's Whitbread Book of the Year Prize. Interview by Marianne Brace, 30 January.

Sentimental Journeys by Joan Didion, HarperCollins, pounds 15. Clever, singular musings on the present state of America by the writer who made her name commenting on the social decay found in Sixties San Francisco. Review by Natasha Walter, 30 January.