Paperbacks

Pilate: The Biography of an Invented Man by Ann Wroe | The Happiest Days by Cressida Connolly | Foreign Brides by Elena Lappin | Demystifying Tibet By Lee Feigon (Profile, £8.99) | The Interpreter by Suzanne Glass
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The Independent Culture

Pilate: The Biography of an Invented Man by Ann Wroe (Vintage, £7.99) "What is truth?" Pilate famously asked Jesus before sentencing him to death. This question is at the centre of Ann Wroe's unconventional biography, in which imagination prevails over historical evidence. Wroe draws upon a dazzling array of sources, from the Bible to Hollywood, to show how a man about whom very little is known has been "re-invented" to suit each era. The judgement scene reads like a sophisticated court-room drama and the turbulent Judean world in which Graeco-Roman cultures uncomfortably co-existed is magnificently brought to life. Pilate's "age-old political dilemma" made one of last year's most surprising and accomplished biographies.

The Happiest Days by Cressida Connolly (Fourth Estate, £6.99) Happiness is fleeting in Cressida Connolly's bittersweet stories about childhood, but there is much humour, sadness and strange beauty. Connolly is concerned with exclusion, often conveyed through a convincing child's-eye view of the world. She can capture a mood in a couple of words, an emotional truth in a sentence, the feel of an era in a few pages and the impression of entire lives in a single story. Most impressive is the range of this collection: whether she is describing the disillusionment of a boy who wants to be a priest, a little girl's jealousy of her dying sister, or a mother's disappointment with domestic life, Connolly rarely hits a false note.

Foreign Brides by Elena Lappin (Picador, £6.99) The foreign brides of these beguiling short stories have all married into alien cultures, committing themselves to lonely lives. Whether set in London, New York or Tel Aviv, the stories are united by the theme of Jewishness - a clever take on Jewish exile. A young Israeli wife who tricks her husband with unkosher chicken, a Russian taxi-driver who bribes her husband's ex-employer - Lappin's heroines flirt with rebellion but settle for security. Here are serious subjects playfully handled, and in accordance with Jewish tradition, storytelling itself is important. Although her characters can seem rather indistinguishable, Lappin has an assured and irreverent style.

Demystifying Tibet By Lee Feigon (Profile, £8.99) For most Westerners Tibet is a "snowy Shangri-la" shrouded in mystery and spirituality. In this detailed history ranging from the 17th century to the present day, Feigon sets out to demolish the "inaccurate" and "second-hand" myths surrounding this "land of snows". He traces the imperialist pressures from Britain and Russia and the accompanying Chinese insecurities, and records how, after preserving their independence and culture for almost 700 years, the Tibetans finally lost autonomy to China. Despite his balanced approach, Feigon makes a compassionate case for Tibetan liberation and this is an authoritative and articulate analysis.

The Interpreter by Suzanne Glass (Arrow, £5.99) Dominique is a brilliant, beautiful interpreter, Nicholas Manzini is an equally brilliant, Italian paediatrician-turned-researcher. Their paths cross at an international medical conference in Manhattan. He falls in love with her voice, she with his high cheekbones and Roman nose. Dr Manzini stumbles upon a cure for Aids, but keeps quiet about his discovery. A far-fetched medical conspiracy thriller involving pharmaceutical tycoons unfolds alongside a stylish love story complicated by moral dilemma. But no amount of pontificating on art, music or the heroine's need to find her own "voice", can provide any real substance to this predictable but readable novel.

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