Twenty-One: the best of Granta Magazine, edited by Ian Jack

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The Independent Culture

Though this selection celebrates the 21st birthday of the world's leading literary magazine with an item from each year, it is not quite a representative selection, since Granta's acclaimed ventures into travel writing and the posh branch of journalism known as reportage have already been anthologised. Here, fiction has the edge. Ian Jack kicks off with memorably grimy examples of Granta's early speciality, the "dirty realism" of Ford and Carver. A chunk from Norman Lewis's superb autobiography Jackdaw Cake and James Fenton's report, fizzling with the electricity of real danger, from the final days of the Marcos regime restores the balance towards non-fiction. Other highlights include Amitav Ghosh's contrapuntal exploration of the beauty and terror that characterised Cambodia in the last century and Linda Grant's account of losing her mother to Alzheimer's. If the book sags during a debate on "The State of Europe", this is more than compensated by Primo Levi's "Weightless". In this fragment written shortly before his suicide, Levi mused: "What I would like to experience most of all would be to find myself freed, if only for a moment, from the weight of my body." Granta has set itself a high standard to match in the next 21 years.