NON-FICTION IN BRIEF

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2 Committed Observer: Memoirs of a Journalist by Andrew Graham- Yooll, John Libbey pounds l7.50.

Andrew Graham-Yooll, President of the Buenos Aires Herald, a contributor to this newspaper and one of the most sensitive interpreters of South America to the rest of the world, has produced a book full of good things. Born in Buenos Aires, the author has divided his career between Britain and Argentina and become as familiar with the political and cultural life of one country as with the other. His integrity meant that the military terrorists expelled him under threat from his native land in 1982 to London where he became editor of Index On Censorship. Humane and generous, he has navigated his own independent course through the mine-filled waters of journalism on two continents.

At a time when for most people in Britain foreign news is being ground down to flashes on television and where the vital job of interpreting the world sensitively and fairly is being regarded as redundant and, more importantly, as too expensive, Graham-Yooll's are the sort of talents which should be at a premium.

He has a great ability to interpret Argentines - with all their faults, well-known in Britain, and with their strengths, less well-known - to the British. He is also a master of scorching analysis of the British and their taste for social exclusiveness.

This is an incident from "Codes", one of the best of the 74 pieces that appear in this book, about the departure from London daily journalism to become the deputy editor of South, a magazine published by a Pakistani:

"In the Coach and Horses pub, in Back Hill, behind The Guardian, a home news desk sub-editor said 'You'll be happier with them.' We'd had a few pints, and discussed the idea of a magazine published by Pakistanis. 'You mean,' I asked, 'I'll be better with the Asians because as an Argentine I am only posing as a white man?' He said, 'Yes.' "

The book buzzes with people, easily met, shrewly sized up. Stephen Spender, Carlos Menem, Paul McCartney, Mario Vargas Llosa, Woody Allen, Graham Greene ...

Yet a writer needs two things, talent and a good editor, in order to be sure of producing an attractive collection of past writings. The hubris of a journalist seeking to delight readers with a volume of pieces culled from the newspapers of yesteryear is, if the matter is not handled carefully, all too often cruelly rewarded. Graham-Yooll has the talent, but he did not find the editor for this book. He has been allowed to ramble, and his power of taut observation is at times weakened by a tendency to trundle down too many branch lines. The book is too long; the brilliant is lumped with the not-so-good and scarcely edited. John Libbey, who has done the author a disservice, must know that Committed Observer would have been better value at twice the price and half the length.

Hugh O'Shaughnessy

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