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Shadows on the Hudson

by Isaac Bashevis Singer

trs Joseph Sherman

Penguin pounds 7.99

This big, brooding novel was first published in serial form in a Yiddish newspaper in the 1950s and appeared in English only last year, to a wildly mixed reception: some critics reckoning it Singer's masterpiece, others repelled by what they deemed caricatures of blacks and gentiles. It is set among Jewish immigrants in New York in the 1940s, but the spirit is less Philip Roth than Evelyn Waugh - not Waugh the satirist, but Waugh the obituarist of Catholic England. Singer tests the place of the practising Jew in the secular world through the character of Hertz Grein, a devout man prone to temptation. The nastiness is undeniable; but so are a certain driven grandeur and seriousness of purpose.

Why Men Don't Iron: The New Reality of Gender Differences

by Anne and Bill Moir

HarperCollins pounds 7.99

The field of evolutionary psychology is only in its infancy, but has already inspired more than its share of silly books. The argument in this one is that men and women are innately different, and well-intentioned efforts to promote equality are disadvantaging men. That may be true, but the argumen is fatally undermined by a facetious tone (the exposition is punctuated by dialogue between the authors, in which Bill addresses Anne as "My squeeze" and "Perfect one") and some startlingly illiberal moments - it is asserted that homophobia is caused by gay men inflicting unwanted advances on straight men, and the solution is for gay men "to practice [sic] more restraint".

Everybody Loves a Good Drought: Stories from India's Poorest Districts

by P Sainath

Review pounds 7.99

An attempt to set down in cool print the facts about poverty in India, and the maladministration and corruption that compound it. Sainath has collected dozens of telling anecdotes - a misguided cattle-breeding programme which virtually wiped out the cattle of an entire region; a tribe abolished by a typing error; villages wiped out by "development" schemes; epidemics that officially never happened; quack doctors, crooked teachers, moneylenders ... and all this backed up by statistics showing that each individual story needs to be multiplied by tens of thousands. Not easy reading (partly because of an irritating mix of typefaces); and in the end the reader's mix of guilt and impotence results in an uneasy catatonia.

Cards of Identity

by Nigel Dennis

Penguin pounds 7.99

"... A glittering one-off, without obvious ancestors or offspring," Adam Mars-Jones says in his introduction. Well, yes, although you can detect echoes of Chesterton and Orwell and even of Stephen Potter's Gamesmanship books. Strange events take place when a secluded country manor, is let for the summer to the mysterious Captain Mallet: visitors forget themselves, and end up as somebody else entirely. The manor has been chosen as the venue for the annual gathering of the Identity Club, a group dedicated to the notion that in the modern world identity is quite fluid, or why does the government insist on everybody carrying identity cards? (The book was written in the early 1950s.) This is part satire, part philosophy, always intriguing and at times scary.

Birds of America

by Lorrie Moore

Faber pounds 6.99

Moore's stories occupy similar territory to Raymond Carver (with titles like: "Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People"): hopeless people struggle to keep going in the face of betrayal, disappointment and boredom. She has all his verbal precision too. But she adds a couple of things: a killing sense of humour - in the story "Terrific Mother", a woman's life is blighted when an accident involving an ageing picnic bench kills a baby; later, she discovers that her boyfriend has tried to help the baby's parents by buying them a new bench. Moore is willing to take off from reality - sometimes this comes over as whimsy (a two-page-long scornful laugh); sometimes, it gives her characters a chance at transcendence, and they become people you can imagine loving.

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