Cairo in the War, 1939-1945 by Artemis Cooper, Hamish Hamilton pounds 11.99. Variously described by enthusiastic critics as 'a masterpiece of military and social history' and an 'Almanach de Adultery', this is a vivid wartime portrait of a city alive with opulent parties, at one end of the scale, and an indifferent or even savage temporary home to thousands of refugees at the other. The roll-call of famous names is part of the book's charm; more interesting are the militant nationalist conspiracies and secret shenanigans behind every closed door.
Absolute Hush by Sara Banerji, Black Swan pounds 4.99. Pre-pubescent twins George and Sissy rear themselves under the not-so-benign neglect of a dotty upper-class mother. There are few laughs in this black comedy set in a crumbling English stately home during the Second World War. Uneducated and ignored, the children construct a world which makes sense of the random events of their childhood, including their sudden sexual awareness. Not surprisingly, the world they create reflects the savagery of the times.
African Silences by Peter Matthiessen, Harvill pounds 7.99. One of the few writers in the African safari genre who places his creatures in a human and political environment, Matthiessen never forgets that the shape of Africa, its national boundaries and roads, and even its wildernesses, were shaped by Africans and colonialists. Thus, his search for the elusive pygmy elephant (Matthiessen keeps the reader hoping that it will not, as naturalists insist, prove mythical) is interwoven with the fragile history of the people of the Congo Basin.Reuse content