N O V E M B E R 1 9 9 3
by Phoebe-Lou Adams
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The twelve stories in this collection are somewhat closer to ordinary reality
than is usual with Mr. Marquez's exuberantly baroque fictions, but only
somewhat. The style is restrained, but ordinary reality constantly glides into
an unreality that nevertheless reflects reality. Most of the stories have to do
with some form of exile. A deposed political leader tries to maintain dignity
and even hope while surviving on what amounts to the casual charity of
strangers. The breakdown of a rented car leads to obliteration by a mindless
bureaucracy. The loss of his interpreter leaves a light-headed but reasonably
capable Latin American as isolated in Paris as a castaway on a desert island.
Aside from one orthodox and therefore disappointing ghost story, the tales are
all both interesting as stories and provocative for implications that reach
beyond the immediate events they describe.
The Last Hunt
by Horst Stern.
Random House, $18.00.
Mr. Stern's novel is set in an unidentified Eastern European country before the
Communist disintegration. It has three protagonists: an elderly German
financial wizard of international renown, a local guide and game warden, and a
very large bear. They can be taken to represent the power of capitalist
development, the situation of the ordinary citizen under a Communist
dictatorship, and the natural world, which stands small chance against either
of them. An ideological reading does not detract from a good, suspenseful
hunting story with ironic details concerning just why the German is allowed to
hunt an exceptional bear and how the guide arranges that hunt--for the
influential dignitary cannot be permitted to find no bear or to shoot the wrong
bear. It is a grim adventure but compelling reading.
by Dick Francis.
In Mr. Francis's fictional world there are rarely motives for crime other than
money and insanity. His narrator, a large and normally peaceable architect and
builder, encounters both when he becomes involved with a titled tribe that has
several dubiously normal members, a great deal of money, and a racetrack.
Tribal members cannot agree on the future of that track, and things explode in
a way highly satisfactory to connoisseurs of intricate misdoings.
Glad Tidings: A Friendship in Letters
edited by John D. Weaver.
Mr. Weaver, a long-standing friend of the late John Cheever, shares his
correspondence with that novelist. The two met in 1943, as sergeants making
training films for the Army Signal Corps; took to each other; and remained in
touch as long as Cheever lived. Because Mr. Weaver kept letters, whereas
Cheever did not, the men are not equally represented--regrettably, for Mr.
Weaver's letters (he eventually kept copies of them) are worthy of their
recipient. It was a thoroughly amiable exchange, each participant intending to
please and amuse the other with wit, gossip, news of mutual friends and
enemies, shared memories, catchphrases, and old jokes. There were no political
comments more profound than Cheever's report on the 1954 election: "This
neighborhood--there are seven registered Democrats--is very quiet." The
neighborhood was in Westchester County, and Cheever may have misstated
Democratic strength, for he did not let mere fact interfere with a good line.
There were no flights into literary aesthetics, but some vituperative
complaints about editors and publishers. Cheever reports on a New Year's party
of "about a hundred guests, . . . most of them about a hundred years old and
they stand around looking like old Christmas trees that have lost their needles
but not their ornaments." Mr. Weaver reports on hospital food "catered by an
outfit that manages to make French toast out of shirt backings." They were, in
short, having straightforward, unpretentious fun with their letters, which
truly offer glad tidings to the reader.
photography by Dan Guravich, text by Downs Matthews.
Chronicle Books, $27.50.
Both photographer and writer have long acquaintance with polar bears and
succeed very well in conveying their admiration for these clever and beautiful
animals. Mr. Matthews also reveals that a television documentary some years ago
that showed a polar bear attempting to attack a cameraman protected by a steel
cage was a fraud. The bear had taken no interest in the man until the cage was
smeared with sardines, which were what he was looking for when he upset it.
Should there be regulations requiring truth in nature photography?
The Ghost of the Executed Engineer
by Loren R. Graham.
The author is a professor of the history of science at MIT. His subject in this
work is "Technology and the Fall of the Soviet Union," a discussion deriving
from the career of Peter Palchinsky, an engineer whose ideas got him exiled by
the czarist regime and executed by Stalin. It was something of a feat to have
offended those disparate tyrannies. Palchinsky did it by maintaining that the
single most important factor in engineering decisions . . . was human beings.
Successful industrialization and high productivity were not possible . . .
without highly trained workers and adequate provision for their social and
economic needs. An investment in education promoted industrialization more than
an equivalent investment in technical equipment, since an uneducated or unhappy
worker would soon make the equipment useless. Palchinsky also advocated careful
consideration of terrain, ecological effects, and future conditions of
transport before any installation was sited. The Soviet hierarchy's childish
demand for the immediate creation of the world's largest steel mill, longest
railroad, and greatest number of atomic power plants ignored Palchinsky's
principles, produced impractical and dangerous facilities, and contributed
mightily, in Professor Graham's opinion, to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It is an interesting argument and, while not presented overtly as a warning to
technologically minded societies, certainly implies a need for caution.
Fishing by Mail
by Vance Bourjaily and Philip Bourjaily.
The Bourjailys conducted "The Outdoor Life of a Father and Son" by letter, a
correspondence touched off by a request that Philip, who writes for various
sporting journals, contribute to an attempt "to provide insights into the
character of the angler in today's society . . . what his act of fishing means
to him--and what he thinks it means to the society in which he lives." Never
having given a thought to that question, Philip was considerably taken aback.
He consulted his father, who confessed to "a gentle stew of bemusement." The
letters, however, continued, and developed into an exchange of fishing and
hunting reminiscences that will surely delight honorable anglers and gunners.
The Bourjailys are not trophy chasers. They are prone to broken hooks and
missed shots, wretched weather, useless gillies, bottomless mudholes, and big
ones that get away. They are also very good writers.
The Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite
by Robert D. Kaplan.
The Free Press, $24.95.
This book grew out of the August, 1992, Atlantic cover story, "Tales From the
Copyright © (1993) by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights
The Atlantic Monthly; November 1993; Volume 272, No. 5;