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Books
Brief Reviews
by Phoebe-Lou Adams


A Fez of the Heart

by Jeremy Seal.
Harcourt Brace, 352 pages, $14.00.
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A Fez of the Heart

Mr. Seal, who has worked in Turkey and speaks the language, made a winter circuit through nontourist areas of the country and surely knew what to expect. His complaints about cold, snow, and mud, winds outside and drafts inside, consequently arouse more impatience than pity. When he is not lamenting the weather, Mr. Seal collects engaging and valuable information about, of all things, headgear--which has meant a great deal to Turks in the past and still does. The turban was banned in 1826 by a sultan ambitious to push his country into the nineteenth century. Its official successor, the fez, was banned in 1925 by Kemal Atatürk, for similarly progressive reasons. A poorly made apology for the fez may now be worn by tourists, but a fez-wearing Turk risks arrest. In hunting for a good fez or a surviving fez maker (he found one: an Armenian), Mr. Seal gathered ambivalent Turkish opinions about the West--resentful suspicion on the one hand, moderate emulation on the other--along with much uncertainty about what the true character of the Turkish nation is or should be. In its combination of history, current attitudes, and sometimes comic misadventure, this hunt for a hat is intelligent travel writing about a trip that does not arouse any impulse toward emulation.



The Vinland Map
and the Tartar Relation

by R. A. Skelton, Thomas E. Marston,
and George D. Painter.
Yale, 291 pages, $45.00.
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The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation

The Vinland Map (and the attached diplomatic report), dated circa 1440, was first published in 1965, as the earliest European depiction of any part of the Americas. It was hailed with joy by many historians and denounced as a forgery by others, including Samuel Eliot Morison. After chemical tests of the ink the map was indeed identified as a forgery. Yale, undeterred, arranged further tests and has now reissued the 1965 book with additional material by Wilcomb E. Washburn, Thomas A. Cahill and Bruce H. Kusko, and Laurence C. Witten II. Mr. Cahill and Mr. Kusko, who supervised the recent tests of the map, report that their examination proves that the earlier tests were inadequate and that the ink may be of fifteenth-century origin. They "do not claim therefore that the map is authentic." The late Laurence Witten, the book dealer who originally procured the map, describes its acquisition and incidentally gives an intimidating account of the hazards of the trade. The cartographic study by the late R. A. Skelton, the superintendent of the Map Room of the British Museum, in which the author did his best to evade the visual evidence on which Admiral Morison based his charge of forgery, appears in its original form, but the evidence is still there. The authentic medieval maps here illustrated for comparison with the Vinland version have something in common: they all require a viewer accustomed to modern maps to make serious revisions of focus and approach in order to understand what is represented. This is not true of the Vinland Map. Asia and Africa are easily readable, and the North Atlantic, despite the presence of two imaginary islands (a cartographic fashion of the fifteenth century), is instantly familiar territory, Greenland being depicted in terms suspiciously close to those of a modern atlas. Greenland is the camel. Skelton resorted to a series of unsupported suppositions in the attempt to worry the animal down to swallowable size, but it remains a very large camel. Anyone who expects this handsome new edition to authenticate the Vinland Map as a pre-Columbian creation will be disappointed.



Confessions of an
Igloo Dweller

by James Houston.
Houghton Mifflin/Peter Davison,
320 pages, $24.95.
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Confessions of an
Igloo Dweller

Flying free in return for pumping gas and hauling lines, Mr. Houston first reached Arctic Canada in 1948, armed with a little baggage and a sketchbook. He fell in love with the country and the friendly, kindly, generous Inuit, and by one means or another managed to stay until 1962. An artist himself (and a good one, as his illustrations prove), he also fell in love with Inuit art and worked to introduce it to connoisseurs worldwide. This campaign was of great financial benefit to the Inuit, and Mr. Houston's account of his experiences with dog teams, igloos, walrus hunts, near disasters, and unexpected absurdities is sure to benefit any reader with a taste for operations in the last days of a now-vanished frontier.



The Tennis Party

by Madeleine Wickham.
St. Martin's/Thomas Dunne,
240 pages, $22.95.
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The Tennis Party

The point of the party is not tennis but money and the resulting nuances of English social position. Ms. Wickham has a shrewdly malicious touch with her characters, among them a memorably awful foot-in-the-mouth young woman, and keeps a deft balance between black and drawing-room comedy.



"Exterminate
All the Brutes!"

by Sven Lindqvist, translated by Joan Tate.
The New Press, 192 pages, $20.00.
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"Exterminate
All the Brutes!"

The author presents the casual murder of native peoples by European colonial powers as a logical prelude to and eventual cause of the Nazi murder of Jews. It is a reasonable argument but hardly surprising. Genocide goes back to--and beyond--Genghis Khan.



Kraven Images

by by Alan Isler.
Bridge Works, 264 pages, $21.95.

Mr. Isler's novel is part academic satire on a thesis on "Displaced Eroticism in the Fiction of Early Nineteenth-Century Women Writers" and similar enterprises, part sexual burlesque, and part a gallery of grotesques, all these elements ultimately converging in an Oedipal swamp. None of it is as amusing as the author seemingly intended it to be.



Real Fast Food

by Nigel Slater.
Overlook Press, 320 pages,
$23.95.

Mr. Slater is described as a popular and influential cookery writer in Britain. He proves to be something of a throwback to a more ample age, when it was thought that anything but a dill pickle was the better for a scoop of butter and a slosh of cream. He is opinionated ("I am as suspicious of a tidy kitchen as I am of a tidy desk") and a purveyor of odd information (frozen fish sticks "were originally marketed in Britain as 'crispy cod-pieces'"), and in general an enlivening companion. If mere reading can be trusted, he is a good cook.



William Bartram:
Travels and Other Writings

with notes by Thomas P. Slaughter.
The Library of America,
749 pages, $37.50.
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William Bartram:
Travels and Other Writings

Bartram (1739­1823) was a son of the great John Bartram, revered as "the father of American botany." William was also a botanist, and an explorer of the southeastern areas of what is now the United States. The writings collected here for the first time, with the author's excellent drawings, are fascinating, both for what Bartram saw and for what he thought about it. He reported sympathetically on Creek and Cherokee Indians, and he foresaw that increasing settlement would destroy the wilderness that he loved and skillfully described. He was subject to spasms of piety and fine writing in correct eighteenth-century style, but sound on practical matters such as weather (generally good) and roads (generally bad). His account of camping, alone, on what turned out to be a small peninsula with overactive "crocodiles" on the river banks and a couple of bear on the neck fairly raises a reader's hair. Bartram has been somewhat overshadowed by his father. He is worth knowing for his own sake.



Archyology

by Don Marquis.
University Press of New England,
104 pages, $14.95.
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Archyology

Some years ago Jeff Adams, a Marquis buff, turned up a trove of papers containing a number of works by archy the cockroach which had escaped inclusion in any Marquis anthology. Four appeared at the time in The Atlantic, but problems with illustrations have delayed book publication until the present. Now, happily for true archyphiles and admirers of subtle encroachment, here they all are, with witty drawings by Ed Frascino.


Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; May 1996; Volume 277, No. 5; pages 120-122.

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