THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY (Atlantic-Little, Brown, $3.75) by SHEILA BURNFORD seems likely to become a classic in its field, that of the unsentimental animal story. The animals in question here are a Siamese cat, a dutiful young retriever, and a clownish old scalawag of a bull terrier, The three set out on a two-hundred-mile trek across a moderately wild stretch of Canada, and their adventures with bears, porcupines, flood, hunger, and strange people are described without a single superfluous word and with no fanciful excursions into their minds. Anyone who has ever been well acquainted with dogs and cats will be delighted by the book, although the unenlightened may find the affair a bit surprising.
If some public-spirited person proposes to bestow a booby prize for the most unnecessary book in the library of volumes being published about the late unpleasantness, he will do well to consider the CENTENNIAL ALBUM OF THE CIVIL WAR (Thomas Yoseloff, $25.00) by MARVIN H. PAKULA in collaboration with William J. Ryan and David K. Rothstein. This monstrous tome consists of eighteen poorly printed color plates on uniforms and insignia plus a sort of Who’s Who of generals. The information given about these gentlemen is nothing but what can be found, better written and more lucidly presented, in any biographical encyclopedia, and why the authors found it necessary to attach two pages of bibliography to their work is a mystery. The section on John Hunt Morgan leaves the number and nature of his campaigns in hopeless confusion. William Tecumseh Sherman is reported to have died in 1896, although the New York Times described his last illness and death in great detail, on the front page, in 1891. The portraits of the generals are extremely large and, since they are in most cases blown up from old photographs, extremely foggy.
MARCEL BRION’S POMPEH AND HERCULANEUM (Crown, $10.00) undertakes to describe the ruins of the two cities, the methods employed in unearthing them, and the people who lived there before Vesuvius engulfed them. As a historical novelist and archaeological buff, Mr. Brion is well equipped for his task and has turned out a fascinating, amusing, unusual book, with admirable illustrations.
THE MARQUISE OF o-(Criterion, $5.00) is something of an oddity, a collection of stories by HEINRICH VON KLEIST, an eccentric and malcontent contemporary of Goethe. Something of a romantic, something of a Gothicist, Kleist constructed fantastic moral fables about justice, truth, religion, and love, bedecking these tales with all the gaudy trappings of The Castle of Otranto. He is remotely kin to Walter Scott on one hand and to Poe on the other, and Martin Greenberg, the translator, emphasizes his influence on Kafka. Possibly it is the Kafka connection that has inspired the publication of Kleist in English, but the man is worth reading for himself. As Thomas Mann points out in a preface to The Marquise of O-, there is nobody quite like Kleist.
DAPHNE ROOKE’S A LOVER FOR ESTELLE (Houghton Mifflin, $3.50) is a clever piece of literary sleight of hand. The plot, when you get down to brass tacks, is a hackneyed affair about the dire influence of a worldly and depraved British couple on their simple Boer neighbors, but elegant writing and the exotic Zululand setting very nearly succeed in obscuring this fact.
The latest book by LAWRENCE DURRELL is actually two travel books lumped together: PROSPEROUS CELL and REFLECTIONS ON A MARINE VENUS (Dutton, $5.00). The former is about life on Corfu, the latter about life on Rhodes, and World War II falls between them, yet the two are much alike, for it takes more than time and a war to alter either Greek islanders or Mr. Durrell. In each case, the impression created by Mr. Durrell’s enthusiastic and sympathetic description is of a static world in which a mad variety of fascinating activities take place without disturbing the framework of things in the least. Perhaps this condition is true, to some extent, of all societies, but on these islands a clever reporter can observe — in fact, can surround — the whole process, and is moreover provided with superb human and scenic specimens with which to illustrate it.
Flatly rejecting the modern convention of detailed, confessional autobiography, FRANCOIS MAURIAC has written in MÉMOIRES INTÉRIEURS (Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, $4.75) a compressed history of his ideas about literature, religion, and society. Although the book is in some respects impersonal and oblique, it is also lyrical, candid, and not above bits of gossip. It is wise and moving, but it is unmistakably an old man’s book, sad, remote, full of ghosts and regrets. It ends with what is, from a respected novelist and Nobel Prize winner, an astonishing speculation. Mr. Mauriac, who doubts that he will ever write another novel, nevertheless describes the unwritten novel which is floating in the back of his mind, a terrifying book which would become much less terrifying if he did write it, for he is certain that his proposed hero would, in practice, be reduced to a comfortably minor character. “It may be,” he concludes, “that each of the novels I have published has concealed another which would have been my real book, the book which will never be written.”
ANCIENT EGYPT (New York Graphic Society, $6.95) by CHRISTIANE DESROCHES NOHLECOURT and CLASSICAL GREECE (New York Graphic Society, $6.95) by NICHOLAS YALOURIS, both illustrated with the photographs of F. L. Kenett, are the first two volumes in the Acanthus Plistory of Sculpture, edited by Sir Herbert Read and H. D. Molesworth. They are primarily picture books and very handsome, but the ground they cover is more limited than their titles indicate. (The subtitles are precisely accurate.) Classical Greece is devoted entirely to the Parthenon. Ancient Egypt covers merely that brief period of the New Kingdom during which Akhnaton’s heresy produced an obvious alteration in the manner and the matter of Egyptian art. The text of Ancient Egypt, which covers standard Egyptian theology and the Pharaoh’s deviations from it, is exceptionally interesting, and both books are, within their limitations, satisfactory.
THE WORLD OF ZEN (Random House, $10.00) is an anthology of writings from and about Zen Buddhism, edited by Nancy Wilson Ross, and it is an extremely useful book for anyone interested in this subject and overawed by the plethora of contradictory authorities in print.