BY PHOEBE ADAMS

CHINUA ACHEBE of Nigeria has written two subtle, melancholy novels on the destruction of the old tribal and village life of Africa. His latest book, A MAN OF THE PEOPLE (John Day, $3.95), is quite different. It describes modern politics in a discreetly nameless new African country, and it is all blunt roughhouse and fierce slapstick. The wit cuts like an ax, pidgin English is used mercilessly for satirical effect, the characters are almost entirely fools, or rascals, or both. A Man of the People is a very funny book, but it is gallows comedy masking despair and disgust. “You died a good death,” the author concludes, “if your life had inspired someone to come forward and shoot your murderer in the chest — without asking to be paid.”
THE LAST JEMIN AMERICA (Stein and Day, $4.95) contains three interlocking stories by LESLIE A. FIEDLER. Lewis and Clark City is the source, if not actually the setting, of all of them, and its inspired name characterizes the place perfectly. Mr. Fiedler’s central characters are an old Jew obsessed by the withering of Hebraic tradition, a poet (The Last WASP in the World) who has substituted sexual excitement for both brains and talent, and a Negro nightclub owner (The First Spade in the West) warily making his way toward bourgeois respectability. Mr. Fiedler’s attitude toward the racial tensions involved is tartly unfashionable, amounting to a plague on all your houses, but there is much more than mere insouciance in these tales.
In THE OTHER VICTORIANS (Basic Books, $5.95), STEVEN MARCUS, associate professor of English at Columbia University, discusses some aspects of pornography in the nineteenth century. Discusses is, I think, the proper term. Mr. Marcus quotes at length, examines the evidence, and proposes various interesting hypotheses concerning the relationship between pornography and social reform or scientific advance. He comes to no comprehensive conclusion beyond the fairly foreseeable observation that pornography consists essentially of monotonous fantasies with strongly childish characteristics. Mr. Marcus also predicts that the stuff will eventually disappear, having reached its peak of usefulness in the late nineteenth century when the “view of human sexuality as it was represented in the subculture of pornography and the view of sexuality held by the official culture were reversals, mirror images, negative analogues of one another.”
There seems to be some distant connection between the prospective decease of pornography and the appearance of BARBARELLA (Grove, $5.95). Barbarella is an intergalactic Miss Fixit invented in comic strip form by the French artist JEANCLAUDE FOREST. Aside from amusingly lively, attenuated drawing, the strip offers the indestructible Barbarella, an affectionate chick whose clothes fall off in every crisis and whose adventures, clothed or not, are ineffably preposterous but never quite as uninhibited as the preliminaries lead the reader (viewer?) to expect. The thing is, in fact, a successful pseudo-naughty, pseudoerotic, pseudo-science-fiction spoof. Its hilariously disjointed action is partly deliberate, partly a necessary concession to the kind of vocabulary involved. “Switch off the reactors and stabilize the rockets by using the anti-gravity device” is rather more of a problem than “To horse!”, and something has to give.

In STALKING THE HEALTIIFUL HERBS (McKay, $6.95), EUELL GIBBONS describes the properties and uses of various wild plants. He has had the assistance of the food and nutrition department of Penn State University on the question of vitamins and such, but the charm of the book, like that of Mr. Gibbons’ previous works, is the odd information turned up and the author’s optimistic persistence in seeking a use for the most unlikely flora. Only Mr. Gibbons would attack skunk cabbage, much less battle that mephitic vegetable to a draw, or confess that his orange-lemon-bearberry jam was pronounced very good — probably better without the bearberries. He also reveals that the languid Victorian maiden nibbling on candied violet petals was actually stuffing herself with vitamins A and C. Altogether a most engaging book, the better for Mr. Gibbons’ insistence that home-brewed potions are no substitute for the doctor.