FICTION

Wife , by Baharati Mukherjee (Penguin, $6.95). The chilling story of Dimples Dasgupta, an Indian woman who marries an engineer in Calcutta and then emigrates to the United States with her husband. Merely adjusting to married life is difficult, but once in New York (where her husband wants to work hard and save as much as possible) Dimples begins to despair. Her husband's answer to her complaints is that she must "go out, make friends, do something constructive, not stay at home and think about Calcutta." But Dimples is unable to make connections with others, and is driven to an act of violence that shows how lost she has become.

The Lost Language of Cranes , by David Leavitt (Bantam. $8.95). A few years ago, while he was in his early twenties, David Leavitt published stories on gay themes in The New Yorker, then collected these and others in a highly-praised collection called Family Dancing. The Lost Language of Cranes, his first novel, confirms the talent shown in his shorter works. It is the story of two men, one homosexual and the other gay (the difference turns on whether one accepts his difference or not), the former the father of the latter.

To the Land of the Cattails , by Aharon Appelfeld (Perennial, $6.95). Once again Aharon Appelfeld has written a short, intense novel about how the shadow of Naziism fell across Eastern Europe in the years just before World War II, and about how certain Jews failed to understand what was taking place until it was too late. In this instance, his subject is a Jewish woman who sets forth with her teen-aged son on a journey to the country where she was born -- a journey that ultimately confronts both mother and son with Europe's incomprehensibly terrible new reality. As usual, Appelfeld's laconic, understated prose manages to intensify the urgency of his subject.

NONFICTION

Make Way: 200 Years of American Women in Cartoons , by Monika Frazen and Nancy Ethiel (Chicago Review, 814 N. Franklin St., Chicago, IL 60610; $9.95). A collection of cartoons, with commentary, dating from 1581 to the present, that shows how women have been depicted in American history. Included are images of women as warriors, cartoons about the struggle for equal rights, male fears about equality, and images of women as reformers and preservers of civilization. In one cartoon from 1910, a haughty female desk clerk informs a man that he is not allowed in unless accompanied by a woman. On the page opposite, Uncle Sam sits holding a crying baby, while his wife draws on her gloves, obviously on her way out. The caption reads, "The Declaration of Independence, 1909." Each chapter begins with a discussion by authors Monika Frazen and Nancy Ethiel.

Fidel: A Critical Portrait , by Tad Szulc (Avon, $5.95). Early in his biography of Fidel Castro Ruz, journalist Tad Szulc puts his finger on the secret of the Cuban leader's extraordinary popular appeal: the "revolution might not have succeeded without the medium of television . . . . From the first day, in fact, Castro has governed through television, the first such massive use of this technology in the craft of government." This is the authoritative life of the bearded, fatigue-clad leader, based on extensive interviews. Every page is riveting. Szulc is no hero-worshipper, either: "Fidel's consuming desire to achieve the greatest historical stature for himself has led him to neglect his people's desperate desire for a higher standard of living."

The United States Navy: A 200-Year History , by Edward L. Beach (Houghton Mifflin, $12.95). The author is Old Navy (he wrote Run Silent, Run Deep) and his father was Old Navy (he fought at the Battle of Manila Bay and commanded a battleship in European waters during World War I), so fully half of the colorful history he relates -- that is to say, a century -- is informed by detailed personal knowledge. He is especially good on the engagement between the first ironclads and on the fetishes of gunnery practice between the world wars.

An American Island in Hitler's Reich: The Bad Nauheim Internment , by Charles B. Burdick (Markgraf, P.O. Box 936, Menlo Park, CA, $18.95). Four days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Hitler declared war on the United States. With hostilities imminent, the staff of the American Embassy in Berlin (the last American diplomatic post in Germany) began to prepare for the evacuation of American diplomats and journalists. Following internment in Berlin, 114 Americans were taken by train to Bad Nauheim, where they remained in a hotel until May 1942 and their repatriation via Lisbon. This is their story. Though their experience was not as harrowing as that of American prisoners of war, it was not without stress. One American defected and later became a Nazi radio spokesman. The others endured their confinement, beginning a "university," baseball team and newspaper to divert and sustain themselves.

Born to Rebel: An Autobiography , by Benjamin E. Mays, foreword by Orville Vernon Burton (University of Georgia, $14.95). Benjamin Mays was born in 1894, the son of a South Carolina sharecropper. When he died, in 1984, he had studied at Bates College and the University of Chicago, been dean of religion at Howard University and president of Morehouse College. One of his earliest memories was of a lynching party that had threatened his father. As a student at the University of Chicago, in his travels throughout the United States, he himself did not escape the cruelties of segregation. But Mays did not become embittered: In 1926, he said, "I cannot and I would not apologize for being a Negro. We have a great history; we have a greater future . . . we have a rendezvous with America." He lived, of course, to see the fruits of the efforts of his generation and the beginning of the fruition of his dream that every man be judged for what he is.

The Modern Man's Guide to Life , by Denis Boyles, Alan Rose and Alan Wellikoff (Harper Perennial, $12.95). The authors of of this book also include "a bunch of other guys," tribute to more than 500 men whose ideas on life, love and just about everything else are included in this book. Between these covers is everything you wish your father had taught you, but never did, unless his skills included flying a plane, fixing a car, delivering a baby, getting out of jail and bribing recalcitrant officials. If you're looking for information on more mundane activities, this book has it too, information on how to pack a suitcase, end a relationship, buy a house and much, much more.

Pat Nixon: The Untold Story , by Julie Nixon Eisenhower (Zebra/Kensington, $4.50). She was born Thelma Ryan in a miner's shack in Nevada, and she rose in life to be the nation's first lady. At no time was the ascent an easy one, but in this affectionate and loving account by her daughter the private person is revealed as a strong and often gallant lady.

Turn: The Journal of an Artist , by Anne Truitt (Penguin, $6.95). In this continuation of an earlier journal, Daybook, a sensitive observer of life's journey records her impressions. Among the events confronted are her children's entrance into adulthood, the birth of grandchildren, important changes in the direction of her sculpture and painting, a trip to Paris, a litigation over equal pay and, not least, her coming to terms with old age.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Women: Women Photographers for the U.S. Government, 1935 to 1944 , by Andrea Fisher (Pandora, $16.95). If you love photography, this outstanding portfolio is well worth the purchase price. It records the work of eight women photographers who documented American life for the Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information from 1935 to 1944, a period that encompassed the end of the Depression and the beginning of global war. The most famous were Dorothea Lange and Marion Post Wolcott but all the women represented here clearly are of outstanding talent.