One Writer Leads to Another
OCCASIONALLY we read a book that takes us past the commonplace perceptions of the world into a new domain with a very special perspective. This is true of Le Grand Meaulnes, a novel by the French writer Alain-Fournier (available in translation as The Wanderer from NAL Books at $4.50). My attention was first drawn to this book by the foreword of John Fowles's revised version of his masterful novel, The Magus, in which he describes how he tried to bring into his own novel the strange capacity of Le Grand Meaulnes to "provide an experience beyond the literary."
The novel concerns an adolescent boy's search for a girl whom he met under unusual circumstances, fell in love with and lost. He wants not only to find her but to recreate the luminous experience of entering her world, into which the reader, too, has been drawn by the evocative quality of Alain-Fournier's writing. Le Grand Meaulnes was his only novel. He was presumed killed at St. Remy during World War I on Sept. 22, 1914; his body was never found. JAMES A. SCOTT Lexington, Mass. A Masterly Antidote WALLACE STEGNER has long been one of my favorite authors, but it had been several years since I read one of his works. Recently, depressed after reading two "Current Best-Sellers," I scanned the shelves of our public library for some Stegner as an antidote. I had planned to reread some favorites but selected Joe Hill, his biography of the labor hero, which somehow I had missed.
How satisfying it is to read a lucid work that is still timely 40 years after its original publication. The fact that Stegner and I are contemporaries adds to my enjoyment. I am recommending Joe Hill to my children and grandchildren because it can give them a feel for the American labor movement -- and let them know how well Wallace Stegner writes. (The book is available in paperback from Bison Books at $11.95.) BETH H. HOPPER Lincoln, Calif. Russia the Way It Was I AM enthusiastically recommending The Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia,by Suzanne Massie (available in paperback from Touchstone/Simon & Schuster at $17.95). My interest in the book was heightened by the recent visit of Raisa and Mikhail Gorbachev to Minneapolis.
The author's vivid descriptions of the life and times of Old Russia take the reader into a world that no longer exists outside her book. For example, she includes a quote by French visitor Theophile Gautier describing a court ball. As Czar Alexander II entered the gallery where supper was to be eaten, "five thousand candles . . . simultaneously burst into flame brilliantly illuminating the room." After the supper, the waltzes began and lasted until 1:30 a.m.
One of the singular contributions of this book is the dispelling of stereotypes. The author gives a perspective on Old Russia and the Russians that few of us have. GENEVIEVE DAMKROGER Minneapolis More on Old Russia TODAY, as the world watches what may become of the fragmentation of the Russian Empire, it is time to point to an author who has told the story of the rise of that empire. Harold Lamb, in The March of Muscovy, draws the picture of "a town on a river and not a very notable town at that" and tells how Moscow grew to be the heart of the Russian giant. Through the pages of this book ride the early fur traders, the explorer Cossacks, the Golden Horde of Genghis Khan and a Lithuanian princess who became the mother of Ivan the Terrible.
A onetime OSS officer stationed in the Middle East, Lamb was a scholar and linguist who researched intensively and wrote primarily about the earth shakers, men who changed the world: Alexander the Great, Cyrus the Great, Suleiman the Magnificent, Hannibal, Charlemagne. He presents a panorama of powerful men and women who were central figures on the stage of their day. Each book, though replete with colorful footnotes and an annotated bibligraphy revealing research in many languages, reflects Lamb's storytelling skills. He also wrote novels and books for children.
However, the books of Harold Lamb are not easy to find. Try libraries first. Your treasure-hunt will then lead you to second-hand bookstores. Each volume that you locate will be a source of delight and another key to the worlds of the earth shakers. MARJORIE LOMPERIS Winchester, Va. Tales of an Irish Master TWENTIETH-CENTURY Irish literature is best known for its poetry, novels, and drama. But the short story has always been a prominent Irish genre, too. All the major writers, including Yeats and Joyce, have published volumes of short stories. Another superb, but less well-known writer is Mary Lavin. The best introduction to her work is an anthology of Selected Stories, published by Penguin but now out of print.
This volume contains the title story from each of her books. Her stories take place mainly in rural or small-town Ireland, and they combine plot and character in equal proportions to show how character determines fate and fate in turn shapes character. In "The Shrine," an Irish version of the Jim Bakker phenomenon, the Canon's corruption -- his pursuit of material success -- is symbolized by the parish shrine. A sense of life's loneliness and irony permeates her work. "In the Middle Fields" reveals the essential loneliness of widowhood and shows how one woman finds the strength to endure it. "Lilacs" depicts the tragedies and triumph of a farm family with the focus on a dunghill, which is both a source of wealth and, in a particular way, beauty. In "Happiness," whose theme is coping with death, the narrator says, "Mother had a lot to say . . . Her theme was happiness, what it was, what it was not. Never must we confound it with pleasure. Nor think sorrow its opposite." Mary Lavin's stories give the reader this kind of happiness. NANCY and WILLIAM MARTIN Baltimore
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