Stars of the New Curfew, by Ben Okri (Penguin, $7.95). Set in the chaos of Lagos, these stories by the Nigerian writer illuminate the contradictions of modern Africa at the same time that they ask how much of a future is possible, given the realities of past colonialization and present corruption. In one story, a man imagines that the world is filled with demons whose work is digging potholes in the streets of the city. In another, a man with two degrees is a watchman who explains that "I close my eyes to all the things that are going on. But do I complain?" And, in a third, a man finds himself lost in the forest and unable to escape, except by running backward. Silk Road, by Jeanne Larsen (Fawcett, $9.95) This novel is a fantastic voyage through ancient China that begins with the kidnapping of Greenpearl, a 7-year-old girl who is sold as a slave. On one level hers is a story of ordinary life in its period, but at the same time Greenpearl's quest to return to her mother is magical and richly detailed, filled with gods and goddesses whose pleasure it is to interfere with the lives of men and women. Before Greenpearl can free herself, she must live several lives and take off and put on the identities of singer, courtesan and woman warrior.
Journey Toward Freedom: The Story of Sojourner Truth, by Jacqueline Berard (The Feminist Press, $10.95). Born a slave, Sojourner Truth gained her freedom after 30 years and became an itinerant preacher. She changed her name -- she had been born Isabella Bomefree -- and began to speak out against slavery and in favor of women's rights. Before and during the Civil War she traveled in the Midwest, working for abolition. After the war, she petitioned Congress for jobs and land for blacks. This edition of Journey Toward Freedom includes an introduction by historian Nell Irvin Painter.
Kaffir Boy in America: An Encounter with Apartheid, by Mark Mathabane (Collier, $8.95). The sequel to Mark Mathabane's Kaffir Boy tells how the author left South Africa to come to the United States. It is the story of his struggles to become a writer, his brush with fame following the publication of his first book, and his reunion with his family. It also contains Mathabane's reflections on the United States, sometimes critical of the country's foreign policies and its social injustice, often praising its human freedoms.
Ely: An Autobiography, by Ely Green (University of Georgia Press, $14.95). Ely Green was born in Sewanee, Tenn., in 1893, the son of a member of the white aristocracy and a former slave. His godfather was the Episcopal bishop. Fairskinned, Green struggled with the peculiar circumstances of his life -- he was neither black nor white. This is the story of his life in Sewanee, from his childhood to age 18, when, threatened by a lynch mob, he left Tennessee for Texas and a new life.
The Noose of Laurels: Robert E. Peary and the Race for the North Pole, by Wally Herbert (Anchor, $12.95). How pleasant in the midst of geopolitical crises to lose oneself in the working out of a geographical one. The question is whether Robert Peary (pronounced PEER-y) was actually, as advertised, the first man to reach the North Pole. Wally Herbert, himself a polar explorer, herein makes the strongest case yet in the negative. He believes that Peary faked his claim but that, in any event, his navigational readings were so hopelessly off that he couldn't have reached the magical spot even had he been utterly scrupulous. Since this book's hardcover publication, the National Geographic Society, which sponsored Peary at the time, has weighed in with an impressive vindication of his achievement.
The Winter Beach, by Charlton Ogburn, Jr. (Quill, $12.95). Charlton Ogburn, Jr., wears two hats. One, his detractors would say, is a fool's cap: He is one of the foremost proponents of the opinion that Shakespeare was not Shakespeare (i.e., that the under-educated bloke from Stratford-on-Avon could not possibly have been the same globally learned sage who wrote the plays). The other is a battered old sunhat -- the cover of one of the East's finest nature writers. His book on the Southern Appalachians should be in the library of every hiker of the Blue Ridge, and this volume has great appeal for those beachgoers savvy enough to avoid the high season's crowds anywhere between Mount Desert Island in Maine and the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
The Beatles Day by Day: A Chronology 1962-1989, by Mark Lewishon (Harmony, $9.95). This is the kind of book hardcore Beatles fans have been waiting for. While it doesn't always tell you what the Beatles -- John, George, Paul and Ringo -- were doing in their private moments, it does tell you what they were doing professionally. The first entry is Oct. 1, 1962, when Brian Epstein signs the Beatles to a five-year contract. The last is Dec. 19, 1989, when Paul is feted by the Performing Right Society in London. In between there are dates like Feb. 19, 1964, when half a ton of Beatles wigs are flown to the United States, and Oct. 26, 1966, when George meets Ravi Shankar at the London Airport. Shankar is wearing western clothes, George Indian attire.
Callaloo, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 701 W. 40th St, Suite 725, Baltimore, Md. 21211, $20 a year). Interviewed in this issue of Callaloo, a quarterly devoted to black writing from the U.S. and throughout the world, are the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe and John Edgar Wideman. This issue also features fiction from Wideman and from Paule Marshall, as well as poetry and an essay from Achebe, literary criticism, book reviews and more.
The Review of Contemporary Fiction: John Barth/David Markson Number (1817 North 79th Ave., Elmwood Park, Ill. 60635, $8). John Barth fans will grab this issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction just for the extract from his novel-in-progress, the echt-Barthian Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, which plays some familiar riffs with the Arabian Nights and self-reflective storytelling. Also included are a lecture by Barth and several essays on his work. Still, the real attraction here is David Markson, who relates his sweet and sour career as a writer, from hip paperback mysteries set in Greenwich Village through an academic study of Malcolm Lowry (whom he knew) to his much acclaimed Wittgenstein's Mistress. Complementing this interview are a couple of Markson stories, as well as essays on his work by guest editor Joseph Tabbi, Steven Moore, James McCourt, Leslie H. Whitten, David Foster Wallace, Thomas McGonigle and the late Seymour Krim, among others.