FICTION Palace Walk, by Naguib Mahfouz (Anchor/Doubleday, $9.95). Palace Walk is the name of a street near the great mosque of Hossein in Cairo; it is also the first volume of the author's "Cairo Trilogy," which follows the fortunes of an Egyptian family from 1910 until the end of World War II (the second volume, Palace of Desire, was reviewed in these pages on Jan. 6). Published in Arabic in the 1950s, the trilogy is only now coming into English, after Mahfouz won the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature. Palace Walk provides Westerners with an introduction to traditional Moslem urban culture, a society where wives rarely leave their homes, where husbands almost never leave the neighborhood of their births and where family honor is everything. Against this richly textured family life, the rise of Egyptian nationalism is charted.
The Government Inspector and Other Russian Plays, translated from the Russian by Joshua Cooper (Penguin, $8.95); The Golden Age of Soviet Theatre, edited by Michael Glenny (Penguin, $7.95). Russian literature is best known for its fiction and poetry, but there is also a superb dramatic tradition -- much of it satirical -- extending from the 18th century to the present. Cooper's volume covers older plays, the best known being Gogol's comic masterpiece about a fake government inspector and the havoc he wreaks on a provincial town; it also includes work by Ostrovsky and Fonvizin. Glenny's omnibus reprints Mayakovsky's satirical The Bedbug, about a man exhibited in a cage, as well as Isaac Babel's Marya and Yevgeny Schwartz's The Dragon.
Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers, by Joseph T. Glatthaar (NAL Meridian, $12.95). Though neither side advocated recruiting of blacks at the beginning of the Civil War, the North soon began to seek black soldiers. About 180,000 black soldiers, commanded by 7,000 white officers, served on the Union side in the war. Here, Joseph T. Glatthaar, an associate professor of history at the University of Houston, examines the relationship between the soldiers and the men who commanded them. It was a relationship that began in contradiction, Glatthaar notes -- though many white officers were against slavery, almost all considered the war a white man's war, and few believed in equality for blacks.
Disappearing Through the Skylight: Culture and Technology in the Twentieth Century, by O.B. Hardison Jr. (Penguin, $12.95). Hardison, a former director of the Folger Library and a beloved Washington figure, died last August soon after this book became a bestseller. Originally a specialist in medieval drama, Hardison made himself into a remarkable polymath, at home with fractals, modern art, the French writers and mathematicians known as the Oulipo, Renaissance science, artificial reality and much else. This wide-ranging book, reminiscent of work by Martin Gardner or Douglas Hofstadter, is organized around the "disappearance of nature" but may be read as a series of loosely connected essays about some of the fascinating byways, deadends and new horizons of science and literature.
Jefferson and Monticello: The Biography of a Builder, by Jack McLaughlin (Holt, $14.95). Universally acclaimed as one of the most brilliant and multi-faceted men in American history, Thomas Jefferson has been studied from many angles: as political philosopher, statesman, architect, educator and much else. This book, however, looks at Jefferson as a builder, rather than merely a designer (which he also was), and at the ways his infinitely interesting house on a little hill reflected his complex personality: In Monticello Jefferson left for posterity, MacLaughlin claims, "a detailed portrait of himself in timber, brick, plaster, and paint." Along the way, this study of the house-as-portrait also becomes a revealing record of domestic life and economy in colonial Virginia.
Red Victory: A History of the Russian Civil War, by W. Bruce Lincoln (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, $14.95). For three years, from 1918 to 1921, Lenin's Bolshevik regime held off Germans, Poles, counterrevolutionaries, monarchists, military contingents from Britain, France, Japan and the United States in a brutal, bloody series of struggles that permanently affected the character of the Soviet regime. But the price of survival was the adoption of state terrorism -- a consequence that bedevils Gorbachev's regime today. This history of a civil war that killed millions is the last word on the subject.
The Journalist and the Murderer, by Janet Malcolm (Vintage, $10.95). One of the distinct pleasures of reading the New Yorker magazine is the authoritative tone affected by so many of its writers as a secular version of holy writ. Janet Malcolm's opening for this meditation on the fractured relationship between journalist Joe McGinniss and convicted murderer Jeffrey MacDonald captures that tone precisely: "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible." One subject of Malcolm's own reporting obviously takes her at face value: Jeffrey Masson, whose pending libel suit against her figures in Malcolm's book-length gloss on that startling first sentence.