The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

I haven’t the slightest idea

Memoirs of an egotist (Hesperus, £ 6.99) by Stendhal starts with a series of lightly self-indulgent questions: “What kind of a man am I' Do I have common sense, do I have common sense and profundity too' Am I remarkably witty' Truth to tell, I haven’t the slightest idea.” This delightful blankness leads Stendhal to “examine my conscience with pen in hand”, and put down a random memoir of his life in Paris from 1821 to 1830. The result is a Byronic/Napoleonic jaunt, also reminiscent of Sterne and Diderot, ending in a vision of the egotist’s gravestone — “a marble slab in the shape of a playing card — with the following inscription: ”The only things I have passionately loved in my life are: Cimarosa, Mozart and Shakespeare.”

Middle East illusions: peace, security and terror (Penguin, Rs 295) by Noam Chomsky collects the writings of this linguist and philosopher, from the late Sixties to the present, on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the crucial American role as it has evolved in the past 35years. A critique of the definitions of terror, and the links between these definitions and international policy remain the fundamental concerns of these writings. The book ends with “After 9/11: The ‘War on Terror’ Redeclared”.

I speak for the devil (Penguin, Rs 195) by Imtiaz Dharker is a slim volume of poems drawing on the writer’s political, cultural and sexual experience spanning Pakistan, Britain and India. The content of her poetry is personally and politically important, though familiar and often predictable. Injustice — in this case, done mostly to a woman’s body — engenders powerful sentiments, but it does not always produce excellent poetry. “It’s time to face up to this./ The century was a bitch./ Thank god it’s dead and gone/ with its tail/ between its legs/ under a plastic tombstone.” There are reasonably good, but cliched, drawings by the poet.

The Harpercollins Travel Guides: Himachal; Ladakh; Kumaon & Garhwal (HarperCollins, Rs 195 each) are handy little books, each of which presents “an Indian state decoded and demystified for the traveller, complete with directions et al and in as few words as possible”. While each trail is customized for those who prefer to drive, it also provides information about train, bus and air connections. There are enticing photographs and a wealth of essential updated information regarding accommodation (lots of phone numbers). An excellent series.

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