Paperback Pickings

From the edge of the upper circle

By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 1.07.05
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From the edge of the upper circle

the sunday philosophy club (Abacus, ? 2.50) by Alexander McCall Smith is a mutedly clever, philosophically knowing intelligent person?s detective novel set in modern, genteel Edinburgh, more Festival than Fringe. The detective is Isabel Dalhousie, and she edits the Review of Applied Ethics. She knows her Iris Murdoch (the moral philosopher rather than the novelist) and has certainly read Mary Midgeley?s Wickedness. When she sees a young man fall to his death in a concert hall ?from the the edge of the upper circle, from the gods...striking the edge of the grand circle? in order to ?disappear headfirst towards the stall below?, Isabel thinks first of Auden?s poem on Icarus, and then wonders if the man might have been given ?just a shove?. This is a quietly riveting novel, ultimately about compassion and forgiveness: ?Settling a life, she thought; laying the dead to rest; allowing time and self-forgiveness to start.? McCall Smith is professor of medical law at the University of Edinburgh and was born in Zimbabwe.

pakistan: an age of violence (Sampark, Rs 250) edited by Anita Dawood Nasar is a special issue of the Sampark Journal of Global Understanding that collects essays, stories, paintings and poems by some of the best known names from the Pakistani intelligentsia who have reflected on themes that concern contemporary Pakistan, particularly violence induced by the ?worship of one dollarised god?.

armies of hanuman: book four of the ramayana (Penguin, Rs 350) by Ashok K. Banker is the fourth in Banker?s modern retelling of Rama?s story, and takes on his journey to the kingdom of Lanka. For Banker, this story is ?not about ?hindutva? and the politics of religion, but about ?inditva?, Indian pride, and a story too great to be saffronised or sanitised.? This is a hybrid retelling, in which Amar Chitra Katha meets Iravati Karve meets the modern fantasy blockbusters meet the Indian TV serial meets computer games. The prefatory author?s note shows wide reading, but the end-product is not-quite-sophisticated kitsch: ?Ravana lived. In the cosmic maelstrom of his mind...he saw through the eyes of rakshasas in the habitat,many miles above his private den-chamber, milling about in confusion as the news of their master?s reawakening rippled through Lanka like a sea-typhoon.?