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Now in Paperback

September 21, 1986|ALEX RAKSIN

Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, Fyodor Dostoevsky; translated and introduced by Kyril FitzLyon (Salem House: $13.95). These notes from the erstwhile spiritual leader's short (and some would say shortsighted) trip to Western Europe in 1862 certainly remain in the underground in America, for as the translator points out, many U. S. academics continue to claim that an English translation is unavailable. The obscurity can be justified in part: Dostoevsky's waggish humor fails to make his prejudices palatable and his attack on the French Revolution is meandering. Nevertheless, these "Winter Notes" shouldn't be readily dismissed, for by Chapters 6 and 7, callow impressions give way to complex ideas, and the writing gains focus. The rallying cry of the French Revolution--freedom ( liberte ) , equality and fraternity--was rife with contradictions, argues Dostoevsky, primarily because freedom can only be attained through prosperity. Dostoevsky, of course, was equally skeptical of socialism and the Roman Catholic Church, and his notion that they offer merely "the brotherhood of an ant-hill" is explained more concisely here than in many of his later works. Doestoevsky is not able to sustain his anarchism throughout this book, however (it conflicts with his very human need for moral and spiritual direction), and so by the end of these pages, he sets aside disciplined, broad skepticism and once again begins an all-points assault on French culture, strengthening his sense of Russian heritage and avoiding the paralysis experienced by his "acutely conscious" Underground Man.

The Physiology of Taste, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin; M. F. K. Fisher, translator and annotator (North Point: $13.95). Few of us relate religion and gastronomy, spirit and stomach, soul and tongue. In this 1825 work, the author, a lawyer, linguist and musician, shows us what we've been missing. His elegant, eccentric text prompts us to pause in the midst of our hurried lives and consider momentary culinary sensation, from "the agreeable perfume which (the peach) exhales" and "the erotic properties of truffles" to "the revolting taste of horrible (medicinal) fluid." Brillat-Savarin uses classification to create a harmonious ethos. Descriptions of sensation typically begin at the profane and progress toward the ethereal: A "direct sensation," for instance, "proceeds from the immediate operations of the organs of the mouth," while the "reflective sensation" is "the opinion which one's spirit forms from the impressions which have been transmitted to it by the mouth." This delicate text is at times elitist--the tongues of "four-legged" animals are less "sublime" than our own, and those forced to consider survival above aesthetics are "less civilized"--but the author is judicious on the whole, as is apparent in his consideration of--poultry: "I believe firmly," he writes with usual authority, "that the whole gallinaceous race was created for the sole purpose of filling our larders and enriching our banquets." On the other hand, he acknowledges, we have "made chickens into martyrs, condemning them to solitary confinement and forcing them to eat."

Children's Literature in Hitler's Germany, Christa Kamenetsky (Ohio University: $12.95). "The Book--Our Weapon" ( Das Buch--Unsere Waffe ) -- This rallying cry formed the foundation of the cultural policy of National Socialism. For the Nazis, mental indoctrination clearly was as crucial as military power, and in the emotional, subjective realm of fiction, the Nazis found a perfect vehicle for thought manipulation. No political theory was to be taught until the last year of the German Youth School Literature Plan. Instead, children were to follow stories that emphasized parental and motherly love, courage, strength, loyalty, leadership and heroic heritage. Instilling a strong sense of heroic heritage was most important for the Nazis, writes the author, who studied under the regime for four years. Consequently, she devotes considerable space to profiling the process of mythic reconstruction in this important, though dryly written book: One author profiled here even went so far as to relate the white turtle doves in a German version of the Cinderella story to the black ravens of the Norse god Odin.

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