Tania: A Biography and Memoir of Isak Dinesen, Parmenia Migel (McGraw-Hill: $8.95). Isak Dinesen, the pen name of Karen Christentze Dinesen, was born April 17, one of the 32 days of the year that the Danes considered unlucky because they believed "the stars (were) in evil conjunction." Dinesen did indeed lead an ill-fated life. Her father (who taught her to love the outdoors and to whom she was devoted) took his own life when she was 10; her marriage brought her physical suffering, humiliation and bitterness, and the most meaningful love of her life, the Englishman Denys Finch-Hatton, died in a plane crash on his way back home to her. It was he who gave her the name "Tania," which would be her name of choice through the end of her life, and which gives this book its title.
First published 20 years ago under the title "Titania," this biography is based on many years of interviews and visits with Dinesen, who provided full cooperation, as well as with her family and colleagues. Migel presents Dinesen's life in a style both lyrical and romantic--"an interpretation in keeping with Tania's spirit and intent."
The 18 years Dinesen spent in Kenya, while they provided the background for her later work, "Out of Africa," served as a hiatus in her writing career: She published short stories in her late 20s but would not write again until she was nearly 50. Perhaps it is because she was out of the literary mainstream for so many years that she was able to ignore literary trends and write old-fashioned stories "at a time when the ideal was harsh realism and the stripped-down, suggestive style of a Hemingway."
The details Migel presents of Dinesen's life and the elucidation of her fictional works will give readers of "Tania" an intimate and sympathetic account of this great author.
Execution by Hunger: The Hidden Holocaust, Miron Dolot, introduction by Adam Ulam (Norton: $7.95). The author of this book, Miron Dolot (a pseudonym) provides an eyewitness account of the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33 and argues that it was caused not solely by natural factors such as drought or crop failure but that "it was a genocidal famine, the outcome of (Stalin's) premeditated plan, undertaken as a means of destroying the Ukrainian people as a nation."
The farming collectivization that the government decreed was tacitly opposed by the selianym, free Cossack farmers who cultivated their own land. To be more persuasive, nearly 500 functionaries of the Communist Party were sent to Dolot's village of 4,000 inhabitants. When the farmers didn't voluntarily sign up for the collectivization, they were bullied and threatened. Leaders of the community and the wealthier farmers were arrested in the middle of the night, accused of being "enemies of the people." The families of those who had been taken away were consequently evicted from their homes.
By the end of 1931, the village was completely collectivized and at the same time faced mass starvation: "There was no way to survive but to stay in the collective farm where we had been promised some food for our daily work," Dolot writes. "Our personal existence became completely dependent upon the dictates of the Communist Party, and on the whims of the local officials." In 1932, there were serious crop failures. When it became clear that "the quota for state grain procurement could not physically be met, Stalin ordered all the available stocks to be seized, no matter what the consequences for the local population," Adam Ulam writes in his introduction. The news of mass starvation was blocked from filtering out, and the government went so far as to ban "the import of food into stricken areas." Miron Dolot, now older than 70, seeks to expose the truth of the years 1932 and 1933, which has been occluded by Stalin's regime.
The Clam Shell, Mary Lee Settle (Scribner's: $6.95). This disturbing novel, which follows Settle's "The Love Eaters," tells the story of a young West Virginia woman's flight from the stultifying influences of family and small-town life into the path of a tragedy that will mark her forever. "The Clam Shell" is the first-person narrative of the nameless heroine, a girl who has always lived on the edge of wealth, just outside the Country Club circuit, just short of full acceptance. The year is 1936. Her father has enough money to send his daughter to Nelson-Page, the college in Virginia that the rich girls in town attend. There our heroine discovers poetry and begins to write her own verse.