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April 24, 1988|SONJA BOLLE

AN UNFINISHED JOURNEY

by Shiva Naipaul (Penguin Books: $6.95) This volume is a collection of Shiva Naipaul's work written in the last year of his life; it includes the beginning of a book on Australia that he had in hand at the time of his death in 1985 at age 40. Naipaul, a Trinidadian of Indian descent educated at Oxford, had certain lifelong preoccupations, stated in the introduction by his father-in-law, Douglas Stuart: "his hatred of humbug, his search for identity, his consequent need to travel, his horror of every kind of racism and his fascination with India."

An essay on his relationship with his older brother, V. S. Naipaul, explains that in becoming a writer, he was expressing independence rather than following in his brother's footsteps. There is an article on the assassination of Indira Gandhi and another on "The Third World." The Australian project intended to explore why the Asians failed to "find their way to the emptiness of Australia before the British"; typical of Naipaul, the story begins not in Sydney or even Perth, but in Sri Lanka, with the intention of meandering toward the continent in question.

Naipaul builds his essays conversationally and seemingly without effort, piling small observations upon bits of overheard speech. But underneath the simplicity, he is always in pursuit of solemn goals. These seven articles, accidentally collected and incomplete as they are, are an excellent sampling of Naipaul's entire work.

THE RACHEL PAPERS

by Martin Amis

(Harmony Books/

Crown Publishers: $7.95)

In the five hours remaining before he turns 20, Charles Highway reviews the final months of his teen-agehood. To ensure accuracy in his account, Charles consults notes that he has been making on his "descent to manhood." More than a journal, these fictional documents are a veritable reference library of tips on seduction (from his reading as well as from experience), weekly lists of Charles' Anxiety Top Ten and outlines of topics for discussion on dates. Rachel, the girl of Charles' dreams, merits a folder of her own--hence the title of the book.

Martin Amis' first novel (before "Einstein's Monsters" and "Money") follows a familiar plot for the coming-of-age novel: Boy meets girl, boy develops absurd obsession for girl, boy gets girl and discovers that this is only the beginning of life's real problems. Amis' stream-of-adolescent-consciousness is unusually wicked as he keeps his hero teetering between cocksureness and absolute certainty that he is making a fool of himself.

GARDEN OF THE

BRAVE IN WAR Recollections of Iran

by Terence O'Donnell (University of Chicago Press: $12.95) The author recounts his experiences running a farm in southwestern Iran in the late 1950s and early '60s. There are tales of revenge and reconciliation, of pilgrimage and dream interpretation, of princes, dervishes, beggars. On a hunting trip, spent mainly in avoiding strenuous exercise, one of the author's friends remarks: "We are a terrible people, we Iranians--thieves, mountebanks, rascals. How displeased God must be with us! And yet, should God look down, He would see (us) tasting the air, receiving the sun, relishing all this which He in His kindness has given us. And surely in this, He must be pleased with, don't you think?"

The reader might wish that O'Donnell had stuck exclusively to storytelling and intruded less with his own comments. When he briefly relates Iranian character to the revolution, his remarks are at best unhelpful and many observations lend him the air of a tourist abroad for the first time. The author's remarks aside, however, the beautifully told stories are valuable as glimpses into a world rarely seen.

OVERHEAD IN A BALLOON

by Mavis Gallant (W. W. Norton: $7.95) These 12 stories introduce a large cast of Parisians who come alive in their relationships to one another. The author has a talent for exposing unexpected affinities in unsympathetic relationships: A writer under investigation for tax evasion considers his interrogator and sees, "unreeling, scenes from the younger man's inhibited boyhood." In another story, an art dealer makes a career of sweet-talking artists' widows--the bain of a dealer's existence--simply because he can imagine their lives: "She had lived through the artist's drinking, his avarice, his affairs, his obsession with constipation, his feuds and quarrels, his cowardice with dealers, his hypocrisy with critics, his depressions; and then--oh, justice!--she had outlasted him."

Not only are Mavis Gallant's stories good, but she delivers them with delightful style. Sentences turn inward reflectively or fly off in wild fantasy, following a character's thoughts with extraordinary lightness, and Gallant's care in choosing words makes her stories a pleasure to read carefully.

A BELL FOR ADANO

by John Hersey (Vintage Books/

Random House: $6.95) John Hersey's first novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1945, tells the story of an Italian-American Army officer assigned to govern the small Sicilian town of Adano after World War II. Maj. Joppolo's relations with Adano's inhabitants warm as he seeks to replace the town's 700-year-old bell, which had been melted down by the Fascists to make bullets.

Vintage Books has also issued Hersey's "The Wall" and last year's best seller, "Blues."

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