OF LOVE AND SHADOWS by Isabel Allende translated by Margaret Sayers Peden (Bantam Books: $4.95)
Evangelina, a 15-year-old girl whose violent seizures every day at noon cause neighbors to regard her as a saint able to perform miracles, is abducted by a lieutenant in the military and never heard from again. Journalist Irene Beltran and photographer Francisco Leal, who had visited her home and attempted to record the event in a magazine article, are determined to find the young girl.
They follow a lead and discover not only Evangelina's dead body but an entire cave full of corpses in various stages of decomposition. And, as the two struggle to reveal this information while remaining anonymous--and find their lives in great danger--they fall in love regardless of these less-than-auspicious circumstances.
Isabel Allende has set forth an enthralling, harrowing tale that she has carried and "guarded carefully" in her memory for years, weaving a love story into a horrendous political tapestry.
SLOW HOMECOMING by Peter Handke translated by Ralph Manheim (Collier Books/Macmillan: $8.95)
A novel told in three parts by the German playwright and novelist, author of "The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick" and "A Sorrow Beyond Dreams."
In the first part, a geologist, Sorger, finds sanctuary in the Alaskan wilderness "learning (approximately) its forms and their genesis." Removed from society, ideology, family and friends, Sorger confronts his own identity, or lack thereof. He is nothing but a pair of eyes, knowledge and self-knowledge. From this personal ground zero, Sorger begins to make his return to Europe and connection to the world.
In the following section, the author of Sorger's story, having experienced some psychic or metaphorical equivalent of Sorger's crisis (a breakdown, perhaps), contemplates works of art, particularly paintings by Cezanne, and sets out to climb Monte Sainte-Victoire, which so inspired the brilliant painter. Here, he considers his "justification for writing--needed for every new work."
In the third part, a nameless narrator writes of his love for his daughter, finding connectedness through blood and family. As Richard Eder wrote in these pages: "Handke's account of the . . . shifting pain and delight between parent and child are seen with the freshness that only an extraordinary writer can impart."
A WOMAN NAMED DROWN by Padgett Powell (Henry Holt: $7.95) Padgett Powell's first novel, "Edisto," with its precocious 12-year-old narrator, brought the author wide critical acclaim and the Whiting Writers' Award for 1986.
The narrator in "A Woman Named Drown," his ambitious second novel, is a Ph.D. candidate in "soft-metal bonding mechanics" (chemistry) who abandons his studies after his fiancee calls off the wedding. What follows is a random series of adventures ("a roller coaster of nonsense"): He moves out of his apartment; he takes up with an older female actress to whom he's been waving his hand as he walks to work; he begins taking notes with a scientist's precision.
He and the actress, who agree not to ask questions about each other, undertake a madcap journey that takes them from Knoxville, Tenn., to the seedier sections of Florida and parts beyond. "I was completely comfortable being completely out of control," he writes, though his words belie an underlying panic.
Powell has here created a character so convincing that his achievement is at times a disadvantage: The young scientist is so well-wrought that he often lapses into concrete technical terms, analyzing experiences as if they were chemistry experiments. When the actress eventually leaves him, he writes, "she 'left me' with no more wrongful or sorrowful moment than an atom leaves another, than blood becomes iron and oxygen." Or, "the function defined itself as ambition, times self-centered custodial purpose, divided by one's natural opportunities for going up in the world."
The narrator will return to his research, now appreciative of how the other half lives (he himself has a trust fund worth $2 million). But not all his readers will have stayed with him to the journey's end.
THE FIELD GUIDE TO HOME BUYING IN AMERICA
A Home Buyer's Companion From House Hunting to Moving Day by Stephen M. Pollan, Mark Levine and Michael Pollan (Fireside/Simon & Schuster: $8.95) "It's a battlefield out there in the home-buying market. Brokers, lawyers and sellers each have their own agendas. . . . They only earn money when you buy and aren't really concerned about your needs and wants." So write Stephen Pollan, a lawyer with 30 years' experience; Mark Levine, a real estate specialist, and Michael Pollan, executive editor of Harper's.
The book doesn't attempt to take the place of competent professional advice--but it does teach the reader the tactics and attitudes needed to handle those experts. This home-buyer's companion tells you how to appraise your own needs as well as the homes you're interested in buying, what to look for in a contract, how to get a mortgage--all told with simple common sense and a sense of humor ("Don't hesitate to return to the nest (your parents) for a down payment. . . . If the nest isn't still open, try prying it open"). An invaluable aid to prospective home buyers.