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World View : Sizzling Bestsellers from the Global Bookstore : A summer tour of who is reading what and where--and why

August 10, 1993|Times staff writer Patt Morrison wrote this story based on dispatches from Times foregin bureaus

Far from the burdens of office, away from skinheads and European currency wrangles, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl intends to laze away some summer days at the Austrian lakefront town of Wolfgangsee, riffling through a little light reading he brought with him: "The Power of Stupidity," by French philosopher Andre Glucksman.

Oh, those delicious summer books, the entertainment you can carry with you: down to the Black Sea and the Red, along the Via Veneto and Nevsky Prospect, at the beach at Nice and the one at Copacabana, where it isn't summer, but high winter.

It is "The Year of Books" in South Korea, where people are absorbed in "Friend, What Shall We Take to the Next World?" by a Buddhist monk.

In Brazil, many people are poor, and one adult in five is illiterate, but a self-help author sells a thousand volumes a day with can't-miss titles such as "Lose Weight by Eating."

This summer, the Japanese are chuckling over "The Sea Bream's Head," droll essays by the man who created the cartoon that is Japan's Bart Simpson.

Egyptians are devouring the latest in a 22-volume series, "Pages From the History of Egypt: Ottoman Conquest to the Present."

But Croatians escape into poetry like "Heaven/Earth." "We've seen (violence) so much already," sighed one publishing house's graphics editor, Miroslav Salopek. "I can't bear to read any more."

And apart from Stephen King tinglers, Russia's byest syeller this summer--to use an Amerussian phrase--is "Kremlin Wives: The Facts, Recollections, Documents, Rumors, Legends, and Author's View" by Larisa Vasilieva. It costs as much as a monthly transportation pass, but it is selling like blini , for it offers politics, history and gossip, from Raisa Gorbachev's flat feet to the tantalizing question of whether Stalin's second wife killed herself because she believed Stalin was also her father.

So peruse the summer-stocked shelves of the doma knigi, the librairies, the bibliotecas of the world:

POTBOILERS, BODICE-RIPPERS, PAGE TURNERS

This is what summer reading is about: low-fiber escapism, the kind you can leave behind on the airplane seat.

In Israel's best-selling detective novel "Concerto for Spy and Orchestra," by Uri Adelman, a doctor of musicology discovers an unsolved case in the files of Israeli security and counterintelligence. It is more than a story--it is a shift in public taste.

For decades, Israeli books dealt with existential questions of the Jewish state and moral issues of life itself. They have not faded, but lighter fiction--much of it in Hebrew--has blossomed, especially detective novels like Adelman's.

Detective novels have caught on for other reasons in Russia, among them the rising crime rate. What is "Crime and Punishment" but a detective novel from the murderer's viewpoint? Mark Freidkin, founder of the 19th of October Literary Salon, says: "What is popular has not changed at all. It is stable and independent of the political situation."

Brazilians love historical novels and author Paulo Coelho knows why: "While most authors these days seem preoccupied with exorcising personal demons, I tell a simple story." In a real-life plot twist, his book "The Alchemist" was published here in May after an American picked it up at the Rio de Janeiro airport, liked it so much he translated a few chapters and sent them to a U.S. publisher.

Britain, the cradle of the ripping-yarn genre, is immersed in yet another John le Carre thriller, and yet another Jeffrey Archer political duel. Le Carre's elegantly written "The Night Manager" is a post-Cold War tale of an ex-soldier and an arms dealer . . . and Archer's "Honor Among Thieves" is the story of a CIA agent running across Saddam Hussein's plan to steal the Declaration of Independence.

Even more than spying, love makes the world go round and goes round the world:

Hong Kong readers are enthralled by "Unbelievable Love," by Eileen Chang, the story of a Shanghai man's love for a Hong Kong widower in World War II. And Barbara Cartland, old (and flowery) hat to British readers, has a whole new audience in Russia in translation. England's Jilly Cooper has brought forth another sex-games-among-the-landed-gentry novel, "The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous," in her mythical county of Rutshire.

Historical novels have enchanted both Belgium and Italy this summer: Two by Belgians are "The Animator of Light," about a knight who travels to the Orient for the palette of colors he needs to make stained glass, and "The Princess of Chimera," based on the daughter of a Spanish banker who took a series of aristocratic lovers during the French Revolution before marrying a marquis. It was written by a woman who married a descendant of the banker's daughter.

And South Korea's highly respected Park Kyong Ri is said to be challenging Pearl Buck and Margaret Mitchell for saga supremacy with her latest vast novel, "The Land."

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