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The Reviewers Reviewed
HARRY DOHERTY finds the most interesting reviews from the Sunday quality Press
    Highly recommended
two_star   Fair
one_star   Poor
This week's selection:
A Magick Life
A Change Is Gonna Come
Bitch Money
The Red Thread

A Magick Life: A Biography of Aleister Crowley
by Martin Booth
Reviewed in the Sunday Times by Bryan Appleyard
RATING: ah-ha

Pub Price 20.00 Our Price 18.00

Aleister Crowley, writes Bryan Appleyard in the Sunday Times, was a florid enigma whose cult status to the hippie generation of the 1960s served only to intensify the multiple confusions of his life. Compulsively lying and exaggerating himself, he was succeeded by at least two generations of Crowleyite fantasists. Martin Booth has now appeared on the scene to set things straight; to present "the facts of his remarkable life, stripping away the myth and leaving the reader to decide whether Crowley was a sage and a seer, a charlatan and a very clever con man, a character with a true occult ability - however that may be defined - or simply an opportunist and a fake . . . "
His book is a fine, fair and gripping piece of work that places Crowley before the reader in all his bizarre immensity, judges Appleyard. This was a man hell-bent on transcendence. He was a world-class mountaineer, coming close to being the first man to conquer Kanchenjunga, and a fine chess player. Occasionally, he indicates scepticism, but, on the whole, he simply records the claims of Crowley and the testimony of those present.

A Change is Gonna Come: Music, Race and the Soul of America
by Criag Werner
Reviewed in the Observer by Burhan Wazir
RATING: foive

Pub Price 12.99 Our Price 11.69

In 1958, African-American poet Langston Hughes wrote the definitive rationale of the blues: 'Sad as the blues may be, there's almost always something humorous about them - even if it's the kind of humour that laughs to keep from crying.' Almost 30 years later, blues guitarist B.B. King, speaking to Rolling Stone magazine, snapped: 'Singing the blues is like being black.'
In this "authoritative and engaging study" of race and class in popular music, writes Burhan Wazir, Craig Werner makes the point from the very outset that rock'n'roll has its origins in the deep South, forged out of black misery and repression.
Decade by decade, Werner translates the black experience, from Vietnam-era rage to the Clintonite race for commerciality. A Change Is Gonna Come, published to outstanding reviews in the United States last year, is almost as definitive as the examples he uses to illustrate his theory.
Werner's chapters on Bruce Springsteen, one of the rare occasions in the book when the author dissects a white icon, make for inspired reading. 'The Boss thing hung heavily over Springsteen's "Born In The USA" tour, and a lot of black folks who never heard the music saw the flag behind the stage, and in the hands of the white crowd in the film clips, and thought it must be the soundtrack for the next war.'
The author's analysis of rap, perhaps the most severely criticised of modern music forms, is especially readable, says Wazir. In 1992, Oakland-based rap artist Paris released 'Bush Kill', a vicious attack on the US presidency. The song was condemned and the artist was forced to leave his record label. Similarly, the lionisation of all-white icons, Elvis Presley in particular, has provided rap groups with indignatory anger.
Overall, concludes Wazir, Werner has written a racial study "every bit as profound as any civil rights declaration".

Bitch Money
by Joanna Traynor
Reviewed in the Independent on Sunday by Lesley McDowell
Pub Price 9.99 Our Price 8.99

Books by Shyama Perera and Caroline O'Sullivan have reconstructed their youthful years from a stockpile of popular cultural armaments, says Lesley McDowell in the Independent on Sunday. Points of reference include the Bay City Rollers, Culture Club and Swing Out Sister, but with no notes on the more dismal history of the eras, such as strikes. This is not an approach favoured by Joanna Traynor. Within the first pages of her 1980s-set novel of sun, sea and Thatcherism, her protagonist Jonathan is waging war with his father Charlie, "a father who'd called the police to have a 'Help the Miners' money collector removed from the hotel premises." "That Traynor has understood that the evoking of a period, especially a recent historical one, requires more than a sprinkling of pop lyrics," writes McDowell, "and means that we are in for a confident narrative whose social commnt assesses both then and now."

by Diana Athiull
Reviewed in the Mail on Sunday by Katie Owen
Reviewed in the Sunday Telegraph by Anthony Thwaite
Pub Price 12.99 Our Price 11.79

Diana Athill's memoir of 50 years as an editor at Andre Deutsch, where she was a co-founder of the firm, comes as a "nostalgic delight" for Katie Owen in the Mail on Sunday, while Anthony Thwaite in the Sunday Telegraph remarks that while Ms Athill is in her early eighties, nothing in this book sounds like "an old has-been".
Andre Deutsche himself was a brilliant, driven Hungarian emigre with whom Athill had a brief fling before becoming a life-long friend and colleague. Owen writes: "Her affectionate, warts-and-all portrait of the man, and his domination of the company that bore his name, is often piercingly funny, as are her sketches of less enduring colleagues, such as the potential backer who told her that he 'wanted something to do before lunch instead of getting drunk'."
Thwaite says that readers will find most pleasure in the pen-portraits, richly extended and illuminating. Stet is a real gem for both reviewers.

The Red Thread
by Nicholas Jose
Reviewed in the Observer by Justine Ettler
RATING: four_star

Pub Price 9.99 Our Price 8.99

The perfect antidote to excessive navel-gazing of the literary variety, writes Justine Ettle in the Observer, Nicholas Jose's The Red Thread is sophisticated escapism indeed, whisking the reader away to a world of priceless beauty and intrigue in the buzzing Communist supertropolis of contemporary Shanghai.
An old-fashioned romance set in a bustling world of art dealers and artists, an exotic spirtual angle to the story breathes new life into this oldest of the literary novel's genres.
Born in China, but educated in the United States, Shen Fuling is an antiques dealer at Shanghai's top auction house. When Old Weng, Shen's number one business contact, hands him an antique manuscript, the Chinese literary classic, Six Chapters of a Floating Life, Shen becomes intrigued. Not only do he and its author, Shen Fu, share the same name, but the last two chapters are missing, so the outcome of Shen Fu's autobiographical romance remains a mystery.
Unfortunately, Shen only manages to decipher the first chapter (the old, literary Chinese slows down his reading speed to one page a day) before he must surrender the book for auction.
"Even as a postmodern parody, The Red Thread is utterly devoid of cynicism," Ettler concludes. "Indeed, Jose's novel is almost cloyingly sweet, in the same way that a Chinese bun may taste sickly-sweet to a Western palate. But perhaps this is Jose's point and the point of cross-cultural experiences in general. For all its free-market gloss, the Shanghai sensibility is different. The Red Thread celebrates this with considerable aplomb."

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