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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Irving's Life, German Guilt, India's Pain

Wrestling was John Irving's first love. At school it was all the dyslexic Irving was good at. He went on to wrestle for his college and watch his sons in turn wrestle for their state.


And indeed the reader owes this slim volume of autobiography to the sport, for it was a wrestling injury -- and the requisite subsequent period of rest -- that left Irving with a hole in his life which had to be filled.


The Imaginary Girlfriend (Bloomsbury, ?9.99 or about $15) is a brief, light-hearted account of wrestling, writing and anything else that springs to mind. From the intricacies of the wrestling "ride" to the vagaries of publisher's advances, Irving describes a career that succeeded due to a little talent and a lot of discipline.


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So much has been written about the Holocaust that it is hard to imagine any new book could radically change the parameters of the debate. But Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, a young academic at Harvard, has written just such a book. Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (Little, Brown, ?20 or about $30) expounds the thesis the German people were collectively responsible for the attempted annihilation of the Jews.


The incomparable horror of the camps has tended to obscure the work of the 38 police battalions -- 19,000 men from a representative cross-section of German society -- who scoured the countryside in German-occupied territory and methodically shot somewhere between 1 million and 3 million Jewish men, women and children.


These policemen -- former farmers, manual workers and low-ranking civil servants of an average age of 36 -- were not fanatics, or even necessarily members of the Nazi party. But they performed their role in the Final Solution with undisguised gusto. And when one adds the ranks of the SS, the railway workers and the ubiquitous bureaucrats, one is left with the fact that at least 100,000 Germans, and probably as many as half a million, were willing executioners of Hitler's murderous will.


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Rohinton Mistry is the latest in a distinguished group of Indian writers who have taken political developments in the subcontinent as the backdrop for their fiction.


A Fine Balance (Faber & Faber, ?15.99 or about $24) takes place during the violent period in 1975 when Indira Ghandi declared a state of emergency and unleashed a wave of state-backed oppression and victimization.


In a tiny flat in Bombay, the widow Dina Dala is trying to make ends meet. She acquires a lodger and two employees from different regions and castes. The relationship that gradually develops between these four characters forms the nucleus of the novel's panoramic narrative.


With satire, irony and frequent recourse to the punitive hand of fate or the government, Mistry tells a tale of human strength in the face of adversity.





-- Compiled from The Financial Times, The Sunday Times and The Guardian.


Mary Warnock is a distinguished academic philosopher and she has applied her usual intellectual rigor to the task of selecting and editing a volume on "Women Philosophers" (J.M. Dent, ?20).


The great subjects of philosophy are universal and gender-indifferent, Warnock maintains, but if some of the most notable female philosophers were and continue to be preoccupied with moral philosophy and the subjugation of their sex, then there is all the more reason to embrace them.


The collection includes an essay by Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of feminism, in which she sets out her egalitarian political philosophy and warns of the danger of confining girls to a life of "domesticated numbskullery."


And there is a philosophical discussion on whether the rights of an unborn child are absolute or limited, by Judith Jarvis Thompson of MIT. This unexpected and thought-provoking book should not be placed exclusively on the Women's Studies shelf.