THE GREEK ISLANDS by Lawrence Durell (The Viking Press, $29.95)
Off Brindisi, Italy, another world away, they beckon like “the hounds of promise.” So tenuously tethered to a time long past, they’re very touching. Parched, barren, alive with smell. By day luminescent: fierce, blinding, stunning light. At night they’re basted in blue, with soft, sucking sounds from the sea. The Greek Islands, where “each day is a brilliant improvisation.” The Greek Islands isn’t so much about where people live as how, and even why, they live. In his personalized, ruminative, witty and ultimately
sad book, Durrell, exceeding the genre, leaves you seething with wanderlust. You’re pulled to a place where the business of living amounts to keeping “reality fresh.” You feel as though you are a “gentle reader,” and pillows seem softer.
Carefully chosen, a few photographs pinpoint the “warm pencils of light”; the writing lucidly describes the landscape that “wallpapers your dreams.” Only Durrell’s good friend Henry Miller, in The Colossus of Maroussi, has written about Greece with the same easy elegance. It’s a land of possibilities: “Noel Coward was devoured there
by a flea, or so he told me.” No—the food, though spartan, isn’t as vile as Durrell makes it out to be, but—yes— the retsina does taste “like pure turpentine which has been strained through the socks of a bishop.”
Durrell’s refusal to take note of the new invaders in Greece (by their flight bags ye shall know them) is somewhat endearing. The islands are changed, littered, despoiled. Durrell demands his dream. The result: a quixotic travel book that still yields what can’t be captured by Kodak.
Thanks for the memories
THE NATIONAL BALLET OF CANADA:
by Ken Bell, text by Celia Franca
(University of Toronto Press, $24.95)
ladies’ auxiliary book — careful, Zru gracious, subdued, sensible, accurate and agonizing—this deserves a degree in dullness. In her accompanying memoirs to pallid photography, Miss Franca, founding matriarch of the country’s leading ballet company, thanks all ( those who helped make it possible. So many of these dear folk turn up throughout (at so rapacious a rate that The Globe and Mail's Zena Cherry might turn a color deep enough to do fulsome justice to her nomenclature) that it would have perhaps been more efficacious, and doubtless a less expensive gesture, had she sat home with a vat full of thank-you notes and a trusty quill. There is a shot of Miss Franca with one of her several cats (who is also thanked) that, were it to register on the Richter scale of interest, could possibly produce a shiver in Lilliput. Given her piquant dealings with people in the past, one marvels at her sudden metamorphosis into Eleanor Roosevelt. This is a book for those who automatically term ballet “ethereal.” Miss Franca has supplied enough ether for all. Lawrence O’Toole
A climb to the sublime
THE MOUNTAINS OF CANADA by Randy Morse (Hurtig, $24.95)
Äa elegantly produced volume, mingling superb color pictures with a cautionary text by Randy Morse and a small anthology of sayings about mountains. Don’t expect the Laurentians or the Cypress Hills; the majority of these
photographs show the Rockies, and many of the rest display remote peaks in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. The aim is sublimity, and it’s often reached.
The Mountains of Canada offers emblems of fierceness: men enter the pictures rarely, women not at all. The text, by contrast, concentrates on the mountaineers of Canada. Often a photograph makes a peak look unclimbable,-while Morse calmly describes how it was first scaled. This may be a coffee-table book, but no one with a grain of sense would let a cup of coffee near it: a stain would be a violation. The images are serene, commanding, chosen to awe—a reminder that our country’s wilderness makes its finest cities look petty.
Praising famous men
A PLACE NOT OUR OWN by John Paskievich
(Queenston House Publishing Co., $12.95)
ach of these pictures is worth a thousand words about the tough, untidy north end of Winnipeg. The first collection of photographs by John Paskievich, it is an act of homage to the maligned inhabitants of a maligned area. Paskievich, himself an immigrant, observes these proud, vulnerable people—Indians and Slavs in particular— with respect and humor, and with a bruised, keen love. His pictures never destroy the dignity of his subjects; we laugh along with them.
Alive with gestures and emotions caught in their natural setting, A Place Not Our Own preserves unself conscious moments in mostly inarticulate lives. These characters of the fringe have a grace and resilience that make this
book far more than just a slice of life. Paskievich’s art is born of patience and honesty. Funny, poignant, angry by turns, it brims with rare compassion.
Whales from the crypt
PORTRAITS: A MATTER OF RECORD by Victor Skrebneski (Doubleday, $35.00)
?hese stark portraits of the rich and famous have all the weight and silence of 68 blocks of granite. Skrebneski deprives his images of color, movement, humor, even variations in tone: blackness governs the pages. While his subjects belong to glamor, his camera strips them of pretence; only faces, hair and occasional hands are exposed.
With almost everyone from Capote to Cardin, from Minnelli to McKuen swathed in black, each portrait becomes a trial, an emotional judgment. Many faces have a taut, relentless look: Portraits, like recent Bergman films, uses unremitting close-ups to gain a ferocious intensity. Some of the images, notably the marvelous portraits of Orson Welles and Liv Ullmann, are already classics. Paradoxically, though, these pictures feed the glamor they seem to shun; the stars shine more brightly for having passed the test of Skrebneski’s darkness. A difficult book to look at for long, an impressive one to own. Mark Abley
When the livin’ is easy
by Dudley Witney, text by Brendan Gill (McClelland & Stewart,$29.95)
Hot since Sandra Dee, Troy Donahue | and Percy Faith immortalized a I summer place 20 years ago has that g Shangri-La of frostbitten North Ameri°
can existence received such a love letter. The Frisbee has been favored over the beach ball, yet nothing has really changed. With a somewhat keener eye for the cut glass and marble than the shingle and clapboard, Dudley Witney catalogues summer haunts from the Gulf Coast to Georgian Bay, courting their intimacies with his ever-sentimental lens. Contrary to coffee-table tradition, however, the substance of this book doesn’t end with the glossies. Brendan Gill strengthens the bond between memory and image, conjuring the flavor of summers past, rich in association for all those who still shiver at that certain slam of a screen door. With Witney, Gill manages the magic to take you to the season suspended between June and December—flannel for a long winter’s night.
The past picture show
KARSH CANADIANS by Yousuf Karsh
(University of Toronto Press, $27.50)
he anticipation of a new Karsh collection carries all the suspense of Sunday dinner with one’s immediate family. Five decades of familiar faces impact one fact on the brain: these are not poised for our benefit. Karsh’s audience is posterity; he’s in the icon business. Coolly theatrical, he poses his subjects in the role of their public selves— Arthur Erickson clutching blueprints,
Dr. Charles Best with test tubes, Karen Kain en pointe. The intimacy of these portraits is professional, their destiny postage stamps and legislative halls.
Secrets from the deep
AVEDON PHOTOGRAPHS 1947-1977 by Richard Avedon (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, $65)
/■¡¡Avedon. A tiny credit on the edge of LrCi a page of Vogue or Harper's Bazaar. The faces and bodies of Suzy Parker, Veruschka, Jean Shrimpton,
Penelope Tree, Lauren Hutton, in motion against pale backgrounds. Fashion it was; fashion is the last thing this retrospective is. Something else occurs in each photograph, not always revealed by first glance. Avedon is a purveyor of decidedly sly dreams: Elise Daniels staring over the top of a wine glass like Degas’ absinthe drinker, an American in a dream Paris; Suzy Parker being led from hospital, her white-bandaged wrists sticking out of the sleeves of a Saint Laurent coat; a serene-seeming vicomtesse pulling on the edge of one glove so hard that flesh is drawn away
from bone; Lauren Hutton soaked and sand-covered, a pearl lodged carelessly in her ear. Always the narrative kick. “When I was a little boy,” Avedon once said, “I used to write secret thoughts about my family all over the walls in invisible ink.” The ink is not quite dry; secrets still show.
by Gordon Wetmore, text by Abba Eban (General Publishing, $65)
From the title, cover blurb and novelist Leon Uris’ fulsome, celebratory introduction, one assumes that all this is meant to be uplifting, a partisan 30th birthday present to the state of Israel. All that’s inspirational is size: opened, the book has a wingspan of almost three feet—with legs and a plate-glass top it would be a coffee table. Though artist Wetmore labored two years on the watercolors (to quote Uris, “He believes that God touched his efforts and blessed the Promised Land project”), they look as if they’ve been drafted with a ruler for illustrated Bible stories. Abba Eban’s contribution does not mince words: “American Jewry ... is regarded by Israelis purely in terms of its ability to contribute money and manpower.” So much for the Diaspora. Unlike Eban, Wetmore chose to ignore the harsh facades and contradictions of modern Israel by painting only the traditional or sentimental—the Holy Land as a fly caught in amber ointment.
MACLEAN’S BEST-SELLER LIST
FICTION 1 War and Remembrance, Wouk (2) 2 Chesapeake, Michener(A) 3 Fools Die, Puzo (3) 4 SS-GB, Deighton (4) 5 The Far Pavilions, Kaye (5) 6 Prelude to Terror, Machines (8) 7 Olde Charlie Farquharson’s Testament, Harron (6) 8 Judith, Van Herk (7) 9 Gnomes, Huygen (9) 10 The Silmarillion, Tolkien (10) NONFICTION 1 Bronfman Dynasty, Newman (1) 2 The Wild Frontier, Berton (5) 3 The Complete Book of Running, Fixx (3) 4 If Life is a Bowl of Cherries—What am I Doing in the Pits?, Bombeck (4) 5 Mommie Dearest, Crawford (6) 6 Karsh Canadians, Karsh 7 When Lovers Are Friends, Shaln (2) 8 The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, Holden (7) 9 Death of a Lady’s Man, Cohen (10) 10 The Brendan Voyage, Severin (8) ( ) Position last issue Prepared with the aid of the Canadian Booksellers Association
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