Books 2: May-June 2001


Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics, and Censorship in Japan
By Anne Allison.
University of California Press. 225 pages. $16.95, paper.
This provocative study of gender and sexuality in contemporary Japan investigates elements of Japanese popular culture including erotic comic books, lunchboxes that mothers ritualistically prepare for children, and children’s cartoons. After five years of fieldwork in a middle-class Tokyo neighborhood, Allison, a cultural anthropology professor at Duke, brings recent feminist psychoanalytic and Marxist theory to bear on representations of sexuality, motherhood, and gender in these and other aspects of Japanese culture.

Piano Music for Four Hands
By Roger Grenier, translated and with a preface by Alice Kaplan.
University of Nebraska Press. 153 pages. $15, paper.
For decades a key figure in French letters, Grenier has written a novel that is a study of music and love set against three generations of French history, from World War I to the 1960s. Pianist Michel Mailhoc retreats from a series of bungled love affairs and professional disappointments to a family home in the Pyrenees, where his grandniece Emma becomes his prize-winning student. Caught between his wishing for her success and his fear of losing her, Michel sends Emma into the world of international musical stardom that he has renounced for himself. Kaplan, a professor of Francophone studies at Duke, worked with Grenier throughout the translation process for the novel.

Blake’s Therapy
By Ariel Dorfman.
Seven Stories Press. 175 pages. $21.95.
Duke professor Dorfman’s latest novel is a work of intense psychological intrigue, following marketing guru Graham Blake into and through a mental breakdown. Blake’s therapy catches him in a voyeuristic spiral involving a mysterious Latina, and he must find out who is controlling his life, his business ventures, and even his heart. The novel holds a magnifying glass to one man’s life as it unravels in a world of economic turmoil, spiritual crisis, reality television, and genetic engineering, finally questioning the very nature of storytelling in our time.

Critical Memory: Public Spheres, African American Writing, and Black Fathers
and Sons in America
By Houston A. Baker Jr.
University of Georgia Press. 75 pages. $24.95.
From the lone outcry of Richard Wright’s Black Boy to the chorusing voices of Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March, Critical Memory looks across the past half-century to assess the current challenges to African-American cultural and intellectual life. As Baker, a Duke professor of English, recalls his own youth in Louisville, Kentucky, and Washington, D.C., he situates such figures as Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Shelby Steele, O.J. Simpson, Chris Rock, and Jesse Jackson within such issues as the embattled state of African-American manhood and the “financing and promotion of black intellectuals.” Reason and cool rage converge to expose the draining tasks of reconciling white America’s perception of its righteousness with its lack of relish for the truth it claims to welcome from black intellectuals and artists.

The New Trial
By Peter Weiss, translated with an introduction by James Rolleston and Kai Evers.
Duke University Press. 119 pages. $15.95, paper.
Rolleston, a professor of Germanic languages and literature, and Duke graduate student Evers have collaborated to bring into English the final drama of German playwright Weiss, whose death in 1982 came just months after the completion of this play. A transformative updating of Kafka’s novel The Trial, The New Trial presents a surreal, hallucinatory look at the life of “Josef K.,” chief attorney in an enormous multinational firm that exploits both his idealism and his self-doubt to create a public face meant to mask the firm’s dark and fascistic intentions. The extensive introduction by the co-authors situates the work in the full context of Weiss’ life, including his exile in Sweden during the Third Reich.

Postmodernism and China
Edited by Arif Dirlik and Xudong Zhang.
Duke University Press. 452 pages. $23.95, paper.
Few countries have been so transformed in recent decades as China. With a dynamic economy and rapidly changing social structure, the Sleeping Giant challenges the West to understand the nature of its modernization. This volume’s diverse group of contributors argues that the Chinese experience is crucial for understanding postmodernism; the essays, co-edited by Duke history professor Dirlik, question the implications of such specific phenomena as literature, architecture, music, and film in a postsocialist society. Although the focus is on mainland China, the volume includes observations on social and cultural realities in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

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