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November 14, 2008 Edition

The Magical Chorus, by Solomon Volkov

Russians have a special place in their lives and hearts for the arts, which artists have found both a blessing and a curse through the centuries. In the 20th century, Russian writers, painters, dancers, and musicians have been pressured by their government: some have found ways to leave the country, others acquiesce to the demands placed on them and then, quietly, create a body of subversive work that circulates privately. Exploring the connections between Russian artists and Russian politics during the 20th century, Volkov opens with the life and death of Tolstoy, whose masterful manipulation of the Russian and world presses kept him free of official censorship during his lifetime. Whether he’s writing about Stalin’s love of literature and subsequent support of the arts (within limits), or of Lenin’s iron fist which threatened to squeeze the life out of Russia’s intelligentsia, Volkov, who grew up under Soviet rule, injects his own memories and perspective, making this a personal as well as historical narrative.

The Fishermen’s Frontier, by David F. Arnold

Maps, graphs, and photos enliven this comprehensive history of salmon harvesting in Southeast Alaska over the past 250 years. Arnold explores the different cultural, political, economic, and social roles that salmon have played in the lives of those who live here, and the ways in which differing worldviews have caused clashes between groups over the centuries. Along the way, he examines some long-prevalent stereotypes and compares the “open-access” fisheries of the westerners to the “privately-held” fishing sites of the Tlingit. Pulling together oral histories and historical documents, Arnold has created a fascinating whole.

Vet Confidential, by Louise Murray

Dr. Murray addresses everything about medical care for cats and dogs from choosing a veterinarian for a new pet to end-of-life issues. Along the way, you’ll find chapters on alternative medicine, what to expect at a well-animal vet visit, veterinary specialists and the new technology available to them, and avoiding pet debt. Each chapter ends with a worksheet or list of questions to help you talk to your veterinarian. This well-written book, illustrated with drawings of almost comically-calm cats and dogs, probably won’t do much to soothe the pets involved, but will go a long way towards calming and informing their human house-mates.

The Real History of World War II, by Alan Axelrod

This single volume accomplishes a mighty task: turning the numerous and tangled events of World War II into a comprehensible and complete narrative. Axelrod accomplishes this by leaving political interpretation to others and treating each theater in turn, rather than plunging chronologically through events. He first offers a “dramatis personae” for readers to refer back to and efficiently lays out the way events of WWI led naturally to new struggles for supremacy. Then, he gets to the meat of the matter, supplementing his history with details in sidebars labeled Numbers, Eyewitness, Alternate Take, and Reality Check. World War II experts might find this a bit light, but most other readers will appreciate the author’s editing decisions.

Thinking About Memoir, by Abigail Thomas

Thomas, who has published several acclaimed memoirs, writes here about the process of memoir writing. Whether you choose to write for publication, for family members, or just for yourself, the first stumbling block to present itself to many writers is often where to start. Hard on the heels of that question is: what if you aren’t sure you remember events correctly? Thomas addresses both of these and much more, teaching by example rather than by rule. She shows readers how she approaches memories through “side doors” and offers writing cues to tempt readers into picking up a pen. Light-hearted anecdotes about teaching herself to dance give way to more serious stories about loss and recovery.

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