Sun, Nov 30, 2003 - Page 18 News List

New York Times Bestsellers

In Black and White

By Wil H

Knopf

"My mother was born in San Juan," Sammy Davis Jr. said, "so I'm Puerto Rican, Jewish, colored and married to a White woman. When I move into a neighborhood, people start running four ways at the same time." He was a gifted entertainer who was tormented by insecurities, a man whose ambivalent feelings about his race defined his struggles in both his career and personal life. Davis courted the favor of white entertainers (most notably Frank Sinatra, whom he worshiped), pursued white women and endured insults and death threats.

Haygood offers stories of Davis' friendships with Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jeff Chandler, Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis, and his very different relationships with Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier, who were invested in the civil-rights movement when Davis hardly knew it existed. The book makes too many digressions into unnecessary background information, but it's still a vivid portrait of a man who was both admirable and pitiable, whose vision of himself was buffeted by a transitional time in race relations and his need to succeed.

The Girl Who Played Go

By Shan Sa

Knopf

Set in Manchuria during the 1930s amid the fighting between the Chinese and the invading Japanese, this otherworldly novel alternates between two very different points of view, those of a war-hardened Japanese soldier and of a 16-year-old Chinese girl. We learn that she is lovely and on the brink of sexual awakening, but her true passion is the ancient game of go, which she plays masterfully against opponents in a town square. He is a dutiful son whose desire to remain honorable is threatened by the brutality that he sees as a soldier. Eventually they come together in the square, he in disguise, she waiting for a worthy adversary, and begin a complex game that continues for days and sparks a sensual attraction between them.

These scenes are entrancing as the soldier silently longs for the girl and admires her playing skill, even while knowing they are "separated by a thousand years of history." Sa does not avoid the graphic violence of the war around them, and she provides an ending that you won't predict. This novel, her first to appear in English, was translated by Adriana Hunter.

Ghostly Men

By Franz Lidz

Bloomsbury

This is an odd little book about odd little men, with some New York City history thrown in for flavor. Homer and Langley Collyer were known as the "Hermits of Harlem" until Homer's death in 1947 when he was 65 (for the sake of readers who've never heard of the Collyers, we won't ruin a rather macabre surprise by saying where Langley was when Homer's body was found). Nine years earlier, a newspaper reporter had discovered the eccentric brothers living in disarray in their family home in Harlem, surrounded by the result of a lifetime of obsessive collecting.

Lidz, a writer for Sports Illustrated, alternates the Collyers' story with that of his uncles, Danny and Arthur, who had some quirks of their own (one of Arthur's was a passion for hoarding junk). Lidz wrote about his family in his book Unstrung Heroes, which became a film by Diane Keaton. He says that the Collyer brothers and his uncles had "a commitment to extreme squalor" and "valued shoelaces and tin cans as much as Old Masters and grand pianos." Their stories are odd, charming and sad.

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