THE ARROWING OF THE CANE by John Conyngham (Fireside: $7.95)

This prize-winning first novel offers American readers a rare look at the rapidly vanishing, privileged world of white South Africa. Like a colonial Louis XV, James Colville languidly surveys his sugar-cane plantation in Natal, secure in the knowledge that although the system that permits him to live in luxury is doomed, it will probably last for his lifetime. He recognizes the evils of apartheid, but the pinchbeck liberalism he espouses is born of pragmatism rather than moral conviction. John Conyngham's descriptions are skillfully rendered, but his character regards everything with such diffidence that it's difficult for the reader to care much about what happens to him. Colville muses on the possibilities of a black-led revolution with a vapid indifference that recalls Verlaine's image of decadent Roman aristocrats composing acrostics as they watched the processions of Teutonic barbarians.

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