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"Sister India" and children's books adults will enjoy

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A Voyage to India
The book jacket for "Sister India" (Riverhead Books, $24.95) tells us that Peggy Payne is, among other things, a travel writer. And she must be a good one. This novel set in Varanasi, India, is full of striking word pictures of the streets, the people, the sounds of the city and of the sacred river, Ganges. Here, the Hindus come to wash away sin and to burn the bodies of the dead, the ashes being then consigned to the river. And here, according to Payne, there is always the immediate danger of violent conflict between the Hindus and the Muslims. When the author lets us see the life of the city, she takes us with her: ."There, just ahead, it passes on the cross street above the crowd, the rigid head and shoulders of a deity image carried high; I have not seen a Kali procession in so many years. Handing my driver a week's wage, I let myself down to the pavement. "Boys step aside for me. "The noise grows louder. 'The murti procession is breaking a space through the crowd: another Kali figure nearly as big as a human, propped on the seat of a rickshaw. She comes closer: the dark goddess, her tongue protruding, her sunken eyes rimmed red, a string of severed heads around her neck." Payne has set her story of travelers caught during a government curfew in a small inn. This inn is run by an enormously fat North Carolina expatriate, who uses her excess flesh to shelter herself from memories of her youth and from real human interaction. Each traveler brings an existential problem to India, and Payne tells of the effect the extended visit has on these dilemmas. The stories she gives us hold our interest but are not completely satisfying, possibly because, to this reader, they seemed a bit contrived. Payne uses her narrative to signal that, as distant as the culture of India may seem to us, human problems and reactions are often very similar. Hatred anywhere often brings death, and of course, love is not confined to any one culture. For an interesting visit to India, if not for a great novel, "Sister India" is worth reading. — Rozanne Epps Learning Made Easy
It ought not to be considered cheating if some of us, even though we are grown-ups, enjoy learning from books written for the 10-year-old-and-up set. Some of the most enjoyable nonfiction books are aimed at this market. Kelly Kyle of Narnia recommends these: "The Perilous Journey of the Donner Party," by Marian Calabro (Houghton Mifflin $20.) — We all know what happened to the Donner Party, but this is an especially good story of the horrible journey. "Blizzard: The Storm that Changed America," by Jim Murphy (Scholastic Trade, $18.95) — a story of the blizzard of 1888 in New York City. This storm surprised its victims and killed hundreds. "Shipwreck to the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance," by Jennifer Armstrong (Random House, $9.95)— a page-turner that reads like a fictional adventure story. "Sir Walter Ralegh and the Quest for El Dorado," by Marc Aronson (Houghton Mifflin, $20) — This story of Ralegh's life and explorations has just won the Robert S. Siebert award for 2000's most distinguished informational book for young readers. Feedback: Do you have a book that is so good you want to suggest that others read it? If so, let us hear from you at 358-0825 or e-mail,

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