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"The Constant Gardner"; "The Avengers"

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The master at work
John LeCarré is our best creator of thrillers. He writes skillfully, and, more importantly, he creates characters who become real people. There were solemn discussions at the end of the Cold War about whether LeCarré could adjust. Where would he be without the Russian opponent? But this author obviously knows about what many of us call original sin. There is evil everywhere. Long before the current CIA report on international crime, he was warning of the networks of shadowy arms dealers ("the Night Manager," 1993) who are profiting almost immeasurably from regional conflicts. In "The Constant Gardner" (Scribner $28), he takes on the international pharmaceutical companies over what he depicts as a criminal quest for profits at the expense of the poor, especially in areas such as Africa. The gardener is the husband of Tessa Quayle, the real bright light in this book. When the story opens, she is dead. She has been murdered, quite clearly because she is determined to expose a multinational pharmaceutical corporation that is using the Africans to test a drug that is supposed to be a miracle cure for TB. Instead, it is killing many of the patients on which it is tried. From the beginning, LeCarré takes us on a journey that, as in so many of his other books, is complicated and often confusing. The subtlety of his writing is mesmerizing. It is true that, as in all thrillers, the last part of the book is concerned with tying up the plot and, thus, is more action than character delineation. But by that time, LeCarré has made us care about what happens to the people he has created, and he has alerted us to another evil that comes with globalization and the quest for wealth. — Rozanne Epps They did not go quietly
In most Holocaust memoirs, the intended extermination of the Jewish people has been the dominant theme. "The Avengers" (Knopf $25) by Rich Cohen casts a refreshing perspective on the more militant Jewish response when faced with the prospect of mass annihilation. This book is a clear reflection of a dedicated confederation of Jewish partisans in the Baltic state of Lithuania who, beginning in 1943, executed unapologetic, systematic retaliation upon their Nazi oppressors. Abba Kovnor was a citizen of Vilna, Lithuania, who had modest fame as a sculptor and poet by the time he was 24. A devout Zionist, he was an unquenchable firebrand who could stir people to action. Ruzka Korczak was a former student from Poland for whom Zionism was the spiritual tonic for the loneliness within her soul. Virka Kempner, a carefree Polish refugee, defiantly celebrated life regardless of any circumstance. Together, these three inseparable companions steadfastly mobilized their fellow Jews in Vilna into a team. From the confines of a ghetto, this partisan group, known as "The Avengers," engineered audacious commando attacks on Nazi supply trains and German soldiers, perpetrated dramatic acts of sabotage on German transportation, and all but paralyzed the basic utilities of Vilna with homemade explosives. The partisans eventually allied with the advancing Russian forces that liberated Vilna in late 1944. Even after the war, the thirst for vengeance did not abate. A plot to poison the bread delivered to the Nazis awaiting trial at Nuremberg was devised by Abba. Though the partisan ranks diminished after the war, Abba, Ruzka and Vitka readily joined the Jewish underground, the Haganah, and helped smuggle many concentration camp refugees into Palestine despite the scrutiny of the British forces. "The Avengers" meticulously pieces together the exploits of the Jewish partisans into a record brimming with fiery passion. The author has gathered data from many interviews with many of the surviving partisans still living on a collective settlement in Israel. The acts of Abba and his band constitute a mighty roar against Nazi tyranny that deserves the praise and honor that has been overlooked for so long. — Bruce Simon Heads-up: If you are planning to vacation in Virginia there are two new books that may help. The University Press of Virginia has published "Enjoying Virginia Outdoors, A Guide to Wildlife Management Areas" by Bob Gooch ($18.95). There are 29 of these wildlife areas where you can hike, mountain bike or look for animals and birds. This paperback contains maps and descriptions of the recreational set asides. "The Insiders' Guide to Virginia Beach," by Sally Kirby Hartman (Falcon Publishing $16.95) also includes maps and help navigating not only Virginia Beach but also the Bay, the Eastern Shore and Norfolk.

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