A SEASON OF INSANITY
Long before September 11, Algerian novelist, poet and journalist Tahar Djaout learned how fearsome religious fanaticism could be. On May 26, 1993, Djaout was shot by assassins outside of his home in Bainem, Algeria. His death was attributed to the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). Dajout's death was the first in a series of murders by the FIS that targeted high-profile intellectuals. "The Last Summer of Reason," a haunting novel in French, was found in Djaout's papers. It is the story of Boualem Yekker, a bookstore owner whose country is being overtaken by fundamentalists. The book has just been published in English by Ruminator Books, which is donating a percentage of the proceeds to the American Booksellers Foundation for the Freedom of Expression.
Wole Soyinka, winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature, has championed "The Last Summer of Reason," writing a foreword for the new book. "We're really in a season of fundamentalist insanity in many religions," Soyinka told us. "There's a real escalation of intolerance, of the will to constrict the mind. Many people outside have been unaware of the enormity of the killings that have been taking place in Algeria, for instance, in the name of religious purity. So a book like Djaout's, which is a very pointed allegory, is something that I think is required at this moment to make people understand that this issue goes beyond the sensational reports of a massacre here, a murder here, an atrocity there. It strikes the fundamental roots of being and intelligence."
SALT OF THE EARTH
Would an author be able to write a whole book about salt? Mark Kurlansky, the author of "Salt: A World History" (Walker: January), says that not only was there enough to fill a whole book, there was too much. "I didn't want to do 'The Salt Story' in five volumes," he says, only half jokingly. "The problem with this book is that every country in the world has its own salt story." Those stories took Kurlansky around the world "more than once" in his three years of writing his book. Kurlansky says that quest for salt has shaped the history of civilization. Salt as an inexpensive commodity, he says, is a "big historic shift" that took taken place in the last century.
Kurlansky says his interest in salt grew out of his last book, "Cod," since that fish only became an important trade item when it began to be preserved with salt. In the course of his research, he became friends with several "salt historians," who have made the common rock their lives' work. It's not surprising to learn that Americans eat more salt than anyone else, and probably too much. Kurlansky, a former newspaperman at the International Herald Tribune and the Philadelphia Inquirer, has had to endure a certain number of quipsters who want to know whether his next book will be about pepper. That's okay, says Kurlansky: "After 'Cod,' they wanted to know if my next book was going to be 'Tuna.' "