NINE RIVERS FROM JORDAN (496 pp.)Denis JohnstonLittle, Brown ($5).
One summer night in 1942, as Britain's Eighth Army reeled back on Cairo under the hammer blows of Rommel's Panzers, a devil-may-care Irishman employed by the BBC as a war correspondent padded out to the Pyramids on the back of a weary camel. In the far distance, the Tommies sang without a care,
O they've shifted father's grave
To build a sewer . . .
while in the lee of the Great Pyramid, a bearded dragoman told the Irishman's fortune: "Here in your hand I see nine...