Books: The Pungency of War

NINE RIVERS FROM JORDAN (496 pp.)—Denis Johnston—Little, 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...

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