EW looks at five new titles -- A sampling of opening lines from books out the week of April 27, 1990

Bird of Paradise

Bird of Paradise
By Vicki Covington
Simon & Schuster, $18.95

The morning Dinah died was cold. I’d gone over to her place early, happy, I suppose you might say, that winter was near. I like the colors of fall, and there’s nothing in the world sad in knowing that leaves are dying. Same with people if you’re a believer, because you can rightfully say — if you’re a believer — that people are like trees: they don’t actually die, they just appear to be shedding all color. Of course, this theory breaks down when you’re viewing a tree that’s sure enough dead, whose leaves don’t return even in spring. But I can’t trouble myself with exceptions to the rule.

Our Grandmothers’ Drums
By Mark Hudson
Grove Weidenfeld, $18.95

I had no visa for Senegal. The plane flew low over the Mauritanian desert. One could pick out the routes of ancient dried-up rivers cut into the eternity of mountainous, uninhabitable rock. But at this height it all looked reassuringly small, like a child’s excavations on a beach.

Further south all detail dissolved into a haze of yellow-grey dust which seemed to rise into the sky to meet the plane. Banks of cloud lay on the horizon, like slabs of frosted icing, beneath a cold, pale moon. It rapidly became dark, and soon only a ribbon of pink separated the blackness of the sky from the blueness of the haze over the earth, into which we descended as though into an abyss.

It hadn’t occurred to me that a visa would be necessary for a twelve-hour stop in transit, but as I walked across the tarmac towards the airport buildings I had a sudden feeling of trepidation.

Jubilee Jim and the Wizard of Wall Street
By Donald Porter
Dutton, $19.95

The large black carriage pushed its way southward along Broadway, which at midmorning was at the peak of its daily frenzy.

Oxen wagons blocked white public omnibuses, and the liveried drivers of spidery cabriolets lashed at squealing pigs to move them from under their wheels. Battered delivery vans cut off aristocratic victorias. Hanging in the air were street grit, cinders, burnt offal, and fish scrap. Dampened by the cold, raw mist, the driver of the large carriage — a ponderous, hulking victoria — was huddled in his greatcoat to keep the March chill at bay, while he expertly picked a path through the logjam of carriages, carts, wagons, vans, pigs, and goats.

William Henry Vanderbilt, seemingly above the fray, was settled comfortably against the massive victoria’s leather cushions. His pasty, middle-aged face gazed through the window. . .with dignified amusement, while his intelligent blue eyes followed with sharp interest the progress of the melee.

An Intimate Portrait of a Woman in Power
By Chris Ogden
Simon & Schuster, $22.95

The Battle of Britain in 1940 may have been, in Churchill’s words, the nation’s ”finest hour,” but until Margaret Thatcher, the rest of the twentieth century was a long downnhill slide. When Thatcher took over in 1979, the country boasted the world’s greatest English-speaking actors, its best tennis tournament, and the greenest grass anywhere. After that, top quality dropped off fast. The 1960s offered a brief spasm of fresh inspiration that uplifted the nation’s spirits and obscured the depth of the rot. By the 1970s, the pop music crown had reverted to the United States and fashion cues were coming once again from France and Italy. Design prizes went to Japan. Germany opened up an ever wider economic lead. In pre-Diana Britain, even the royal family was insipid.

Bird of Paradise
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