Cousins.Virginia Hamilton.ilomel Books.125 pages.$14.95...

BOOK BRIEFS

January 06, 1991|By JUDITH B. ROSENFELD Ethel: the Fictional Autobiography. Tema Nason. Delacorte. 306 pages. $18.95.

Cousins.

Virginia Hamilton.

ilomel Books.

125 pages.

$14.95; ages 11 and up. Cammy's cousins -- they are all over the place, at school, at home, at day camp, and they don't always make life easier for her. She has many people to love and who love her -- her mother, her big brother Andrew, her Gram Tut, whom she visits regularly at the Care home. Cammy cannot even understand the arguments between her mother and her brother about the barely remembered father who left the house a long time before, keeping contact only with Andrew, who works with him.

This is an extended black family who provide a growing-up very much like Virginia Hamilton's own Central Ohio childhood, and she writes lovingly of the good times and the bad that the close involvement brings. One cousin drowns before Cammy's eyes, and it takes a long time and everyone's efforts to bring the young girl back from her guilt and horror. Gram Tut, supposedly close to dying, is there to help Cammy.

There is a universality to "Cousins" that will interest readers from all backgrounds, because they will be well acquainted with these characters and become their friends. Ms. Hamilton's books have won many awards, and "Cousins" will be judged highly along with these other titles.

Tema Nason's first novel tells more than the story of Ethel Rosenberg, who was executed for espionage in June 1953. Written as a series of journal entries, the book, a fictional autobiography, opens with Ethel in prison and flashes back to her youth. It covers the controversial trial of Ethel and Julius (her husband) Rosenberg and assumes their innocence. It argues that the political climate of the McCarthy era made a fair trial impossible. Mostly, however, it argues for Ethel -- not her guilt or innocence, but her passion.

Ms. Nason, a graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, attempts to explain the woman behind the headlines. Born in 1915 to Jewish immigrants, Ethel fights for social and civil justice and refuses the middle-class stereotype. Gifted with an ability to write, to act, to sing, the Ethel Ms. Nason convincingly portrays is not a traitor but a visionary: "As a woman, weak and submissive, I would be spared," she explains. "Strong and resolute, I have to die."

DIANE SCHARPER

Rough Red.

Martin Sylvester.

Villard.

296 pages. $17.95.

William Warner, London-based wine merchant, bon vivant and amateur sleuth, is vacationing in the South of France with his wife and two teen-age daughters. Near the end of the two-week vacation, Warner finds himself bored and itching to return to London, his business and mistress. Before he leaves, the disappearance of an English doctor's daughter piques Warner's interest. The police figure that she ran away and give a cursory probe. Deciding that it would be a nice diversion from the tedium of his holiday, Warner offers his services.

Martin Sylvester's "Rough Red" is the third William Warner adventure. Warner is a charming rogue, and though the pacing of "Rough Red" is a little slow at the beginning it picks up near the end. While hardly an edge-of-the-seat-thriller, the novel is unusual and the settings are authentic. The result is a nice suspense novel, as pleasant as a robust burgundy.

BOB BAYLUS

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