James Herriot. St. Martin's. 342...


December 13, 1992|By BARBARA SAMSON MILLS PASSING SELECTED ESSAYS, 1962-1991. Jerzy Kosinski. Random House. 262 pages. $23. | BARBARA SAMSON MILLS PASSING SELECTED ESSAYS, 1962-1991. Jerzy Kosinski. Random House. 262 pages. $23.,LOS ANGELES TIMES LA STORIA. Jerry Mangione & Ben Morreale. HarperCollins. 370 pages. $30.

EVERY LIVING THING. James Herriot. St. Martin's. 342 pages. $22.95. An old friend has returned after a 10-year silence: James Herriot, veterinarian and author extraordinaire, tells more tales about his seemingly idyllic practice in Yorkshire, England. He has not changed -- his wit, warmth and talent for marking detail are as entertaining as ever.

Probably Mr. Herriot's success came about because he reminisces not only about his patients, but also about their owners. We meet again the inhabitants of the dales who speak in strange tongues, in dialects that are perfectly rendered by the author. Happily, eccentric Mrs. Pumphrey and her beloved dog "Tricky" remain on board, and the grand lady's conversation is "still filled with strange and wondrous things." She is as generous and kind as ever.

Mr. Herriot's stories are full of compassion for pain of all sorts and never exploit sentimentalism, which accounts for the continued success of his five central volumes -- several of whose stories have been rewritten as popular children's books. His wife, Helen, is once again a main character as is his acerbic partner, Siegfried.

Mr. Herriot's two children were "besotted" with animals, and both wanted to become vets. Son Jimmy has taken over the Herriot practice and daughter Rosie has become a doctor "of humans," due probably to her father's persuasion. This latest volume is a real pleasure and a joyful respite from the ills of the world. When Jerzy Kosinski killed himself last year, many of his fans and friends were stumped. Kosinski seemed to embody the kind of optimism seen in people who have been gifted with a second chance at life. Arriving penniless in the United States after having narrowly escaped the Holocaust, he borrowed money to make a living as a trucker, taught himself English by memorizing Shakespeare and then used his new language skills to become an assured novelist.

Readers of this uneven but revealing collection, however, will be less surprised at the suicide. However high he may have traveled socially or spiritually, Kosinski was still a boy in Poland, abandoned by the friends to whom his parents had entrusted him and forced to beg for food and shelter among often unsympathetic peasants. The only home that he truly seemed comfortable in was homelessness, and so he sought it out even at the height of his fame. Visiting hospitals and nursing homes, he would pull up to the bedsides of these people, "whom the world has discarded," and tell stories.

In these essays, occasionally he acknowledges that his optimism is actually a fragile existential feat. Remembering the once lively Jewish community of Kazimierz, Poland, he ponders the difficulty of choosing "a state of mind based on life" over "one immersed in shadows that my memory casts on my soul." This book is both a story and history of 500 years of Italian migration across the Atlantic. The earliest Italians on this side of the Atlantic were scholars and artists, and were held in high regard. Perceptions changed with the great tide of immigration of the late 1800s through to the first quarter of this century. By that time, prejudices against immigration brought laws to stem the flow.

Most Italians came to earn enough to return with funds to buy their own house and small piece of land back in "the old country." About half the immigrants did return, often overcome by nostalgia and usually short of accomplishing their dreams. Italians originating from southern Italy, the Mezzigiorno, were the most desperate of the lot, although those from the north didn't have it easy, either.

The authors' treatment of the Mafia, I thought, was too defensive. Still, this book is well organized, making it possible to read it piecemeal without losing any appeal.


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