Title: "Fires at Yellowstone"Author: Julia...

BOOK BRIEFS

November 21, 1993|By DIANE SCHARPER Title: "Zaddik" Author: David Rosenbaum Publisher Mysterious Press/Warner Books Length, price: 438 pages, $19.95 | DIANE SCHARPER Title: "Zaddik" Author: David Rosenbaum Publisher Mysterious Press/Warner Books Length, price: 438 pages, $19.95,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Title: "Fires at Yellowstone"

Author: Julia Wendell

Publisher: The Bacchae Press

Length, price: 28 pages, $5 (paperback)

ZTC Many of the poems in "Fires at Yellowstone," Julia Wendell's second book, resemble journal entries. Their subjects are the birds' flight south, remembered piano lessons, burying a pet dog, forcing forsythia in March. These subjects, though, are metaphors. Each of these spare, mostly short poems is actually a way of reaching a hidden part of the self.

Ms. Wendell, editor-in-chief of Galileo Press and a lecturer at Goucher College, is an accomplished poet. She has been published in numerous literary magazines, including the prestigious American Poetry Review. The poems in this book won the Bacchae Press' first annual chapbook competition.

There's a dark quality to this collection -- "I wake troubled by the woman I've become," Ms. Wendell writes in "Games of Passion," representative poem. But generally this book looks at what happens after the darkness recedes: "I'm the plodding gatherer pulled homeward," as she puts it in "What Makes Them Fly?" "At Yellowstone," the final poem, ends with the image of trees scorched by fire: "how all that light/now gets through," the poet says, her words making an apt comment on her art.

Dov Taylor is a recovering alcoholic divorced ex-cop with just one thing going for him: His short-tempered alcoholic Hasidic great-great grandfather, Hirsh Leib, was considered a zaddik, or righteous man, in Poland, in 1914.

Which is why the modern Hasidim of the hostile (but, in this novel, about-to-be reconciled) Satmarer and Lubavitcher communities have enlisted him in the search for a perfect 72-carat diamond originally discovered by Hirsh Leib's mentor, a revered Polish rebbe known as the Seer of Lublin. Flying through time and space on the wings of religious hypnosis, Taylor watches the pogrom that killed Hirsh Leib and the Seer after a meeting with Napoleon, and the theft of the stone by the evil Count Czartoryski.

Past and present, the bodies drop like flies; in New York, the murders are committed by a demented concentration camp collaborator under the control of the evil count's evil Nazi descendant.

A hackneyed character, Taylor is an outsider in search of his soul who wanders among the flawed, fanatic and fiendish. The book jacket calls "Zaddik" a work of "imaginative fiction," but it's hard to maintain the necessary suspension of disbelief when you don't know whether you're stuck in "The Twilight Zone" or a bad Melanie Griffith movie.

GERRI KOBREN

Title: "From Cradle to Grave: The Human Face of Poverty in America"

Author: Jonathan Freedman

Publisher: Atheneum

Length, price: 244 pages, $20

Jonathan Freedman's columns on social issues have been featured in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and the San Diego Tribune. In 1987, he won a Pulitzer Prize for distinguished editorial writing. This book, in a slightly labored metaphor, is organized by "steps" in life's staircase: from prenatal care to infancy, early childhood, childhood, adolescence, the family, midlife and retirement. It is an attempt to show, through individual stories, where pieces of the "railing" are missing, and how the poor in this country, 40 percent of whom are children, are allowed, quite literally, to stumble and fall.

The interviews that Mr. Freedman conducts convince him that poverty is more often linked to psychological wounds, often the result of sexual abuse, than to economic and social factors. Each chapter is full of success stories and good ideas, from community-based child development programs to a national system of child support that would deduct payments directly from the absent parent's wages, to Citizen's Advice Bureaus to job training programs to hospice care for the elderly.

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