Salon recommends

The page-turning biography of Princess Di's ancestress, the story of an orphan torn between black and white families, and more.

Published January 22, 2001 10:02PM (EST)

What we're reading, what we're liking

Make Believe by Joanna Scott
Although the premise for this novel -- an orphaned boy is fought over by the parents of his black father and his white mother -- makes it sound like Oprah fodder, Joanna Scott is one of the most thrilling literary stylists writing today. So with "Make Believe," you get all the meaty emotions and situations of sheer melodrama decked out in shimmering, visionary prose. The first chapter is a tour de force -- reading it, I felt that I really knew what it was like to be a 4-year-old surviving the car crash that killed his mother.

-- Laura Miller

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman
For that cross-section of readers who, like me, love Jane Austen and also subscribe to W. magazine, the most entertaining book to appear in a long time is Amanda Foreman's "Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire," which just became available in paperback. Winner of Britain's Whitbread Prize for biography last year, this is a serious investigation into a historically significant figure: Georgiana Spencer, Princess Diana's great-great-great-great aunt, who lived during the late 18th century, played a surprisingly influential role in national politics and held sway over fashionable society. But it's also a juicy tale of a charming, naive, just slightly out-of-control aristocratic girl who grabs her chance at the big time at age 17 by marrying an influential duke. He turns out to be a cold and indifferent man with a family bent on controlling her in overt and subtle ways, and the charismatic Georgiana at first finds solace in the social whirl. Eventually -- inevitably, it seems -- she's undone by her own propensity for drinking, gambling and complicated love affairs. Foreman is both a careful researcher who knows how to organize her wealth of historical information and a terrific scene-setter. "Georgiana" gives us an often startlingly vivid picture of a personality and a time, making it all seem simultaneously exotic and recognizable.

--Maria Russo

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