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NEW PAPERBACKS OFFER ACCESSIBLE DIVERSION

The following are short reviews of new and noteworthy releases in paperback:

D-DAY, JUNE 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II, by Stephen E. Ambrose, Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, $16.

Drawing on 1,200 oral histories, the author examines the strategy behind the landings at Normandy and re-creates the scene where Allied troops triumphed, but at a terrible cost. Last year, our reviewer, Raleigh Trevelyan, wrote: "The descriptions of individual ordeals on the bloody beach . . . make this book outstanding."

THE RAGE OF THE VULTURE, by Barry Unsworth, Norton, $12.

Earlier novels by this British author, who was a co-winner of the Booker Prize in 1992 for "Sacred Hunger," are now reappearing in print. This one focuses on Robert Markham, a British army captain attached to the legation in Turkey in 1908. Markham uses his position to seek both absolution and vengeance for a personal tragedy that sprang from the nation's ethnic hatreds. The novel is "a beautifully honest story . . . and I admire Barry Unsworth very much for having told it so scrupulously and vividly," Thomas R. Edwards said here in 1983.

Norton has also reissued "Stone Virgin" ($11), Unsworth's tale of a 15th-century Italian madonna statue that exerts a strange hold over a British art restorer. Writing in these pages in 1986, Katha Pollitt commented that if she ever visited Venice, she would fully expect to see the statue "smiling down at me from a church front." She added: "And if I don't, I'll be disappointed indeed."

THE GULF CONFLICT, 1990-1991: Diplomacy and War in the New World Order, by Lawrence Freedman and Efraim Karsh, Princeton University, $18.95.

THE POLITICS OF DISPOSSESSION: The Struggle for Palestinian Self-Determination, 1969-1994, by Edward W. Said, Vintage, $15.

THE NEW MIDDLE EAST, by Shimon Peres with Arye Naor, Owl/Holt, $14.95.

The authors of "The Gulf Conflict, 1990-1991" analyze the escalating problems that led to U.S. intervention in the Persian Gulf, concentrating on the gambles taken by both sides. "It is unlikely that there will be a better balanced or more comprehensive chronicle," H.D.S. Greenway said in the Book Review in 1993.

The issues of the Gulf War are among the many subjects covered in "The Politics of Dispossession: The Struggle for Palestinian Self-Determination, 1969-1994," a collection of previously published essays, dialogues and articles about the Middle East. Last year, our reviewer, David K. Shipler, found the writing "vitriolic," but praised the author's "provocative and justifiable assaults on American caricatures of Islam and Arabs."

A vision of a region free from hostilities infuses "The New Middle East," by Shimon Peres with Arye Naor. Peres, Israel's minister of foreign affairs and winner of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, proposes an eventual economic confederation of Israel and its neighbors. His words "are especially poignant on the Palestinians," Clyde Haberman said here in 1994.

A MAP OF THE WORLD, by Jane Hamilton, Anchor/Doubleday, $12.

Having endured devastating losses when she was a child, Alice Goodwin has found respite in the dreamlike universe of her imagination and in the quiet reality of rural Wisconsin. But both refuges betray her. The novel "lays out an exciting human drama against a setting so vividly realized that you can almost smell the loamy soil," Bill Kent wrote in the Book Review last year.

OLEANDER, JACARANDA, A Childhood Perceived: A Memoir, by Penelope Lively, Harper Perennial, $10.

This is as much a meditation on the sensibilities of the young as it is a chronicle of Egypt in the 1930s and '40s, when the author found happiness despite rumblings of war and her British parents' impending divorce. Readers will feel grateful "for having been shown tantalizing glimpses of a vanished, exotic world," Francine Prose said in these pages in 1994.

LIVE FREE OR DIE, by Ernest Hebert, Hardscrabble/University Press of New England, $16.95.

Darby, N.H., is the setting for this book, the fifth and final in the author's series about the fictional New England town. Here Frederick Elman, a young bridge painter and poet, falls in love with a woman from a wealthy, disintegrating family. In 1990, our reviewer, Marianne Gingher, said: "To feel encompassed by a novel - to sense that you've actually set foot in its terrain - is very rare indeed." The same publisher has restored to print Hebert's first novel, THE DOGS OF MARCH ($14.95), whose protagonist is Frederick's father, Howard, a barely literate laborer. "By turns tormented, funny, poignant and appalling, he lodges in the memory," Michael Mewshaw wrote here in 1979.

A FATHER'S STORY, by Lionel Dahmer, Avon, $5.99.

The parent of Jeffrey Dahmer explores haunting questions: How did the innocent baby he remembers become a vicious serial killer? And how was he himself at fault? Calling the book "remarkable," our reviewer, Will Self, said last year: "I can think of no better place to begin the much-needed examination of the dark side of our natures."

THE ASSAULT, by Reinaldo Arenas, translated by Andrew Hurley, Penguin, $10.95.

The narrator, a government informer, lives in a totalitarian society in which repression has been pushed to its ultimate limits: friendship is banned, language has been curtailed. Written by a Cuban exile and former political prisoner who committed suicide in 1990, this futuristic novel shows "the full force of his passion and rage," James Polk wrote here last year.

A BROKEN VESSEL, by Kate Ross, Penguin, $6.99.

In Regency London, a dapper amateur sleuth catches a murderer by teaming up with his valet's sister, a prostitute. Last year, our reviewer, Marilyn Stasio, said the author writes "vividly of the sights, sounds and depravities of the day."