cover image The White Man in the Tree and Other Stories

The White Man in the Tree and Other Stories

Mark Kurlansky. Washington Square Press, $23.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-671-03605-8

Kurlansky is best known for such quirky nonfiction surprise bestsellers as Cod and The Basque History of the World and here turns his hand for the first time to fiction--which won't make the same market splash as his earlier, offbeat offerings, but should produce some ripples. The author was for many years a newspaper correspondent in the Caribbean, and an intimate knowledge of the islands and their sometimes peculiar approaches to life and ways of doing things permeates these affectionate and often wryly amusing tales. The title story is a delicious fable about a Danish filmmaker who thinks he has found nirvana with a beautiful Haitian mistress, only to discover that her views of the possibilities of the relationship are profoundly different. ""The Unclean"" tells of efforts to produce kosher chickens for a Dutch West Indies island, and the confusions that result. ""Naked"" is a sweetly satirical account of the political bureaucracy at work in the wake of an island hurricane. ""Beautiful Mayaguez Women,"" set in Puerto Rico, details some of the odder corners of labor relations and cross-dressing on the island. ""Packets and Paperscraps"" is a perceptive and poignant story of an island stud and his problems with the arrival of AIDS precautions. Only ""Desparecidos,"" an unsettling tale of a journalist traveling around South America who discovers he has a doppelg nger filing stories in his name, strikes a darker note. But this is basically a sunny collection, lithely written and full of Caribbean sunshine. (Oct.)