BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Forty years ago Capra Press, an indie publishing house, released a series of six chapbooks by Henry Miller. These were later collected into a single volume, SEXTET, which New Directions (the successor to Capra) has now reissued as a paperback.

The chapbooks--essays, really--were written by Miller after WW II, on a variety of subjects: turning 80, reading the Japanese novelist Mishima, first impressions of Greece, the joy of painting watercolors, etc. Each time out Miller exhibits his customary ebullience, intelligence and individuality, holding nothing back, channeling Whitman in the way he proudly "sounds his barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world."

There are numerous surprises in the book. One wouldn't have thought that the anarchistic Miller would have admired Mishima, a writer who was a fanatical nationalist and self-styled Samurai who from the age of eighteen nourished a romantic desire for self-extinction. In an attempt to change the materialistic behavior of his countrymen, Mishima at forty-five committed suicide in ritualistic Japanese fashion. Miller defends Mishima's self-destructive act, finding "a touch of nobility" about it. "The manner and purpose of it caused me to question some of the things I valued or cherished, caused me, in brief, to question my own conscience," he confesses.

Miller also champions the work of a writer who is virtually unknown today, Jacob Wasserman, whose trilogy, published in 1929 as The Maurizius Case, deals with an infamous European miscarriage of justice. "With that fullness of depth and insight which distinguishes the creative artist, Wasserman expanded the theme to a degree which gives it the magnitude of a Greek tragedy," Miller states.

Miller's spirited defense of this forgotten book is a thing of beauty. His thirty-six page essay not only brings Wasserman's story to life but hammers home its relevance and importance. "The Maurizius Case, like the Dreyfus Case, the Tom Mooney Case, the Sacco and Vanzetti Case, the Bridges Case--what a dossier of cases one could compile!--fills one with sadness and despair not because there has been a miscarriage of justice but because society itself is revealed as a vast web in which all its members, good and bad, are pinioned and squirm helplessly....Only when a flaming injustice is perpetuated do we realize how empty world culture is. Suddenly the whole edifice is seen to be rotten--the worms become visible."

(New Directions Paperback, $14.95)