DON'T judge a book by its cover. Or its book jacket. Or the incredible amount of hype which precedes its debut. Deng Xiaoping: My Father by Deng Maomao, otherwise known as Deng Rong, the youngest of the paramount leader's daughters, is supposed to be, according to the publishers, 'the first insider account of this enigmatic, post-revolutionary Chinese leader'. And who better to recount Deng's remarkable story - from his petty elite origins in the Chinese hinterland to 16-year-old student revolutionary living hand to mouth in Paris to virtual emperor of a nation he himself fashioned into a superpower-in-waiting - than his own flesh and blood, one of the few to have access to those secret chambers of the communist aristocracy guarded jealously from outside scrutiny? Publication of the English-language version of Deng Maomao's biography has been accompanied by an incredible amount of publicity. But despite all the hype about breaking taboos - Chinese leaders' children do not normally write about them, especially while they are still alive - Deng Xiaoping: My Father delivers far less than it promises. The problem is, surprisingly, a very unco-operative subject. As it turns out, not even Deng's offspring have been able to gain an intimate view of this extraordinary man. Throughout the book Deng Maomao talks about her father's reticence. In one outburst of frustration, she writes: 'Father must have many stories in mind, but he is reluctant to tell about his past. If he could tell more stories . . . I would have more 'rice straws' to clutch, and this story would have been more vivid.' There are a few bits of nice gossip. After retiring, Deng watched 50 of the 52 1990 World Cup Tournament matches broadcast on television. And occasionally, Deng does speak candidly, such as when he recounts a narrow escape from police in Shanghai 1931. (He just walked through the back door when police arrived.) But the book never becomes truly personal, by the standards the author would like to have achieved. As a result, Deng Maomao had to rely not on the personal accounts of her father, as readers might have hoped, but on his comrades and secondary source material, much of it hitherto classified information and thus not normally available to outsiders, such as the Military History of the Second Field Army of the Chinese People's Army. None of this makes for scintillating or necessarily honest prose. The heavy reliance on secondary source material makes this less of a biography than an account of history spanning the years from Deng's birth to the 1949 communist revolution. Deng weaves in and out of the plot, but does not dominate to the extent expected in a biography. It is not surprising to find that his comrades in arms have nothing but praise for their leader. But, great man that he is, Deng must have had some tiny fault, some idiosyncracy. Did he bite his nails, perhaps? If he did, you will not find out about it in these pages. When you are paramount leader in China, you do not get criticised by anyone - not even for smoking in public places. But Deng Maomao has no qualms about making her political agenda clear. This was never meant to be an honest and certainly not a controversial book. Deng Maomao, the paramount leader's secretary and key interpreter of the incoherent grunts he has been heard to make in rare public glimpses over the past two years, wrote the book, because, as she says, 'I hold him in high esteem' and 'I love my father from the bottom of my heart'. The thrust of the book is to justify every decision or move that Deng made. After Mao Zedong's death, the Party, then led by Deng, declared Mao Zedong 70 per cent good and 30 per cent bad. The Deng family apparently wants to pre-empt, or at least help determine, the evaluation of Deng Xiaoping after his death. For example, Deng Maomao goes to enormous lengths to explain and justify her father's relationship with Li Mingrui, a southwestern warlord with communist leanings, who took up the revolutionary cause but was later executed by the Communist Party. According to Deng Maomao, her father, on orders from the Party, converted Li to communism. Li then became commander-in-chief of the Seventh and Eighth corps of the Red Army and fought with the communists against the Kuomintang. Deng Maomao details Li's military campaigns and throughout the account refers repeatedly to the close friendship between Deng and Li, who was executed by the 'leftists' controlling the Party in the early 30s. While details such as the account of the Li-Deng friendship, not discussed as extensively in other English-language works on Deng, helps fulfil the book's historical mission, Deng Maomao's political agenda always makes her account suspect. She avoids any details which might embarrass her father. For example, she mentions that Deng was divorced from his second wife, A Jin. Yet she fails to mention that A Jin then married Li Weihan, the man who chaired conferences at which Deng was criticised by the Party for sympathising with the so-called 'pessimistic and abolitionist' line. Nor does she mention or refute accounts which say Deng and 20 fellow revolutionaries had to flee Paris because the police were chasing them for acts of violence against other Chinese living in France in the 20s. At times the author lets her biases carry her to emotional pitches which get in the way of a story whose details should stand on their own. At one point, she writes: 'When Premier Zhou [Enlai] passed away, Father made the memorial speech on behalf of the Party and the people despite deep sorrow. Tears are falling down my cheeks as I write these lines.' Nor are her historical observations enlightening. After talking about her father's case of typhoid while studying in France, she says: 'Fortunately, he narrowly escaped death. Otherwise, I would not have the special honour of writing this book today.' And on a Deng military victory against the Kuomintang: 'In its early development, the Communist Party of China was not very lucky. Actually, it was indeed help from heaven.' Annoyingly, Deng Maomao often guesses at what her father might have been doing or felt at the time. 'Half the editorials in Red Star were signed, and the rest were unsigned. I guess most of the unsigned editorials were written by father,' she writes. Couldn't Deng's right-hand woman just have asked him? Deng Maomao promises to write a sequel about the second half of her father's life, covering what she calls the most brilliant years of Deng's life. They are also some of the politically trickiest. Will her account grapple with these tough issues - such as Tiananmen - or merely skate over unpleasant facts, hoping that no one will notice? After Deng Xiaoping: My Father, one fears that China's paramount leader is about to take his secrets to his grave, leaving him forever the enigma that he now appears.