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17/04/2007

Magazine Roundup

Magazine Roundup, which appears every Tuesday at 12 p.m., is originally published by Perlentaucher.

The New Yorker | Asharq al-Awsat | De Volkskrant | Outlook India | Le point | Nepszabadsag | Il Foglio | Europa | The Spectator | Elet es Irodalom | The Times Literary Supplement | The Economist | The New York Times


The New Yorker 23.04.2007 (USA)

Jane Kramer starts her long, heavily factual reportage on the final spurt of the French presidential campaign with a wonderful symbol of the "Cartesian trap" in which the French are caught. "Late one night toward the end of March, after a day spent listening to too many Frenchmen talk politics, I called room service at my Paris hotel, hoping for a sandwich. 'We have ham and Emmental, on toast,' the waiter on the phone told me. 'Good,' I said, 'and could you grill the sandwich?' 'No, Madame. The menu says ham and cheese; if we grill the sandwich, that would be more like a croque-monsieur.' 'Agreed,' I said. 'Make it more like a croque-monsieur.' 'Alas,' he said, 'that is not possible. A ham-and-cheese sandwich is never grilled, only when the menu says "croque-monsieur," and it does not say "croque-monsieur"." It occurred to me then that I was lost in a very French conversation, and never mind that the waiter came from Senegal. He was French now, and our conversation was no different, really, from the ones I’d been having all day with those stock characters from the country’s ongoing campaign commedia—the pundits, the philosophes, and the politicians."


Asharq al-Awsat 11.04.2007 (Saudi Arabia / UK)

Amir Taheri takes the recently published biography of the French writer and convert to Islam Roger Garaudy as an opportunity to settle his score with the Holocaust denier and his many friends and fans in Arabic and Islamic countries. "Garaudy could admire Kaddafi because he did not have to live under the colonel's rule in Libya. He could have dinner with Khatami and discuss philosophy because he knew that he would leave Tehran a few days later loaded with gifts of carpets and caviar. Garaudy could mourn the demise of Saddam Hussein because he is sure he would never experience what the people of Iraq suffered at Halabcheh or during the Anfal campaign. As a latter day Proteus, Garaudy could change opinion, ideology and religion as frequently as he changes his shirts because he happens to live in Europe at a happy tie of peace and security. Others in other parts of the world, however, do not enjoy such luxuries. They could be exiled, imprisoned or killed for 'the crime' of changing their mind and offending the established order."


De Volkskrant 12.04.2007 (the Netherlands)

Animal rights activists in the Netherlands are hotly discussing whether Marianne Thieme, head of the Dutch Party for the Animals, must resign because she is a practising Seventh Day Adventist. In any event, says the writer Maarten t'Hart, a prominent party colleague, her membership in a "religious sect" is doing no good for the party's image. Does religious freedom in the Netherlands extend to politicians? Not when "it's entirely probable that her belief influences her political thinking and action. Thieme said in an interview with the Telegraaf that Adam and Eve were vegetarians in the Garden of Eden, and only started eating meat after the Fall. I can can give you plenty of economic or health reasons against eating meat - but one thing it's not is a sin."

Outlook India 23.04.2007 (India)

Markandey Katju laments the lack of good (meaning "actively realistic") Indian literary greats. "Like Dickens and Shaw in England, Rousseau and Voltaire in France, Thomas Paine and Walt Whitman in America, and Saratchandra and Nazrul Islam in Bengal, they must inspire people to struggle for a better life, to create a world free of injustice. (...) Now that the scientific age in the true sense has dawned, and man can change his social conditions by his own efforts, art and literature too should help. 'Art for art's sake' in countries like India, in which the vast masses live in poverty and other terrible social conditions, really amounts to escapism."

Tabish Khair has already discovered this kind of literature. In Mohsin Hamid's novel "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," he writes, fundamentalism is treated with a nuanced voice: "The otherness of the religious fundamentalist, let alone the terrorist, remains incapable of narration, except as absolute evil, medieval stupidity or juvenile error, by people who have too much to lose and too little to resent. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a glorious exception to this rule. Its success depends not just on sympathy and thought, but also on this young novelist’s deftness. To begin with, Hamid’s protagonist-narrator, Changez, is a carefully delineated and located character: not just any 'fundamentalist', but a top graduate from Princeton, working for an elite firm, and hailing from a genteel family of professionals in Lahore."


Le point 12.04.2007 (France)

Bernard-Henri Levy's description of American democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is nothing short of rhapsodic. "I swore to myself – and documented this promise in a chapter of my book 'American Vertigo' (review) – that I would never forget the image, when he entered the scene at exactly 23 hours, with his light, dance-like step and the wondrous face of this brown American appeared in the stage lights – an imaginary twin of the illegitimate child of Thomas Jefferson. (...) Is he the first black to understand that it makes more sense to play with seduction than guilt? The first to decide not to be the accusation against America but rather the promise of its new chance?"


Nepszabadsag 14.04.2007 (Hungary)

The animosities between the countries of central Europe can be attributed to the fact that people don't know the history and culture of their neighbours, according to Emese John, member of the executive of Hungary's liberal party who supports the idea of a common history book for central Europe. "Our culture of remembrance is based solely on national history books. They carry the traces of the military conflicts of the last thousand years and depict wars and conflicts from the national perspective alone. We live on such a tiny bit of the earth, our roots are totally intertwined, our branches are in constant contact and yet we don't find common interests in our shared history – because we haven't even looked for them."

Author Andras Cserna-Szabo writes of the success of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, which appeared 110 years ago. "How little has this rosy, Christian and rational West changed over the centuries. Evil always comes from the East, chaos threatens order from pagan remote lands, from the Ottoman empire, from the romantic landscapes of the Carpathians or the rock bunkers of Afghanistan. (...) The archetypal story of the evil that comes from the East to destroy the peace in the West may explain why readers still find this musty old vampire epic so charming."

Il Foglio 14.04.2007 (Italy)

More than a thousand Italian communists who fled to the Soviet Union under Mussolini were put on trial there. Gabriella Mecucci reports of a few particularly tragic cases like that of Clementina Perone. "Still young and very attractive, she left her husband and her two young sons to follow Giovanni Parodi, who had become a big man in the unions following the war, to the USSR. Tina was arrested for the first time in May 1937 in Moscow, her partner had already returned to Italy by order of the party and was arrested there and condemned. The young woman landed in Lubjanka and then in a concentration camp. Thanks to the help of Russian friends, she was able to escape and returned to Moscow. The worst was yet to come."


Europa 14.04.2007 (Poland)

For Polish political scientist Lena Kolarska-Bobinska, the much-discussed democratic crisis in Eastern Europe is part of the natural process of system change. "In the course of time, the economic transformation took priority over the political one. Leszek Balcerowicz and other liberal reformers believed that democracy would automatically strengthen itself. One could even say they weren't interested in an active society – they were afraid of protests against the economic transformation." Despite great expectations associated with entry in the EU, Kolarska-Bobinska believes that Poland's mistrust of national institutions grew and the current government contributed to this. But she thinks it likely that the experience of well-governed countries, through labour migration among other things, will boost Poles' expectations of their own institutions and will lead to a more engaged civil society."


The Spectator 13.04.2007 (UK)

"Indignity has been heaped upon indignity," writes Theodor Dalrymple on the drama surrounding the 15 British soldiers held captive by Iran. The peak of it came when the government gave the soldiers permission to sell their stories. Dalrymple puts the blame for the shameful spectacle squarely on the shoulders of the disintegrating social order: "When moral grandiosity meets lack of character, no good can result: for the grandiose are always found out by reality, and are left squirming. Grandiosity and lack of character are two sides of the same coin. When someone believes that he is born not with original sin, but with original virtue, he comes also to believe that all his opinions, all his ends and all his actions are, by definition, pure, moral and therefore right. He is able to change from moment to moment, and even to act in a completely unscrupulous manner, secure in the knowledge that he is the moral equivalent of the Cheshire Cat."


Elet es Irodalom 13.04.2007 (Hungary)

"Our dog's called Umberto." So begins the speech by Peter Esterhazy honouring Umberto Eco, who has been awarded the "Budapest Prize" at the Budapest International Book Festival. The dog got his name from Esterhazy's daughter, who bought him although her father had said she couldn't. To make up with her father, a great admirer of Umberto Eco's, she called the animal Umberto. "I'm still grateful to Eco today, for his outstanding life's work, the major literary encounter of my life. Like all writers, I set my own criteria for what literature, language, reading and readers mean to me. A student of mathematics, I hardly had any knowledge of this area, and in fact that helped me a lot. I have long read everything with Eco, and I still find his thinking terrifically appealing. He understands how to combine a sense of doubt with the maximum of knowledge possible for a human being."

A major exhibition on the Austro-Hungarian inventor, architect and writer Wolfgang von Kempelen (1734 - 1804) has opened in Budapest. His mechanical Turk chess-playing machine, his speaking machine and other inventions made Kempelen a celebrity throughout Europe, and were well ahead of their time.


The Times Literary Supplement 13.04.2007 (UK)

Daniel Johnson is enthralled with Garri Kasparov's book "How Life Imitates Chess," by no means merely the anecdotes of a celebrity: "Kasparov is not only the greatest chess player the world has ever seen, he is also the leader of the opposition and the last hope of democracy in Russia. He has been brave enough to defy the man he refers to contemptuously as 'a mere lieutenant-colonel in the KGB' with nothing more than his wits to live by. So the game Kasparov is now playing with President Putin is for his life. This fact gives his thoughts about chess and life an extra edge." To win against Putin, Johnson believes, Kasparov will have to show as much discipline as he did against Karpov: "Kasparov will not find it easy simultaneously to woo the electorate, tell the truth and stay alive."


The Economist 13.04.2007 (UK)

The magazine portrays the pyjamahideen, the blog-writing pyjama opposition in Arab countries: "In Egypt, for instance, blogging has evolved within the past year from a narcissistic parlour sport to a shaper of the political agenda. By simply posting embarrassing video footage, small-time bloggers have blown open scandals over such issues as torture and women's harassment on the streets of Cairo. No comment was needed to air widespread disillusionment with last month's referendum to approve constitutional changes, after numerous Egyptian websites broadcast scanned images of a letter from one provincial governor to junior bureaucrats, ordering them to vote yes."

The Economist lays its cards on the table: Nicolas Sarkozy is the best choice as French president: "Unlike the others, and despite his long service as a minister under Mr Chirac, he makes no bones of admitting that France needs radical change."


The New York Times 15.04.2007

Joel Agee has read Elfriede Jelinek's new novel "Greed" and warns that the book is neither entertaining nor remotely interesting. And the last thing she wants to do is tell a story: "Jelinek has described herself as a kind of scientist who dispassionately 'looks into the petri dish of society.' But her procedure in 'Greed' is more like that of a prosecuting attorney in a trial of the indefensible, with effigies standing in for the accused, no judge or jury, no court protocol and of course no counsel for the defense. There is an invited public, which, one has to assume, shares the prosecutor’s resentments. No one else, except perhaps a conscientious reviewer, would sit out her entire presentation. Not that she cares much if you stay or leave: 'You can complain all you like about boredom while you’re reading this, but please not to me,' she writes."

In the New York Times Magazine, Thomas L. Friedman calls for a "Green New Deal." And David Rieff explains why Nicolas Sarkozy is the super-cop and man of the hour for French intellectuals like Pascal Bruckner: "He wants to extricate us from our decadence and put an end to the so-called 'French exception,' which is nothing more than the narcissism of failure."

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