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Siegfried Lenz, one of the great writers of German post-war literature is dead. He died on 7 October 2014, surrounded by his family. He was 88 years old.... more more

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28/08/2007

Magazine Roundup

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

The New Yorker | Outlook India | Tygodnik Powszechny | The Boston Globe | Gazeta Wyborcza | Il Foglio| The Guardian | Elet es Irodalom | The Economist | L'Espresso | Przekroj | Le Nouvel Observateur | Al Ahram Weekly | Dissent | Semana


The New Yorker
03.09.2007 (USA)

Plenty of stuff to get one's teeth into in this double edition featuring a special on food. Adam Gopnik embarked on a project to spend a week eating only food grown or raised within the five boroughs of New York City. He rounded it off by cooking dinner for his friends and family: "We had Bronx chicken with Staten Island peppers, sweet and hot, and rooftop basil; tilapia tajine; a big pot of green beans; turnip puree, redolent of elephant; super-spicy Brooklyn arugula salad. (...) The one thing that puzzled me was why my seven-year-old Olivia, normally a major fresser, hadn't eaten any of the chicken dish; it was a touch tough but, still, tasty. She had, instead of eating, done some very professional food pushing around the plate. 'I did try it,' she told me at last, the next day. 'The problem was, it tasted just like pigeon.'"

Further articles: Patrick Radden Keefe turns his attentions to the international market for rare fine wines in search of a clue as to why a single collector, in this case the American tycoon Fred Koch, might have many so prime specimens in his cellar. And in a number of vignettes, Aleksandar Hemon, Gary Shteyngart, Nell Freudenberger, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, David Sedaris, Anthony Lane and Donald Antrim chew over various eating experiences.


Outlook India 03.09.2007 (India)

Sagarika Ghose is highly sceptical about the state of women's rights in India despite the fact that the country has just elected a female president. "Today women's empowerment is a government slogan, it is the universal feature of every party manifesto. The officialising of the Indian women's movement has meant that society has been left to find its own definition of freedom. For millions of Indian women, it's not a talented woman like Kiran Bedi or even a professional politician like Pratibha Patil who is a role model. Instead, it's the heavily made-up and bejewelled, husband-centred glamorous figures of the soap operas, with their hair full of sindoor and their minds full of domestic politics, who are figures to be emulated. In urban India, across income groups, when it comes to individual freedom - as opposed to the collective freedom of equal opportunities in education and at work - that freedom is often defined as simply the freedom to be constantly sexy. The Indian woman is so sexy and beautiful that she's forgotten to be independent."


Tygodnik Powszechny 26.08.2007 (Poland)

The new edition of the liberal-Catholic weekly is dedicated to Second Life. Recently the Jesuit magazine "La Civilita Cattolica" called for the evangelisation of virtual reality and now Tygodnik Powszechny has opened new offices in Second Life. "This is more than just a game," writes Michal Kuzminski (and his avatar Kuzmin Thorne). "Paradoxically, emotions are real in the virtual world: the feeling of triumph, of failure, of the joy of discovery, gratitude and happiness at having met another person. The difference is that when something goes wrong, you can press 'exit' at any time and start a new life, without consequences. The danger is that it doesn't show how to cope with problems, but only how to escape them," Kuzminski cites a scientist as writing.

"It's only a game," Jozef Kloch, the man responsible for the Internet presence of the Catholic Church in Poland, counters in an interview. "Our real life is no game – we encounter real problems, real people, we have to feed a real family by really working. We don't get our daily bread with Linden dollars." But this man of God emphasises the importance of keeping the worlds apart: praying via Skpe - yes - but going to Mass in "Second Life" – never! "A Jesus avatar would be nothing but a false idol. No Christian could opt to shut themselves off from the outside world at the computer."


The Boston Globe
26.08.2007 (USA)

Under the title "The Elegant Assassin" Christopher Shea portrays "the scourge of John Updike, Toni Morrison, Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo" and Salman Rushdie and Zadie Smith to boot. The new big American critic is called James Wood, and he's famous for his stringent and learned slatings. He is now leaving The New Republic for The New Yorker thereby attaining papal status. Now the 41-year old wants to reign in his negative energies and turn his attentions to new authors. "Wood says he wants to influence literary culture on a grander scale, and also felt a creeping staleness. 'I did have the sense I was reviewing the same authors again and again - Rushdie, Roth, Updike,' he said in a phone interview that interrupted a vacation on Martha's Vineyard last week. (...) At The New Yorker, Wood will now be writing shorter pieces, more often (though he will stretch out at times, too) - a dozen a year. 'That presumes a different kind of book,' Wood says. 'It presumes I will try to find a writer producing his or her second or third book, preferably someone unknown to New Yorker readers.'" Bellow was an ideal for Wood, Shea writes, but he also championed lesser known writers such as W.G. Sebald, Norman Rush and Alan Hollinghurst. Read articles by Wood here, here and here.


Gazeta Wyborcza 25.08.2007 (Poland)

The dissatisfaction with the Kaczynski government must have reached new heights if even the "theatre rebels" are venting their frustration! Poland's current star director, Jan Klata, admits having voted for the PiS at the last elections but now regrets it bitterly. "Now, two years' the wiser, I feel like I'm living in a paranoid reality weighed down by the sick, destructive character traits of Jaroslaw Kaczynski. In place of corruption we now have an abuse of power in the fight against them. They have done everything wrong, when they wanted to put things to rights," says Klata. He too "believed in a solidary, honest Poland and a strong state. Now I know that we don't need any visions a la Robespierre and Saint-Juste."


Il Foglio 25.08.2007 (Italy)

Bollywood, Hollywood and – Nollywood. Maurizio Stefanini portrays the world's third-largest dream factory in Nigeria's capital Lagos. (Lollywood has already been co-opted by Lahore). The 1200 films it churns out every year are not only produced for entertainment purposes but feed the political fire between Muslims and Christians. "In a divided country like Nigeria you need only to lightly tweak a religious nerve to produce a scandal. Sometimes this happens despite the best intentions, for example in 'Not Without My Daughter', the story of a Muslim Romeo and a Christian Juliet who try to get married, despite the obstacles thrown in their path. And the celebrated 'Amina' also attempts to negotiate the thorny issue of national unity. But in the year 2000, immediately after the introduction of Koranic law in a number of Muslim states in the North, a film came out that was plumply called 'Sharia'. It approached the subject in the spirit of Theo van Gogh and ignited the wrath of numerous Muslims in the North. 'It shows a thief having his hand cut off without observing the necessary procedures,' it says in a letter of protest against the spread of 'Islamophobia.'"


The Guardian 25.08.2007 (UK)

In an essay, V.S. Naipaul remembers the early years of the Caribbean poet Derek Walcott, who gave to Trinidad what European colonialism, slavery and sugar denied it: a new language to describe the beauty and limitations of island life. "He sang the praises of the emptiness; he gave it a kind of intellectual substance. He gave their unhappiness a racial twist that made it more manageable. Then he went stale on them. He exhausted the first flush of his talent; nothing more seemed to be coming; and he became ordinary, a man in need of a job. He was too good for the job on the Trinidad Sunday Guardian, doing a weekly cultural article; and in 1960, when I was in Trinidad on a visit, he told me that someone had said to him, 'Walcott, you've been promising for too damn long, you know.' He told it as a joke, but it wouldn't have been a joke for him. From this situation he was rescued by the American universities; and his reputation there, paradoxically, then and later, was not that of a man whose talent had been all but strangled by his colonial setting. He became the man who had stayed behind and found beauty in the emptiness from which other writers had fled: a kind of model, in the eyes of people far away."

Further articles: William Dalrymple singles out the few Britons who were not interested only in exploiting India, but who valued its art and culture. There is a preprint of J.M. Coetzee's 'Diary of A Bad Year". And Robert Macfarlane's exploration of Great Britain's "Wild Places" is being hailed as book of the week.


Elet es Irodalom
24.08.2007 (Hungary)

Author György Szerbhorvath criticises the image of the Hungarian minorities in neighbouring countries given by the Budapest "Festival of Hungarians living Abroad." The culture of roughly two million Hungarians living in neighbouring countries is put on a par with folklore. These populations are shown as backward, archaic, closed groups, complains Szerbhorvath, himself a Hungarian from the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina: "No so-called 'Hungarians living abroad' live from folklore and no one - apart perhaps from employees of the Prime Minister - thinks that the culture of the Hungarian minorities is limited to folklore.... The 'Hungarians living abroad' send emails, use skype, they chat and use their mobile phones just as often as everyone else in the world. At home, they don't spend their time staring at some hand-knitted wall hanging, for example, they watch television. The festival includes images of Targu Mures, a city in Romania inhabited by Romanians, Hungarians and Germans, which show nothing but buffaloes, horse-drawn carts and farmers. The - anonymous - curator of the exhibition does give evidence that the 'Hungarians living abroad' aren't altogether out of touch with modern technology. Several photos show tractors, surrounded by unidentifiable blue embroidery."


The Economist
24.08.2007 (UK)

The magazine reviews a book by sociologist D. Michael Lindsay about the growing influence and success of Evangelical Christians in the USA, once ridiculed as uneducated backwoods bigots. "Evangelicals have almost drawn level with other religious groups in terms of wealth and education. And they have penetrated almost every area of the American establishment. Look at the top of many a professional tree and you can find an arboreal gathering of born-again Christians. The role of Evangelicals in the Bush administration is particularly notable. But any European who thinks that they will simply disappear back into their caves when Mr Bush retires is in for a disappointment. Billy Graham has been a spiritual adviser to every president since Dwight Eisenhower.... Over on Capitol Hill politicians of all parties attend prayer breakfasts and Bible classes."

The Economist also warns that civil rights issues have been neglected and endangered in the slipstream of international debate over Iran's nuclear capacities: "Recent months have seen the largest crackdown on civil liberties since the 1980s. Purges of suspected liberals have decimated university faculties, and repeated closures have all but silenced the once-vociferous opposition press."

Peter Stein's Berlin staging of Friedrich Schiller's "Wallenstein" trilogy (more here) is heartily recommended - at least to audiences with stamina. The title story, "The making of a neo-KGB state," looks at Russia under Putin.


L'Espresso 24.08.2007 (Italy)

China's economic growth by no means entails democratisation, notes Minxin Pei, a political scientist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. On the contrary: "Economic prosperity weakens the desire for democratic reform. It legitimates the authoritarian regime and enables it to buy the good will of key social groups, primarily among the urban middle classes and entrepreneurs. In addition, a rich state has more means of oppression at its disposal. In the case of China, the ruling elite only took hesitant steps toward reform and democracy in the mid-80s, before the spectacular economic upswing. Since the start of the 90s, when the boom set in, it has displayed growing resistance to democratisation."


Przekroj 23.08.2007 (Poland)

Fifty years ago the so-called "Polish film school" appeared on the scene. The first works of Andrzej Wajda, Kazimierz Kutz, Andrzej Munk and Tadeusz Konwicki told the stories of a disillusioned young generation embittered by the war and the sad post-war era, and now seeking its place within reality. These topics, along with a critical look at Polish patriotism, make the films relevant even today, writes Malzorzata Sadowska. "There are anachronisms on the level of the scripts and language, but even the music is among the most important legacies of the Polish film school.... Watching these black and white films now, one can't help noticing how today's filmmakers avoid controversial topics. What's lacking is an invigorating distance and irony." A good opportunity for comparison will certainly arise when Andrzej Wajda's film on the Katyn massacre hits the screens.


Le Nouvel Observateur
23.08.2007 (France)

For years, Vietnamese writer and human rights activist Duong Thu Huong, winner of the Prix Femina and the Unesco Literature Prize, was under house arrest in Vietnam, where her novels are not published. Since 2006 she's been living in exile in France. Under the title "The Wall of Illusions," she attacks Vietnamese politics and the blindness of the West. "The regime maintains itself through censorship and fear. We, the fighters for democracy, form just a tiny group. And despite its economic changes, the country is still a solitary island when considered from Europe or the US. The wall of illusion is a solid firewall, protecting this post-communist regime. My comrades in arms suffer in its shadow from bullying and victimisation by the powers that be.... The changes in the face of Vietnam have blinded the West. Yet a terrible reality persists under the exuberant, dynamic activity in Saigon and Hanoi. Darkness, long queues and tears."

In a reportage in the Arts & Spectacles section, Pascal Merigeau investigates the Romanian film scene, which was immensely creative well before the success in Cannes of Christian Mungiu's "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days."


Al Ahram Weekly 23.08.2007 (Egypt)

Khalil El-Anani accuses the West of playing into the hands of Islamic fundamentalism with its ideologies of modernism and liberalism: "All jihadist movements in the Islamic world have been motivated by the sense that the West is relentlessly attacking their history and civilisation with the purpose of effacing them and supplanting them with its own... The US's crude intervention in the Arab world four years ago, beneath the banners of democratisation and liberalisation, triggered this phenomenon as never before. The result of this flagrant bid to present the region with a sole model of 'modernism' unleashed a widespread state of anarchy in which the metamorphosis to fundamentalist and jihadist mindsets thrived."


Dissent
01.07.2007 (USA)

The former left-wing advocates of the Iraq War are now at odds. In the summer issue of Dissent magazine, journalist Johann Hari reviews the book "What's Left?" by British columnist Nick Cohen, which discusses how leftists who once supported the war should react to the current debacle in Iraq. "With 'What's Left?', the most substantial work by a pro-war left-wing intellectual has been published, and we can ask, Did this strange niche in Anglo-American politics - of which I was a part, for a time - produce any enduring insights?" His conclusion: "The nuggets of important insight we had - into Islamism, tyranny, multiculturalism, and the misguided reactions of the left to them - have been cluster-bombed and suicide-massacred to death in the killing fields of Mesopotamia. The few who have not reconsidered are tied in painful knots, and every tug cuts off a little more circulation to the brain. To rally the left to solidarity with the victims of Baathism and Islamism is an honorable cause; to do it with the weapon of neoconservatism was a disastrous misjudgment." Cohen's scathing answer in the upcoming autumn issue of Dissent and Hari's equally fierce reply are already published online (The Guardian has printed another excerpt from the book, which has also unleashed discussion in England. Here and here you'll find reactions in The Guardian, and here a comment from The Spectator, which marvels at the leftist intellectuals' love of discussion).


Semana
26.08.2007 (Colombia)

"Cautious patricides" – Is this Latin America's new literature? Bogota – book capital of 2007 and the ever-busy organisers of the Hay Festival asked the Columbian writers Piedad Bonett, Oscar Collazos and Hector Abad to hand pick a group of 39 authors no older than 39 years of age. They will present their work to the public in a reading marathon lasting from 23 to 26 August, and several them will also take part in the International Literature Festival in Berlin. Literary critic Margarita Valencia listened to each of them read. "The writers of the 'boom' in Latin American literature regarded themselves as heroes, who created their works (or smoked joints and talked about their work). The writers at the start of the 21st century are unemployed and busy scraping together the rent every month or worrying about their parents who never grew up. Their characters are anxious about finding a job or not finding a job, they don't have big dreams, but they are aware that things could get worse at any time. The wiser ones among them hope to remain unnoticed – in Latin American literature today there are more Bartlebys per square centimetre than Melville could ever have dreamed of."

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