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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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14/10/2008

Magazine Roundup

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

Observator Cultural | Al Ahram Weekly | ResetDoc | Lettre International | Esquire | Le Monde diplomatique | The New Yorker | Plus - Minus | Dissent | Folio | The Guardian | The Walrus | Przekroj | The Times Literary Supplement | The Economist | Le Nouvel Observateur | Elet es irodalom | L'Espresso | The New York Times


Observator Cultural 13.10.2008 (Romania)

A while back we linked to an article about the fantastic translation project by the Romanian cultural journal Observator Cultural. But things have developed in leaps and bounds since then, with translations in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish, Dutch and Polish. The first edition was dedicated to the writer Stefan Banulescu, the second to Gheorghe Craciun – featuring an excerpt from Craciun's novel "Pupa Russa" and an essay by Caius Dobrescu which presents Craciun as "a Bertrand Russell with a Wagnerian twist"

This, the third edition, is dedicated to the author Stelian Tanase. There are a few things which a "prospective reader of Romanian literature might like to know" writes the translator, writer and head of the translation project, Jean Harris, by way of an introduction. For example, that in Romania, "we're in a world capital of stories because we're in the world capital of regime change". Before moving on to Stelian Tanase, she provides a brief overview of Romanian history and the fundamentals of Romanian literature: "In the long view, what counts is that the Romanian problem has been 'how to survive.' Often it has been, 'how not to die.' And often it has been 'how to die' – finding a spiritual position that makes death a friend. In this context, story telling equals salvation on several planes." In Tanase's case this mindset is fuelled by the Blues.

Further articles include a synopsis of Tanase's novel "Dark Bodies" and an excerpt.


Al Ahram Weekly 09.10.2008 Egypt

"It seems that the Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre (CIFET) has finally decided this year to publicly recognize the independent theatre movement in Egypt and acknowledge its valuable contribution over the festival's previous editions", mocks Nehad Selaiha. A symposium on the subject is in the pipeline (Selaiha encourages foreign guests to participate). And the festival's chairman, Fawzi Fahmi, acknowledged the independent theatre movement in a speech, crediting it with "'introducing new writings, separating theatre from literature, adopting a different course in dealing with the repertoire, opposing censorship, or clamouring for financial support'. The representatives of the independent theatre in Egypt would do well to quote this at their roundtable to embarrass the ministry of culture into responding to some of their legitimate demands. It is possible, of course, as some pessimists cynically maintain, that this is all a show staged for the benefit of our foreign guests to peddle to them the idea that the Egyptian system and its cultural policy makers encouraged free expression and non-governmental initiatives."


ResetDoc 13.10.2008 (Italy)

The Egyptian journalist Wael Abbas, founder of the blog MisrDigital@l, explains in an interview what blogs mean for Egypt, but also for Morocco and Bahrain and why, in Algeria, the radio is more important than blogs. His personal credo: "I have been disappointed by political parties ever since I was a child. ... Some of my ideas are liberal, some left-wing, some Islamist, some nationalist-Egyptian and the combination is me. Me and my political viewpoint, and I do not need to obey the rules of the Left, of the Liberals or the Islamists."

Further articles: Amr Hashem Rabie, a political analyst at the Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, explains in a brief interview, why there can be no development – economic included – without political change, meaning democratisation, in Egypt. And Mohammed Helmy, a researcher at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights and director of the magazine Ruwaq Arabi, talks in an interview about the kidnapping business in Egypt.


Lettre International 01.10.2008 (Germany)

In this month's edition Lettre looks back over the 20th century. The White Russian journalist Svetlana Alexievich spoke with a mother who grew up in a Stalinist labour camp, and with her son, an officer who fought in Afghanistan and now sells Italian sanitary technology. Lettre put an excerpt online. The mother remembers: "Until the age of three, I lived with my mother in the camp. All small children were kept with their mothers, or so my mother later informed me. ... She told me that the mortality rate among young children was high. During the winter, the dead were put into huge containers where they remained until spring. The rats gnawed at their bodies. In spring, the dead children were buried. ... What was left of them. When they turned three, the children were transferred to the children's barracks. My memories start at the age four, no, more like five. ... I remember individual episodes... In the mornings we would look through the barbed wire fence as our mothers gathered to be counted. They were counted and put to work. Outside, where we weren't allowed to go. When someone asked me: 'Where are you from little one?' I answered: 'From the camp.' 'Outside' was another world, something unimaginable, terrifying, something which didn't exist for us."


Esquire 01.10.2008 (USA)

In the Russian edition of Esquire, the writer Boris Akunin interviews Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the oil magnate and dissident who isitting out his sentence in a Siberian prison. As a result of the interview, he is now in isolation. Akunin describes the YUKOS case as the one in which "we lost the independence of the judiciary". Khordokovsky himself has the following to say about his trial: "Today's nomenklatura is based on there being kompromat, i.e. the opportunity to annihilate someone who 'lashes out'. Is this good? Yes, of course, it's abominable. What is taking place is the advancement upwards of the most 'sullied' ones, projecting 'downwards' and into society their distorted moral principles. But what can you say about them? Pitiful, miserable people, who in their old age will be scared of death. What struck me in the trial was something else. The prosecution had interrogated more than fifteen hundred people. Many with threats of bringing charges against them (with some they did). They hand-picked just over 80 for the trial. And these people, who were completely justifiably afraid for their own fate, did not take sin upon the soul. Nobody – I emphasize, nobody – gave testimony against me and Platon."


Le Monde diplomatique 12.10.2008 (Germany/France)

If you want to know whether Turkey should join the EU, you should study the Arab world's reaction to the Turkish soap 'Noor'. It features a married couple who are confronted with all number of perilous situations, explains the French cultural attache in Yemen, Julien Clec'h. It is not only the beautiful body of the leading actor Kivanc Tatlitug which keeps audiences enthralled, "what engages them most is his relationship with his wife. Because this is a marriage based on love, sensibility and equal rights. The charming Noor, played by Songül Öden is a modern woman: self-assured, independent and courageous. They are an ideal couple, who are joined by their readiness to talk, respect one other and admit their own faults or mistakes. Arab women interviewed about 'Noor' spoke with unanimous enthusiasm about this dream relationship which is light years away from their own reality. (...)


The New Yorker 20.10.2008 (USA)

Louis Menand reviews a study on the text message: "Txtng: The Gr8 Db8" (Oxford) by the prolific linguist David Crystal. Texting, Crystal says, is "partly, a game. It's like writing a sonnet (well, sort of): the requirement is to adapt the message to immutable formal constraints. A sonnet can't have more than fourteen lines, and a mobile-phone message can't have more than a hundred and forty bytes, which is usually enough for a hundred and sixty characters. This is a challenge to ingenuity, not an invitation to anarchy."

Elsewhere: in an article entitled "Late Bloomers" Malcolm Gladwell examines two forms of creativity and asks why we equate genius with precocity.


Plus - Minus 11.10.2008 (Poland)

Pawel Lisicki cannot speak highly enough of Jaroslaw Maria's collection of essays "Scenes from Childhood" (named after the Schumann miniatures). His interpretation of the Warsaw Uprising is both fascinating and controversial: "Polishness is born in the collision with senseless death, with the void, with the fury of German killing. It is the threat of sudden doom – the possibility that we wouldn't survive, and that's what defines our identity."

Krzysztof Maslon embarks on a brisk gallop through new Polish literature – from lga Tokarczuk's "Runners", to Janusz Anderman, Jerzy Pilch and the political fiction of the columnists Maciej Rybinski, Bronislaw Wildstein and Rafal Ziemkiewicz - only to single out Inga Iwasiow's "Bambino" (as does the liberal Gazeta Wyborcza) for praise: "Call it 'small-scale realism' if you like, but I have always been a fan of the sort of writing which doesn't focus on the rulers and the media gurus, but on people in housing estates, factories, bars, revealing something of the difficult, hidden and painful truth. If Polish literature needs something today, then it is as much of this small-scale realism as it can get, because today and yesterday has still not been written about."


Dissent 12.10.2008 (USA)

Carlos Fraenkel, philosophy professor at the McGill University in Montreal, sends a report of his three weeks spent teaching Plato, Harun Nasution, Aristoteles, al-Farabi, Maimonides and Nurcholish Madjid at the Alauddin State Islamic University in Makassar, capital of the Indonesian province of Sulawesi. Who needs philosophers in Indonesia? "In fact, philosophy can play an important role in the world's largest Muslim country (of the 240 million inhabitants about 88 percent are Muslim, equalling the number of Muslims in the entire Middle East). Present-day Indonesia, at least as it presents itself to me, is a gigantic intellectual and political laboratory, where Islam is not only trying to come to terms with democracy but also with the country's long-standing commitments to religious pluralism, modernization, and the construction of a national identity. Coping peacefully with the tensions that this process generates will require a good deal of creative thinking. It is here that the tools of philosophy may prove useful."


Folio 10.10.2008 (Switzerland)

The new Folio is all about "freebies" and the things we get for nothing these days: music, information, disc memory. But of course none of it is really free. Steffan Heuer explains: "Very few consumers seem to notice how much the companies gain from their apparent generosity. Webmail is a good example. Thanks to almost zero running costs by now, users have access to virtually unlimited use of their mailboxes for just a dollar a year, but the same users generates around 12 million dollars for the company in advertising revenues. In America at least, there are few restrictions on storing and passing on customer data. Even cable companies sell on their customers' so-called click stream to market researchers." The only thing missing is a "rate of exchange for turning time and attention into hard currency. Until we reach that point, the millions of users who happily fill out their online registration forms and keep them up-to-date, create the start capital."

In his perfume column Luca Turin watches "the most stunning gardenia hologram" materialise.


The Guardian 11.10.2008 (UK)

"Alice Munro is one of the greatest contemporary authors in English literature". But it took a while for people to notice, writes Margaret Atwood in an extensive appraisal of her fellow Canadian writer. Munro comes from a Scottish Presbytarian family, which settled in the small-town and deeply Protestant Huron County, Ontario. This is the setting for her short stories, whose characters battle against social mores and imposed rules of behaviour. "Through Munro's fiction, Sowesto's Huron County has joined Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County as a slice of land made legendary by the excellence of the writer who has celebrated it, though in both cases 'celebrated' is not quite the right word. 'Anatomised' might be closer to what goes on in the work of Munro, though even that term is too clinical. What should we call the combination of obsessive scrutiny, archaeological unearthing, precise and detailed recollection, the wallowing in the seamier and meaner and more vengeful undersides of human nature, the telling of erotic secrets, the nostalgia for vanished miseries, and rejoicing in the fullness and variety of life, stirred all together?"


The Walrus 01.10.2008 (Canada)

Randy Boyagoda visited Czech dissident writer Josef Skvorecky, who has lived in Canada since 1969 and has recently published his new novel, "Ordinary Lives". It takes place in the small Czech town of Kostelec, the setting for many of his books. "'Like Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha, Marquez's Macondo, and Hardy's Wessex, Skvorecky's Kostelec is a grand recreation of his own town, a decidedly minor place to outward appearances, yet rich enough to its creator. I asked Skvorecky why he has returned to the past in Kostelec across the decades of his writing. 'Because when you are a teenager, everything appears as new,' he said. 'Your impressions are much stronger. Falling in love, for instance. I fell in love with my first girl when I was in prima, the first grade in an eight-grade gymnasium. A new girl came to our town, whom I later called Irene [in my fiction]. It was as if God had switched on a brilliant lamp in the skies above our drab wartime world.'"


Przekroj 09.10.2008 (Poland)

A number of important Polish literary awards have just been handed out. This year's Koscielski Prize, for example, went to Jacek Dukaj, whose thousand-page (as yet untranslated) novel "Ice" was extremely well received by critics and the public alike. But, says Mariusz Herma, this prize is important for another reason: After Stanislaw Lem, Jacek Dukay is only the second Polish fantasy writer to be accepted by the mainstream." Another usual thing about Dukaj is that he does not shy away from the 'big issues' in his book. "I have never bought into the minimalist idea which dictates that a true writer ahould write about the flowers in his garden or walking his dog and leave wannabe writers to extrapolate about God, the universe and the laws of history and nature. What's more, theology and religion have been virtually forgotten by contemporary literature, and I am always drawn to such uninhabited islands," Herma cites the writer as saying. The online version also features an interview with Dukaj.

They are mentioned but not viewable at Przekroj, but do visit Christopher Herwig's photographs of surreal Soviet bus stops on his own website.


The Times Literary Supplement 10.10.2008 (USA)

Nicholas Stargardt reaches for the superlatives in his review of Richard J. Evans' "masterly" third volume about Nazi Germany, "The Third Reich at War". Unlike Hitler biographer Joachim Fest, who played up Hitler's irrationality, Evans shows that the war was lost because German generals were not up to scratch: "Professor Evans is no admirer of Hitler's intelligence, but he is careful to show that his military interventions were not particularly irrational. Two which have been much debated were delaying the assault on Moscow in August 1941, until the Ukraine had been conquered, and pulling out of the Battle of Kursk two years later. Evans shows that the German generals did not have much better plans of their own: they too thought that the Soviet Union would be much easier to defeat than France had been. And above all, they subscribed to a Prussian tradition of looking for the decisive battle which would destroy all of the opposing forces. They too pushed on recklessly in 1941, instead of slowing down their advance by making the preparations they needed to weather a Russian winter."


The Economist 09.10.2008 (UK)

In her book "The Big Necessity: the Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why it Matters," Rose George, the Economist writes admiringly, achieves precisely what the title of her book promises: the description of an economy which is driving people up shit creek. "The byproducts of digestion are so hard to mention - adolescent jokes aside - that symptoms of bowel cancer are often ignored until it is too late. But as Rose George explains in this fascinating and eloquent book, there is a great deal that needs to be said about excretion that is not remotely funny. Two-fifths of the world’s population has nowhere to defecate except open ground. That is 2.6 billion people whose drinking water contains their and their neighbour's faeces; whose food is contaminated by the flies that lay their eggs in human waste; who live in filth and very often die because of it. And yet this particular curse of poverty is all too often overlooked."


Le Nouvel Observateur 09.10.2008 (France)

Has the republic got any ideas at all these days? Aude Lancelin and Elisabeth Vigoureux ask in a dossier on "France's intellectual power". Since the days of Sartre and Aron, the major ideological camps and the intellectual milieu have never been more fractured. Public intellectuals barely utter a squeak, "and many of them, like Andre Glucksmann or Max Gallo did themselves out of a job by accompanying Sarkozy on his path to power and engineering the shift to the right. 'Adieu Jean-Paul' sang the Australian paper, The Age, in a wave goodbye to the Sartre years: when France was still a rebel. As if French thinking, once so enamoured of 'outrage' had lost its exceptional status." The article is accompanied by a list of 50 French "star thinkers" and a guide to the central intellectual institutions, bastions, and stomping grounds.

Further articles include a discussion held to coincide with the 11th annual meeting of historians in Blois, in which documentary director Claude Lanzmann and historian Pierre Nora call for an independent practice of the craft and protest against the growing tendency of the French state to regulate both the form and content of memory. Lanzman is particularly appalled by the "idea of competition among victims", Nora believes that the content of history lessons should be decided by "the traditional way of authorities, or teachers committees", and is not something that should be stipulated by the law.


Elet es irodalom 10.10.2008 (Hungary)

A few weeks ago the Kenedi Commission (headed by the sociologist Janos Kenedi) published its report on the secret police files in Hungary at the end of the Cold War or 'the change' as it is called. Historian and commission member Laszlo Varga was shocked by the findings which revealed that in the inscrutable network of the numerous secret police institutions and departments, many more files have disappeared without a trace, been destroyed, or tagged as state secrets than previously assumed. "Under 'normal circumstances' each individual finding in the Kenedi report would provoke a scandal. In their entirety however, they reflect an astonishing process which is not so much a plot than proof of the uninterrupted continuity of the old reflexes. Right up to the present day. The Kenedi report perplexes historians like myself. ... We have to rethink 'the change'. It cannot be linked to a specific moment. Its origins (or perhaps its first steps) were in the suppressed revolution of 1956, its prologue was the various 'reforms', their failures and continued existence. But if you approach things from the other end, it becomes impossible to speak about a sudden change from dictatorship to democracy, and after 20 years, we cannot even pretend to have reached the 'end' of the change. We are still up to our necks in it. And that goes for the Kenedi commission as well."


L'Espresso 10.10.2008 (Italy)

The country is falling apart, concludes Edmundo Berselli, in the face of the now openly practised xenophobia in Italy. "As Zygmunt Bauman writes, people fall back on their own identity when the community collapses. In the North, the success of the Lega, beyond the alarmist xenophobic rhetoric, is largely due to the attempt there to found a series of 'reactive communities', the so-called 'peoples' of the North. These are defined to a certain extent by their self-protective mechanisms and appear increasingly hostile to the outside world. Members of the Lega have also been known to describe this among themselves as secession. Present day Italy has no patience for any form of community, and the emphasis is on corrosive action. Even fiscal and institutional federalism have increased the emphasis on difference (politically it brings nothing, at least in its mild cooperative form.)"


The New York Times 12.10.2008 (USA)

Samantha M. Shapiro writes a reportage about the Jewish food movement which begins: "One sunny day in late August, Andy Kastner made the short drive from his apartment in Riverdale, in the Bronx, to Yonkers First Live Poultry Market, a narrow cinder-block shop that sells live chickens, pigeons, quail and rabbits stacked in ancient-looking metal cages. At Yonkers First, workers usually slaughter and butcher the animals for customers, but Kastner was there because he wanted to kill his own chickens."

Michael Pollan writes a letter to the future president of the United States, telling him to get to grips with food policy. "You will need not simply to address food prices but to make the reform of the entire food system one of the highest priorities of your administration".

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