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12/06/2007

Magazine Roundup

The New York Review of Books | Elet es Irodalom | Nepszabadsag | Outlook India | Letras Libres | Trouw | The Nation | ResetDoc | Gazeta Wyborcza | Al Ahram Weekly | Le Nouvel Observateur | The New York Times


The New York Review of Books 28.06.2007 (USA)

Adam Michnik describes how Poland is divided: "Today, two Polands confront each other. A Poland of suspicion, fear, and revenge is fighting a Poland of hope, courage, and dialogue. This second Poland—of openness and tolerance, of John Paul II and Czeslaw Milosz, of my friends from the underground and from prison—must prevail. I believe that Poles will once again defend their right to be treated with dignity. The Constitutional Court's decision gives hope that the second phase of the Polish revolution will not consume either its father, the will to freedom, or its child, the democratic state."

Further articles: Pankaj Mishra disagrees with optimistic portrayals of India as the successful counter model to the Chinese globalisation miracle. Max Rodenbeck sends a long reportage from Lebanon, which must now defend itself not only from the Hizbullah and Syria, but also from the international Jihad, as fighting in the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bared has shown.


Elet es Irodalom 08.06.2007 (Hungary)

Polish politicians may be dire but Poland is still much better off than Hungary, according to the author Peter Esterhazy, just back from a trip to Poland. Polish society is a lot more pluralistic than in Hungary. "In Poland I met a colourful world, free of party politics. In Poland there are still real intellectuals as we used to know them. I've never met so many able journalists, many of them very young, too. Warsaw is developing tremendously. You even meet Catholic liberal intellectuals. (Something Hungary couldn't even dream of.) The most decisive moments in Hungarian and Polish history are much more vivid in the collective memory than they are with us. Would five days in Hungary be just as fantastic, if I wasn't Hungarian?"

The Jewish Museum in Berlin is showing Peter Forgacs' multimedia "Danube Exodus" installation which tells two stories about emigration. It was late summer in 1939 in Bratislava when 600 members of the Jewish community fled Germany on a pleasure boat headed down the Danube to the Black Sea to board a boat to Palestine. In autumn 1940 the same boat brought members of a small German community in Bessarabia back up the Danube to resettle them in the German Reich. At the time the captain documented life on the ship with his camera. In an interview Peter Forgacs talks about the tricks memory can play. "Hundreds of thousands of my countrymen have to live with the fact that they were members of a party run by a dictator, Kadar, even though no one forced them to be. Others had to live with being classed as subhuman, simply because they came from a rich, bourgeois, capitalist or Jewish family. This country is plagued by segregation, murderous anger and a mesmerising ability to forget. What our dear Kölcsey wrote, a poet and author of the Hungarian national anthem, is not true. This country has by no means atoned for the past and the future."


Nepszabadsag 11.06.2007 (Hungary)

Agnes Heller, a Hungarian philosopher and professor emeritus at the New School for Social Research in New York, wants Eastern European politicians to take note. "Each of the European countries is battling with its own particular problems, but they do have one thing in common. The politicians in these countries have no experience of politics in a democracy. Being a politician there is considered a job like being a doctor. Professional competence plays a big role, alongside intuition. You wouldn't allow a second year student to perform complex brain surgery, but that is exactly what's happening in politics. The politicians can't help the fact that they are only now able to gain the necessary skills. But they are to blame for not admitting that and consistently pretending to know everything.


Outlook India 18.06.07 (India)

Neena Gopal meets the Bhuttos, a Shakespearean royal family, who used to rule Pakistan but now live in exile in Dubai. Benazir Bhutto is toying with the idea of returning to Pakistan and running for office whilst Bilawal, her 18 year old son, is believed to have great things ahead of him. For Outlook he gives his first interview to the media. "Bilawal admits he 'longs to return home', despite memories, albeit faint, of the constant threats to their lives that consumed his grandmother Nusrat, a once indomitable woman who now suffers from Alzheimer's. The family believes the illness was due to the blows she suffered on her head while leading anti-Zia demonstrations."

Jaideep Mazumdar delivers a delightfully illustrated piece about the legendary Bengali wanderlust, which leaves no Indian tourist attraction unvisited. "With shawls and umbrellas to brave every possible vagary of weather, their voices high-pitched with excitement, you see and hear them everywhere."

Other articles: The scandal surrounding Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan is examined in minute detail, describing how he attempted to fake documents to enable him to buy real estate. The real surprise in fact is that he was found out.

And the highly esteemed Khushwant Singh writes an entertaining if gruesome column about the mysterious blood in his stool which got him writing mental obituaries for himself.


Letras Libres 10.06.2007 (Spain / Mexico)

"Finally it's the end." Even Chilean author and journalist Rafael Gumucio is thinking about global warming and climate change. "We humans are to blame. We are the one and only reason why the earth is hurtling towards its destruction. For those who grew up during the Cold War like us, this news is bound to have a sort of liberating effect. The threat of destruction then was just as real as it is now – which doesn't mean that it doesn't relate to an instinctive longing in our minds. I mean, we have to admit that it never seemed right that we should die and the ungodly world should go on after us. Not knowing how we will later rank in the history of the universe, what conclusions will be drawn, in what tone of voice the story should be told, what the middle is or whether it's just the beginning – we've never been able to agree on that."


The New Statesman 11.06.2007 (UK)

In the lead article, "How far will he go?" Bridget Kendall describes what it's like on the inside of an increasingly authoritarian Russia under president Putin: "It is not too little democracy that many people fear, but too much. This, I discovered, is why some are calling for Putin to stay on for a third term. Not because they admire him - privately, many say that he and his cronies are just as corrupt and disdainful of others as their communist predecessors were - but because they mistrust the idea of democracy, resent the West for pushing it, and fear what might happen as a result of next year's elections. Recent experience has taught them that change is usually for the worse and best avoided."


Trouw 10.06.2007 (The Netherlands)

Trouw dedicates its culture section to "The power of the image". There's a excerpt from Al Gore's new book, "Assault on Reason" as well as a pointed critique of it by Henri Beunders, a history professor from Rotterdam. "An American book must naturally have an alarming beginning and an optimistic end, otherwise it won't sell. His understanding of 'the old media' is just as narrow as his grasp of the Internet is naive. He writes, 'Web democracy is arming itself. You can feel it. We, the people, are still the key to the survival of democracy in America.' What naivety! As if 'the people' always want what's best. In 1914, 1982 (the Falklands War) and 1991 (the Gulf War) 'the people' marched joyfully into war. In the thirties the Germans begged Hitler: 'Free us from freedom.' (The NZZ recently discussed the book in an interesting article titled "The Gorakel".)


The Nation 25.06.2007 (USA)

The "New Atheists," crowned with recent best seller successes in the USA, have now made it onto the magazine's cover. Certainly, these books aren't the expression of a general turning away from religion, writes Ronald Aronson. But the large non-religious minority in the country had previously been without a voice: "Americans as a whole may not be getting too much religion, but a significant constituency must be getting fed up with being routinely marginalized, ignored and insulted. After all, unbelievers are concentrated at the higher end of the educational scale... The great success of the New Atheists is to have reached them, both speaking to and for them."


ResetDoc 04.06.2007 (Italy)

ResetDoc dedicates a dossier to the Islamic Conference in Germany convened by Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (more here), which - better late than never - faces up to the fact that Germany has long been a country of immigration. Matteo Landricina reports about the background to the Conference. In interviews, Navid Kermani and Ezhar Cezairli agree that the problem of integration has precious little to do with Islam itself.

"Many Muslims", says Kermani, "feel that, following the Islamic terrorist attacks, diffidence is growing in society, and the tone of the mass media is becoming ever more alarmist. Nevertheless, it is German public opinion which, for some years now, 'makes' Muslims out of people. In reality, Iranians, Turks or Lebanese do not see themselves as members of one group, but rather as Iranians, Turks or Lebanese, especially because social conditions and the level of education are very heterogeneous between Muslim immigrants. People are Muslim, however their first reference point is not Islam, but their own cultural origins and present-day Germany."

The Frankfurt dentist Ezhar Cezairli states that integration is not primarily obstructed by religion. The obstacle is rather "social and cultural problems, and the reality of children who come from migrant families and do not have equal opportunities because they do not get help from their families and their mothers when they have difficulties at school. That is why the German State and the whole of society must work together to help them obtain the same opportunities, for example by giving them more support in order to learn German, to get better marks at school and have a better understanding of lessons."


Gazeta Wyborcza 09.06.2007 (Poland)

Witold Gadomski engages in a fiery exchange with American political scientist David Ost about Ost's book "The Defeat of Solidarity," which has just appeared in Polish. The thesis that liberal intellectuals wanted to pass over the workers in the "Solidarnosc" trade union to push through economic reform is just as disagreeable to Gadomski as Ost's diagnosis of various "class interests" that were disregarded. Ost comments: "We're not dealing here with anti-elitist conspiracy theories - the intellectuals were damned to victory. But after 1989 they kept the activity of civil society to a minimum, so as not to jeopardise the reforms. They feared popular resistance to the changes. The people wanted to be treated like partners, and instead they heard: 'Keep quiet and work, while you've got work at all.' That's how the right-wing nationalists got these people's support. That was the beginning of the end of the liberals."


Al Ahram Weekly 07.06.2007 (Egypt)

Rania Khallaf recommends the new novel "Jinniyah fi Qarora" (genie in a bottle) by the writer Ibrahim Farghali, who she presents as the "his generation's magic realist." The story doesn't exactly sound as if it had been submitted to Al-Azhar University for an assessment: "Haneen, the heroine -- the daughter of a Christian mother and a Muslim father -- provides a kind of guage of religious tolerance. In 'Jinniyah fi Qarora,' rather, it is Haneen's personal life that comes to the fore, and she provides a guage of identity. 'A whore,' the novel opens, punching the reader into engagement. 'No, I am not a whore.' Born to Egyptian parents, Haneen was born and grew up in France, and her sense of self is caught up in the contradiction. Sex is persasive throughout, and it falls in with the central image of a (female) genie in a bottle."


Le Nouvel Observateur 07.06.2007 (France)

Umberto Eco reviews the "Dictionnaire amoureux de Naples" by Jean-Noel Schifano (Plon), and admits: "The difficult thing about reading it was that Schifano is my French translator, and I have boundless admiration for him and his style. But I'm an Italian from Piedmont (a region that culturally has been closer to France than Italy for centuries). And there is far less similarity between a Piedmontese and a Neapolitan than there is between a Swede and a Brazilian from Bahia. Reading the work of a Frenchman (even if he has an Italian father) who is more Neapolitan than anyone I know has caused me a good deal of affliction. Of course I also succumb to the beauty of Naples.... But I can't forget that Schifano's 'Dictionnaire amoureux' appeared almost at the same time in France as 'Gomorra' by Roberto Saviano, a book that deals so unrelentingly with the Camorra capital Naples - casting it as a territory where criminality is rampant - that the author was forced to seek police protection. Who should you believe? Saviano, who talks about a hell, or Schifano, who talks about a paradise in misty-eyed, nostalgic terms?"


The New York Times 10.06.2007 (USA)

This week The New York Times Magazine has a major spotlight on the income gap. The cover shows John Edwards, who made fighting poverty the focus of his presidential campaign. Matt Bai accompanied him to New Orleans among other places, but thinks little of over-dramatisation: "It's true that the official poverty rate, while fluctuating quite a bit, is pretty much unchanged from where it was 40 years ago (it was 14.2 percent in 1967, compared with just under 13 percent at last count), but it's also true that what we call poverty has changed strikingly. When Johnson stepped onto that front porch in Inez, there were still rural poor who had no electricity, no running water, no primary-school education. Now most rural towns have access to satellite TV, and even the worst of the housing projects built in the 1960s — though thoroughly horrid places to live — come with solid roofs and indoor plumbing."

Roger Lowenstein shows precise statistical figures indicating the core of the problem: stagnating incomes on the bottom end - and exploding ones at the top. Or, as David Leonhardt puts it in his portrait of former Clinton advisor Lawrence H. Summers, who has now become somewhat sceptical about the economy: "It's as if every year each household from the lower 80 percent of the income statistics sent a check for 7,000 dollars to the one percent on the top."

In The New York Times Book Review, Irvine Welsh is thrilled on reading the English translation of Andrzej Stasiuk's novel "Nine": "One measurement of a genuine writer is his or her ability to evoke a place that is instantly familiar yet outside our direct personal experience, presenting it to us as a more accurate and vivid depiction than our prejudices had previously allowed. Andrzej Stasiuk is this kind of writer." And Tom Bissell praises the late Polish reporter Ryszard Kapuscinski and his book "Travels With Herodotus."

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