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10/07/2007

Magazine Roundup

Osteuropa | Outlook India | The Economist | Nepszabadsag | Revista de Libros | Gazeta Wyborcza | Il Foglio | Die Weltwoche | al-Sharq al-Awsat| The New York Times|


Osteuropa 01.07.2007 (Germany)

The new edition of Osteuropa is completely dedicated to a literary milestone: Next to Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago," the most important book ever written about the Soviet camp system, until now fully unknown here, finally has been published in a German edition: Varlam Shalamov's "Tales from Kolyma." To be exact, it's the first volume: "Through the Snow."

Russian philosopher Michail Ryklin traces, using Shalamov's and Solzhenitsyn's
notes from the Gulag (and interweaving current echoes), how the political power in Russia worked hand in hand with career criminals: "The vocational criminals in the camps were much better organized, and behaved like people who had something worth dying for, while all the others - whether free or behind barbed wire - tried to survive at any price. This was a world of servitude in the Hegelian sense, it punished for the great unknown crime that hung over virtually everyone. The human material inherited from past epochs was of no value in this world, and had to be reworked radically. Just like the Soviet powers, the criminals also condemned all forms of human solidarity, and also fought against them, as private property. They wasted, dissipated and gambled, they bribed doctors and the camp administration with their stolen goods. The convergence of the Soviet ideology with this milieu, its idealizing super elevation, is no misunderstanding, no mistake; rather it is inherent to this ideology, which aims at total dispossession."

Ulrich Schmid explains in a further text what distinguishes Shalamov's writing from that of Solzhenitsyn: "Solzhenitsyn takes a certain aesthetic distance to the subject, which at the same time allows him to articulate his moral outrage about the subject of his presentation. Shalamov takes a wholly different approach: He reduces the distance between the narrator and the text, between the author and protagonist, to a minimum, and so achieves the maximum authenticity. At the same time, this kind of narration rules out any moral evaluation of what is being described (...) Shalamov always avoids an emotional collaboration with the reader. In Shalamov's camp writings, there is not a single accusation. Cruelties and humiliations are seldom described directly, but rather only noted as common occurrences. Often, the reader must pay special attention in order to be able to appreciate the full scope of an incident."


Outlook India 16.07.2007 (India)

Ramachandra Guha comments on just how radically India's system of coordination has changed: "The typical North Indian regarded the typical South Indian as short, squat, black, effete—and vegetarian. But now, those once proud people are voting with their feet to move south. They come to write code in Bangalore's software companies, to labour on construction sites in Hyderabad, to work in coffee plantations in Coorg, or to do odds and ends in Chennai's film industry. Now, the stereotype of the South Indian among Punjabis and Biharis is that he is intelligent, hardworking, entrepreneurial, and open-minded. And that he can very often be a she. And, most importantly, that if you study well and behave yourself, she or he can give you a job."


The Economist 09.07.2007 (UK)

The Catholic Church has started to behave in China rather like Yahoo, appearing to be interested in reconciliation with the administration, writes the Economist: "Pope Benedict, whose church has long upbraided China for its suppression of religious freedom, is now trying to make friends. In a rare and lengthy letter to Catholics in China last week the pope wrote in conciliatory terms about China's state-controlled Catholic church and bishops in it who have been appointed without the Vatican's approval. He also stressed that the church in China had no mission to change the country politically."

Additional articles: The Economist reports that, after a long struggle, Egypt finally has made female genital mutilation illegal – but the latest surveys show that the practice is still promoted by 68 percent of the population. And also discussed is Hugh Kennedy's history of the spread of Islam. The image he conveys of Bedouins who conquer Europe is rather unusual: "'The Muslim conquests”, he writes, “were far from being the outpouring of an unruly horde of nomads.' The Bedouin of Arabia were tough and highly mobile, fired by tribal honour and love of booty as well as by zeal for Islam."


Nepszabadsag 09.07.2007 (Hungary)

The EU has opened a PR offensive on the Internet: On Eutube, at the Youtube site, it promotes its goals. Balasz Pocs found most of last week's clips less than intoxicating, but the new film consisting of edited-together sex scenes from prize-winning European cinema – "The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain", "Head On" or "Goodbye Lenin" - he found marvelous: "The communications department of the EU has awakened from its Sleeping Beauty trance, and has discovered how to speak to Europeans. At the beginning of the clip, a woman and a man are tearing off each others' clothing, and it gets hotter and heavier from there... One thing is sure: Many EU policies will be forgotten, but this one promotional program will remain long in the public memory. Mission accomplished."

This year's homosexual parade in Budapest ended in blood: members of the extreme right party "Jobbik" attacked the peaceful demonstration, many were injured. A scandal, according to György Bugyinszki. He blames all politicians "who claim maliciously or meanly that it's a 'private matter'," homosexuals in the Christian conservative camp that "confirm with their silence that homosexuality is a disease of leftist liberals" and the "overwhelmingly Catholic dignitaries who talk about homosexuality in medieval terms as a moral issue."

Revista de Libros (Chile) 08.07.2007

In his column, writer and critic Alberto Fuguet (more) expresses some unorthodox views about the purpose of art and literary criticism. "Artists and their work are no more than an excuse, a medium, with which to leap onto the world, onto the state of things; if an artist is really good, it's possible to write about him without mentioning him, only talking about oneself. That's what it's about in the final analysis: awaking memories in the author, ceasing to be a critic and instead, turning into a reader who has simply been lucky enough that a stage has been provided, from which he can open doors rather than roll down blinds. Very few can do that."

Spanish writer Javier Cercas (more) writes on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of Roberto Bolaño's death: "One of Bolano's greatest accomplishments was to give literary anecdotes, legends and rumours an epic dimension, in which all passions, the dizzying up and down of human existence finds overwhelming new forms of expression."

Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland) 07.07.2007

"The audience laughs. Today we can laugh because what we for years considered to be horror a la Kafka now seems to be primitve and dumb." This is how the journalist Janusz Majcherek describes reactions to "Teczki" (The Acts), the most recent spectacle of the legendary Polish theatre group "Teatr Osmego Dnia" (Theater of the eighth day, here info in French). In the play, four actors read out of a secret service vehicle and the audience laughs. "This is not a historical play and it has nothing to do with today's politics of history. It shows episodes from the life of the creator of 'Teatr Osmego Dnia,' stories of free individuals who have used art to defend themselves against the system that deprives them of their freedom. But they also show us that systems don't disappear, that only the surfaces change and that we have to fight non-stop for freedom and independence." Nonetheless, according to Majcherek, it's "a constructive play."

Writer Pawel Huelle goes to bat yet again for writer Witold Gombrowicz, whose books the Minister of Education Giertych wants to throw out of the school canon. "Concerning yourself with Giertych's intellectual abysses is a total waste of time. (...) What's important is that for several generations, Gombrowicz was the measure of all things in discussions about terms like Poland, patriotism, responsibility, the right of the individual and the role of the writer - despite or perhaps due to the skepticism, the anarchy and the grotesque that are expressed in his work " and that have caused the moral guardians to attack Gombrowicz for generations.


Il Foglio (Italy) 07.07.2007

Edoardo Camurri is very fraught about books, book stores and readers in Italy. "To summarise: too many new titles every year, books stores drowning in titles, the fight for the best sales spots. The book seller is being transformed into a serial killer, the reader is succumbing to commercial trends, little publishing houses are looking for alternative strategies and looming above it all, in its Olympic neutrality, is the cold and steadfast law of the sales figures. You probably need a general strike, as with the taxes. Stop reading! Stop! Forget it! Intelligent illiterates are preferable to dumbed-down readers."


Die Weltwoche (Switzerland) 05.07.2007

An anonymous interviewer asks Harry Potter expert Michael Maar (more) for a detailed exegesis on the seventh Harry Potter volume, which has not yet appeared, and a reflection on the various versions of its possible plot. Asked if Harry Potter will die, Maar says "I would bet not. There are unwritten contracts that should not be broken, if one doesn't want to risk the wrath of the gods. There's an unwritten rule in children's and youth literature that the hero cannot die at the end. Rowling likes to break the rules and overstep the bounds a bit but she would never abuse this taboo. Harry might lose his sorcery and end as a normal muggle; that would be a possible and rather elegant solution. But die? Others are in more danger: Neville Longbottom, as I said, Hagrid, Ginny and even Hermine..." The book will appear in English on July 21.


al-Sharq al-Awsat
(Saudi Arabia/U.K.) 04.07.2007

An interesting interview with the Israeli writer Sami Michael explores the fate of Iraqi Jews who fled Iraq in the years after World War Two. Michael emigrated from Baghdad to Tehran and then to Israel in 1949. "That's the paradox: I took on the homeland of my children – the opposite of the normal case, when children take on the homeland of their father. The same thing happened to many Palestinians. They can no longer live in their first homeland but they never stop talking about it. It becomes part of the past. But what's happening in Iraq moves me, as it does other Iraqis. I follow the news coming out of Iraqi cities more than any other country in the world, more than Israel. I still see Iraqi places in my dreams, my dreams are Iraqi and take place only in Iraq – even though I left Iraq 60 years ago. The words of my dreams are those of Baghdad's streets, stores, date palms, rivers and bridges, our old house and my old friends."

(The Arabic website elaph has also been interested in this theme for the last few months. The Israeli historian Shmuel Moreh, who, like Michael comes from Iraq, writes here in a series about the history of the Iraqi Jews.)


New York Times 08.07.07 (USA)

John Irving's appreciation of Günter Grass' "The Peeling of the Onion" is a singular declaration of love to his admired writer. He won't tolerate the German critique of Grass' belated confession to SS-membership: "Why had he waited so long to tell? his critics asked. (As if there had ever been a time when he wouldn’t have been criticized for it!) ... But good writers write about the important stuff before they blab about it;good writers don’t tell stories before they’ve written them!" And what especially impressed Irving: "What is breathtaking about this autobiography is Grass’s honesty about his dishonesty."

In the magazine, Roger Cohen describes Israeli Foreign Minister – and potential new Prime Minister - Tzipi Livni. Also in these pages – an esay by Akiko Busch, in which she explains why it is so fulfilling to swim through a river. Jaimie Epstein contradicts John Irving, who suggests in his article on Grass that his knowledge of literature helped him meet girls. Actually, says Epstein, words get in the way when it comes to romance.
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