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08/01/2008

Magazine Roundup

Outlook India | The New York Review of Books | Le Nouvel Observateur | Folio | Nepszabadsag | The Guardian | The Economist | Plus - Minus | Die Weltwoche | The New Statesman | The New York Times

Outlook India 14.01.2008

The magazine's authors look back on 2007 and tell their "India Story." Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, who while living in exile in Calcutta has been forced underground by a number of death threats, gives a litany of complaint: "Where am I? I am certain no one will believe mfeee if I say I have no answer to this apparently straightforward question, but the truth is I just do not know. And if I were to be asked how I am, I would again answer: I don't know. I am like the living dead: benumbed; robbed of the pleasure of existence and experience; unable to move beyond the claustrophobic confines of my room. Day and night, night and day. Yes, this is how I have been surviving. This nightmare did not begin when I was suddenly bundled out of Calcutta—it has been going on for a while. It is like a slow and lingering death, like sipping delicately from a cupful of slow-acting poison that is gradually killing all my faculties. This is a conspiracy to murder my very essence, my being, once so brave, playful."


The New York Review of Books 17.01.2008

Michael Massing praises the American McClatchy newspaper group, which has established a unique type of blog: "About a year ago, it set up a blog exclusively for contributions from its Iraqi staff. 'Inside Iraq,' it's called, and several times a week the Iraqi staff members post on it about their experiences and impressions. 'It's an opportunity for Iraqis to talk directly to an American audience,' says Leila Fadel, the current bureau chief, whose father is from Lebanon and whose mother is from Michigan, who grew up in Saudi Arabia, and who is all of twenty-six years old. As such, the blog fills a major gap in the coverage… 'There are too few reports that include Iraqi citizens - not Green Zone politicians but regular folks,' one TV journalist said. 'We need to hear their voices.' 'The coverage has been ethnocentric,' a newspaper correspondent commented. 'There is not enough attention to the plight of the Iraqis.'"

Further articles: Max Rodenbeck recounts a visit to Tehran. Ian Buruma presents two masterpieces to American readers: Alfred Döblin's novel "Berlin Alexanderplatz," whose English translation leaves much to be desired, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder's adaptation of the work for television, which is now available on DVD. Books reviewed include J.M. Coetzee's newly released "Diary of a Bad Year."

Le Nouvel Observateur 03.01.2008

French feminists are up in arms at the current edition of the Nouvel Obs, which features a dossier on Simone de Beauvoir 100 years after her birth, and shows a naked photo of her on the cover. Two longer articles by Agathe Logeart and Aude Lancelin praise the philosopher as "Simone the scandalous," asking whether a renaissance of interest in her works is underway. In a series of short pieces, artists and authors such as Philippe Sollers, Juliette Greco, Arielle Dombasle and Catherine Millet air their views on the author of "The Second Sex." Millet writes: "Above all I was interested in de Beauvoir's agreement with Sartre on sexual freedom, even if such a pact would be out of the question for me. This freedom has always been tacitly accepted between me and my partner Jacques. I can't help it, this imperative of absolute openness has something very bourgeois about it: always being honest in life, always saying what you think. I personally don't see the shame in hypocrisy. As strange as it may seem, de Beauvoir was always a very erotic figure for me. Like one of Klossowski's heroines: cold, intellectual, with tightly pulled back hair."


Folio 07.01.2008

The January edition is dedicated to young Jewish life. Yves Kugelmann, chief editor of the Swiss weekly magazine Tachles, reveals that a second Jewish land is in the planning: "It's a new version of an old idea, this time secular, this time not as victims or as a covert homeland in the Diaspora, but an omnipresent one": "The stakes are doubled for half the risk, and perhaps complete happiness: somewhere on this planet 'Judea' will soon be founded. Sure, it's nothing new, the Kingdom of Judea existed before Christ, until the Romans annexed it in the year 70. This is a new attempt. To bolster Israel, confuse the anti-Semites, get the philo-Semites off our backs and prepare a small pleasure for Iran's Ahmadinejad. Because what could be better than destroying one Jewish state? Right! Destroying two."

Writer Doron Rabinovici describes how Jews are just as bitterly at odds over the Jewish identity as their adversaries. Bruno Kreisky, for example, maintained that as the Jews were not a people, he could not be a Jew: "He said, 'I'll tell you a Jewish joke. An orthodox Jew with sidelocks, a kaftan and kippah walks down the street in 1938. A policeman stops him and says: You'd better not go any further, because there's a group of Nazis over there and they'll make mincemeat of you. The Jew answers: Thank you, Herr Inspector! But don't worry, I won't disclose my identity. And you see,' Kreisky concludes, 'that's how it is with me too at times.'"


Nepszabadsag 05.01.2008

The Piarist padre György Bulanyi is an uncomfortable opposition figure for the Socialist regime in Hungary – and for the Church as well. He admits he finds it difficult to maintain his optimism in his old age: "It's difficult to accept that humanity is not able to change the course of history. Almost nine decades of my life have gone by, and I still have to face the fact that not only does the world not want to believe Jesus – I could live with that – but it doesn't even want to believe Bulanyi."


The Guardian 05.01.2008

It has long been a commonplace that reading makes us emotionally stronger. But as Blake Morrison reports, new bibliotherapy groups are showing that Shakespeare is more effective than Prozac, and that a growing number of hospitals are assigning patients to reading groups to ease pain and mental disorder: "Medical staff tell stories of the remarkable successes they've seen: the neurological patient who sat in a group saying nothing for months, then after a reading of George Herbert's poem 'The Flower' ('Who would have thought my shrivelled heart/Could have recovered greenness?') launched into a 10-minute monologue at the end of which he announced 'I feel great.'"

Further articles: on the occasion of a Wim Wenders retrospective in London, filmmaker and critic Chris Petit praises Wenders' early films, particularly "Alice in the Cities." Oliver James' study "The Selfish Capitalist" is named book of the week. In it, James maintains that it's not we who suffer from affluenza, but others who suffer from our wealth.



The Economist 03.01.2008 (UK)

The magazine reviews a book by American sociologist Sudhir Ventakesh, "Gang-Leader for a Day," in which the Columbia professor describes his field studies in the – now demolished – Robert Taylor social housing project in Chicago. "The project had its own economy. In the building where he centred his research, there was crack dealing, of course - and it was a well-oiled operation. Then there was a host of more informal businesses, from trading among mothers - you take care of my kids for two days, I'll feed you for five - to the squatters who did repairs. The building had its own tax system; J.T. and the building's tenant leader, Ms Bailey, took a cut of most business."

The Economist also recommends economist Thomas Sowell's book on "Economic Facts and Fallacies." While many people will be infuriated by Sowell's free-market radicalism, "there is not a chapter in which he does not produce a statistic that both surprises and overturns received wisdom." For example that "today, never-married, childless, university-educated American women of between 40 and 64 earn 7,000 USD a year more than similar men."


Plus - Minus 05.01.2008 (Poland)

With a pinch of political salt Anna Nowacka-Isaksson reports from Stockholm on the "Spoils of War" exhibition in the Royal Armoury. "Had we not raided the royal treasury in Warsaw, no one today would be able to admire the helmet of Ivan the Terrible, the Swedish argue. (Not forgetting of course that the thing was previously taken from Moscow by the Polish). "No other country has so systematically amassed cultural goods over such a long period of time as Sweden. Which is why it still has so much left." Many of the exhibits were plundered during the Thirty Years War from the Czech Republic or from Poland during the First Northern War. "After 350 years the Swedes believe that they have an ancestral claim to these treasures. This is more a question of morals and good will than of rights."


Die Weltwoche 07.01.2008 (Switzerland)

In an interview with Urs Gehringer the commander of the US army in Iraq General David H. Petraeus describes the situation there. In the last six months there has been a "striking" drop in violence and terror, which Petraeus attributes to his new strategy and to the fact the Sunnis have started to lose patience with al-Qaeda as much as the Shiites. "According to the latest rumours, al-Qaeda is no longer only forbidding people to smoke but cutting fingers off people who do. This is unbelievable, especially in a society of passionate cigarette consumers. It is utterly bizarre how these fanatics behave, with enforced marriages etc. Dislike of this regime is everywhere."

Alix Sharkey remembers a meeting with Carla Bruni in which the model openly admitted to being predatory and avaricious. Which is she can only recommend her marrying Nicolas Sarkozy. "Let's be honest. In these cheerless star-cult times, what would be more glamorous, scandalous, ludicrous and fitting?!"


The New Statesman 03.01.2008 (UK)

Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov was invited to give a reading in the little Arctic Norwegian town of Kirkenes and was taken aback by the large numbers of Russians he encountered, and in particular Russian women. "In fact, of the 3,900 people who live in Kirkenes, more than 400 are the Russian wives of Norwegian men. I didn't ask the local men why so many of them ignored their own womenfolk, but the pattern is clear. Many Norwegian men consider marriage only when they are approaching 40. The more adventurous head for Murmansk or Arkhangelsk and the lazier ones pop over to Nikel to choose a dependable bride. Not that Norwegian women are any less dependable; they just take life a bit more seriously than Russian women do and they are generally more demanding of their menfolk."


The New York Times 06.01.2008 (USA)

The Sunday Book Review contains a special edition of reviews and essays on Islam. In it the author Lorraine Adams complains that the majority of literature by Muslim men and women remains veiled by the book industry. "Many Americans fail to understand that Muslims can be Arab, African or Asian, not to mention European or American. ... Lost too is the full spectrum of Islam in the lives of authors and their characters. There are secular Muslims, culturally influenced but non-practising; moderate Muslims, practising but tolerant; and radical fundamentalists, murderous and anti-Western. But one generalization holds true: much of contemporary Muslim literature remains unpublished in English translation."

The reform-oriented Islam preacher Tariq Ramadan explains what it means to read the Koran and stresses the plurality of possible readings and interpretations. "Just as we can read the work of a human author, from Marx to Keynes, in closed-minded and rigid fashion, we can approach divine revelation in a similar manner. Instead, we should be at once critical, open-minded and incisive."

The publicist, former politician and political advisor Ayaan Hirsi Ali reviews Lee Harris' almost apocalyptic future prognosis, "The Suicide of Reason." In it Harris argues that with its belief in reason, the West cannot understand the expansive fanaticism which is the basic principle of Islam, and that it will therefore be destroyed by it. Hirsi Ali sees herself as an example which contradicts Harris' argument that those who are raised within Islam are condemned to fanaticism. "I was not born in the West. I was raised with the code of Islam, and from birth I was indoctrinated into a tribal mind-set. Yet I have changed, I have adopted the values of the Enlightenment. ... Why have I done so? Because in a tribal society, life is cruel and terrible."

Further articles: Fouad Ajami, Professor of Middle East Studies admits that although he fought them for a long time, Samuel Huntington's ideas in "Clash of Civilisations" now look worryingly plausible. There is also a review of John Kelsey's study on the "just war" in Islam and the book "American Crescent" by USA-based Shiite preacher Hassan Qazwini. The Magazine also features an article on the subject. Nicholas Schmidle describes the growing influence of the Taliban particularly among the younger generation of Islamists in Pakistan.
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