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27/12/2005

Magazine Roundup

Prospect | Merkur | Magyar Hirlap | The New York Review of Books | Outlook India | Literaturen | Al Ahram | Le point | The Economist | Le Figaro | Gazeta Wyborcza |


Prospect, 01.01.2006 (UK)

Robert Skidelsky, professor of Political Economy and Keynes biographer, has travelled to China and visited the city of Harbin in Manchuria, where his family - "one of the leading Jewish-Russian families in the Far East" - once lived. In 1916 they owned residential, industrial and mining property in eastern Siberia, had 3,000 sq km of timber concessions in Russia and Manchuria. "We drive to the Skidelsky house on the Bolshoi Prospekt in Harbin. It is bigger and grander than it appears in the photographs, but a shadow of its former glory. Whereas before it was set in spacious lawns and looked out on to open fields, now the town has crept up on it and it is closed in by skyscrapers. The house was looted in 1945, and like so many similar properties, minimally maintained as an institution—in this case a People's Liberation Army leisure centre. I meet several of these ancients sitting on white sofas around what must have been a sumptuous drawing room. When I am introduced by the director as the 'former owner', they greet me warmly. One 'veteran' thanks me very politely for letting them use my house! I refrain from saying that it is not with my permission."

Noam Chomsky, recently celebrated in this magazine as the world's top public intellectual, answers charges by Oliver Kamm, who accused Chomsky of "a particularly dishonest handling of source material" in the last issue. "I turned with interest to Oliver Kamm's critique of the 'crude and dishonest arguments' he attributes to me, hoping to learn something. And learn something I did, though not quite what Kamm intended; rather, about the lengths to which some will go to prevent exposure of state crimes and their own complicity in them."


Merkur, 31.12.2005 (Germany)

In his economics column, Rainer Hank as usual is hot on the trail of the shock waves made by the managing partner of the British TCI hedge fund, Christopher Hohn, when he ousted the big cats of the German stock exchange, Werner Seifert and Rolf Breuer. "All of a sudden the chairmen and the boards of directors of German stock corporations became aware of what can happen to them when the shareholders rebel. It is new for Germany that the owners of a company can actively assert their rights. Of course they have always threatened to sell their stocks when they were unhappy with the performance of share value, but that they are now voicing dissent, chasing the bosses away while opting to stay put themselves is highly unusual. 'Shareholders are stupid and impudent. Stupid for buying the shares and impudent for wanting to see dividends on top' - the legendary dictum of the banker Carl Fürstenberg has reflected the assumptions of top management in this country until very recently."


Magyar Hirlap, 24.12.2005 (Hungary)

In the Christmas supplement, the writer Peter Nadas tells in an interview about the years he spent working on his new novel "Parallel Stories": "The most exciting part, of course, was being a woman. There were weeks when I suddenly would feel very odd, as if my body was changing. A writer has to be a good actor. Women and men have identical organs in physiological terms, it's just that a few genes pointed us in different directions in the early phase of embryonic life. Whether we become men or women, we still carry the same germ of both sexes within us." Towards the end of the conversation, he suddenly announces that "Parallel Stories" might be his last novel, because "I can't write anything better. There are certainly better and still better qualities in reach but I am neither a civil servant nor an employee and I can stop writing any time. The mechanics of writing a novel, the whole role playing of the author no longer interests me."


The New York Review of Books, 12.01.2005 (US)

Ian Buruma is gobsmacked by David Margolick's book "Beyond Glory" about the boxing fight between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. The book evokes the fight so vividly that Buruma himself felt the joy of sweet revenge that took Harlem in 1937 as the "Brown Bomber" knocked out the "Übermensch": "Joe Louis had told his trainers that he wouldn't need more than one round to exact his revenge on Schmeling. He was as good as his word. The fight barely lasted more than two minutes. In the words of Ernest Hemingway, 'The Negro swung, hooked, swung and hooked at [Schmeling] as though he were the big bag.' He hit him everywhere, on his face, his jaw, his head, his body. Louis later said: 'I thought in my mind, How's that, Mr Super-race?'"


Outlook India, 09.01.2006 (India)

This year India was the scene of many catastrophes, from the Tsunami on the east coast, to the floods in Bombay, the earthquake in Kashmir to the deadly bomb blasts in New Delhi. For this reason, writes Rohit Brijnath in the lead story, the last issue of the year is dedicated to the "heroes" who acted as helpers in the wake of the catastrophes: "We see a bomb, we flee, it is not the coward's response but an answering to the instinct of self-preservation. But Kuldip Singh, the bus driver in Govindpuri, will pause, and in itself that makes him unusual. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: 'A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.'"


Literaturen, 01.01.2006 (Germany)

Literary couples are the main focus of this edition. We can read online Sigrid Löffler’s description of the new novel by New York wunderkind pair Nicole Krauss and Jonathan Safran Foer. "The History of Love" by Krauss and Safran Foer’s "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" are "so similar in social setting, style and narrative perspective, characters and mood that it would be easy to think that they come from the same hand." Both books have child heroes, and both "mine the Shoah as a readily accessible source of literary raw material, in which to blithely embed their sentimental, bizarre, melodramatic and kitschily emotional stories, as befits the American zeitgeist... As long as there is a receptive market for naively spun Holocaust fairytales, Kraus and Foer will be pampered as the double darlings of the literary scene," writes Löffler frankly.


Al Ahram, 22.12.2005 (Egypt)

Rania Khallaf reports from the "Sharjah International Book Fair" in the United Arab Emirates, where various events have reflected the state of literature and publishing in the Arab countries. One seminar was dedicated to the lack of translations into Arab: "Said Al-Barghouti, a translator, asserted that there is an undeniable crisis in translation in the Arab world. 'For example,' he said, 'Israel translates annually more than what all Arab countries put together translate in a given year.' He attributes this crisis to the limited resources of publishing houses and the absence of a vision or integrated policy of translation."

Heba M. Sharobeem gives an interesting review of the book "Opening the Gates - An Anthology of Arab Feminist Writing" (Indiana University Press).


Le point, 22.12.2005 (France)

In a highly entertaining interview, the doyen of the Nouveau Roman, Alain Robbe-Grillet (more here) talks about his books, his work, his stubborn relationship with the Academie Francaise, and his status as "someone who is famous for being famous". When asked how he would describe himself in a nutshell, the now 83-year-old writer gave the following reply: "I'm an atheist, whom God visits occasionally. A non-existent God of course, more of a quark-like being or a bit of anti-matter... And when he visits me – which he mostly does when I'm in the bath – he gives me bits of advice and talks about my genius. I have him to thank for the solution to my technical problems – a difficult choice, or a certain side – and I'm delighted by this little co-operation. My mother – I must admit – also thought I was a genius. But have I really answered your question."

In his "notebook" Bernard-Henri Levy asks whether it's possible to hold back the "Fascislamists" in Teheran. In view of the ever-growing atomic threat from Iran, we cannot "as we did in the case of other totalitarians like Hitler, Stalin, the Khmer Rouge who told us what their intentions were, fail to do everything in our power to stop them." And "since America is embroiled in its absurd Iraq war, it's up to us, the Europeans, to ask questions – and we have very little time left."


The Economist, 23.12.2005 (UK)

Why are the Japanese so endeared with robots? Because they are the perfect answer to their own communication difficulties, answers the magazine: "Although they are at ease with robots, many Japanese are not as comfortable around other people. That is especially true of foreigners. Immigrants cannot be programmed as robots can. You never know when they will do something spontaneous, ask an awkward question, or use the wrong honorific in conversation. But, even leaving foreigners out of it, being Japanese, and having always to watch what you say and do around others, is no picnic."


Le Figaro, 22.12.2005 (France)

The debate seethes on in France over state intervention in historical interpretation. The creme de la creme of French historians have now written a petition entitled "Freedom for history!" (original here). Le Figaro reports that the historians are not only arguing for the abolishment of a law decreeing that the "positive sides" of French colonial history should be taught in schools. The petition also calls for laws to be abrogated that render denying the Holocaust or the genocide of the Armenians a criminal offence.

In an interview, Pierre Nora acknowledges the good intent of these laws, but argues that the multiplication of such "commemoration laws" bring out their "perverse repercussions". "Commemoration is not history. Twenty years ago it was still a question of acknowledging the rights and legitimacy of certain social, religious and sexual minorities. That was a modest form of commemoration. But today, certain proponents of commemoration have a penchant for aggressiveness. They assert a tyrannical, even terrorist form of commemoration, especially vis-a-vis the academic community. Serious historians are being thrown as fodder to the hungry lobbies, who are now threatening to bury the truth with laws. The guardians of certain historical interpretations have to be prevented from taking academic research hostage."


Gazeta Wyborcza, 24.12.2005 (Poland)

"A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of the Polish plumber". So begins an article by Polish-Swedish historian and author Maciej Zaremba on occupational migration in today's Europe – from the Swedes who work in Norway to the Latvians and Poles who work in Sweden to the Ukrainians who do unwanted jobs in Poland. "150 years after the 'Communist Manifesto', the worker has once more become a haunting spectre. This time he is not waving a flag, nor does he want to topple systems – he just wants to work. And that's the scary thing." From the Swedish unionists who protest against Latvian competition to the British Minister for Europe ("Oh, we love the Polish plumber!") - everyone is faced with the problem. "750 zlotys for a professor from Kiev, and 40 times that much for a Swedish packer in Norway – the difference has nothing to do with what the work is worth, but with history, borders and artificial exchange rates." The article originally appeared as part of a series in the Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter.
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