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Magazine Roundup

Literaturen | Outlook India | The New Yorker | The Spectator | Al Ahram Weekly | Polityka | The Times Literary Supplement | Il Foglio | Le Nouvel Observateur | Elet es Irodalom | The New York Times Book Review

Literaturen, 01.09.2006 (Germany)

"It's easy to die in Bombay but impossible to forget you're alive," writes Ilija Trojanow in a special edition of Literaturen focussing on this year's guest country at the Frankfurt Book Fair, India. Trojanow introduces three books which deal with the "Mega City of Schizophrenia": Suketu Mehta's "Maximum City", Vikram Chandra's "Sacred Games" and Altaf Tyrewala's "No God in Sight". To describe Bombay means finding a literary way of capturing this dynamic present, these syncopes between hope and despair, cursing and rejoicing. To write about Bombay means mastering the art of the poisonous declaration of love, and this is something true Bombaywallas (literally those who belong to Bombay) have done: writers like Chandra, Mehta and Tyrewala. Their affectionate exposures of Bombay bear witness to the strong ties that, for all the traumas and disappointments, exist between the metropolis and its citizens."

New Economy and IT boom are more desire than reality in India, according to author Pankaj Mishra. "In spite of all the talk about India as the 'back office' of the world, a mere 1.3 million of a working population of 400 million are active in the areas of information technology or office organisation, which make up the New Economy. Over 60 percent of the Indian population is still employed in agriculture. The image of an upwardly mobile, shining country is sustained primarily by an urban middle-class which consumes TV soaps and chat shows, courts cricket nationalism and is on its way to becoming a carbon copy of the culturally homogeneous and politically reactionary classes which formed throughout Europe in the modern age... Yet there is still a lack of drinking water in the villages and India continues to be one of the poorest countries in the world."

Outlook India, 11.09.2006 (India)

Ghandhi lives! He is back with globalisation, writes Sheela Reddy who is spotting neo-satyagrahis everywhere. They might be on mopeds rather than on foot and have rejected the Khadi and charkha as outdated symbols – but their intentions are good. "To many, aware that globalisation is 'the kiss of death' for many of their ideals, and in search of a way to be socially effective, the package seems an irresistible one: a choice of alternative lifestyles, a chance to contribute to society, a challenging learning experience and, more important, no rigid ideology. ... The new-age satyagrahis - a word that they wish to avoid like the politicians in Gandhi topis - will go on peace runs, bicycle yatras for communal harmony, motorbike rallies for Indo-Pak peace and against female foeticide; take Gandhi films and discussion groups to professional colleges, radio programmes and wall newspapers to slums and villages; hold comicbook workshops and roundtable discussions with leaders of all political hues, including advocates of terrorism, 'because everyone deserves to be heard'." And unlike the old Gandhi acolytes, the new ones find plenty to laugh about.

The New Yorker, 11.09.2006 (USA)

Jane Mayer portrays Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl alias "Junior", a Sudanese citizen, one-time confidant of Osama bin Laden, and "arguably America's most valuable Al Qaeda informant" who is expected to serve as a central witness at the prosecutions of at least two suspected terrorists currently held in Guantanamo. Fadl was one of the first people to join Al Qaeda in 1989 in Afghanistan but in 1996 sought protection from the American embassy in Eritrea when he confessed his membership. Since then he has lived in the USA under an assumed identity and FBI protection. His protectors describe him as bit of a problem child, womaniser, gambler and "loveable rogue" whose " scheming, which had once been bin Laden's problem, was now theirs." And Dan Coleman, a former FBI Al Qaeda expert was surprised to learn "that Fadl wasn't particularly religious. 'I never saw him pray once,' he said. For Fadl, jihad was less a spiritual quest than 'a socially acceptable form of bad behaviour.' As Coleman put it, 'You get to blow stuff up and kill people, and your colleagues and peers think you're good. It's fun, and you can be a hero.'"

The Spectator, 02.09.2006 (UK)

How to react to new forms of terrorism and protect civil liberties at the same time? Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz voices his criticism of western democracies which in the wake of September 11 "have not even begun to address seriously, and in a nuanced way, the moral and intellectual challenges posed by the relatively new phenomenon of mass-casualty suicide terrorism. The traditional paradigm by which we have long confronted harmful conduct - waiting until the harm occurs and then punishing the harm-doer to deter others - cannot work with the suicide terrorist who welcomes the ultimate punishment." Naturally democracies cannot resort to the "tyrannical methods" used by Hitler and Stalin who "simply arrested or executed all potential terrorists." But effective prevention of terrorism, by means consistent with basic moral and legal norms, is vital "for the preservation of civil liberties. ... That is why those who love liberty must be at the forefront of efforts to prevent terrorism, even if such efforts require some compromises of the maximalist civil liberties paradigm."

Al Ahram Weekly, 31.08.2006 (Egypt)

Following George Bush's reference to "Islamo-fascism" the political analyst and Washington resident Mohamed Hakki felt compelled to pen an open letter to the president, demanding he show more respect to the universal God. "It was heartening that you always talked about Islam with respect, considering it part of our mutual heritage of heavenly faiths sent by our one God -- the God in which we all believe, be we Christians, Muslims or Jews. Even after your actions -- all of your actions -- betrayed admiration for, alliance with, and complete support of Israel, even after the whole world watched the total destruction of Lebanon, we thought that these actions were simply the result of a broken moral compass. But when you equate Islam with fascism, you crossed all acceptable lines of behaviour."

Polityka, 02.09.2006 (Poland)

"In retrospect, the world in 1914 seemed just to have been waiting for the spark which went off in Sarajevo on June 28. The same goes for 2001 – the world was ready for the huge changes which came after September 11," writes Jacek Zakowski in a noteworthy article five years after the attack on the World Trade Center. The analogies continue: at the end of the 19th century it was a young radical movement – the communists – which forced the states into action. But while Prussia and Russia chose the path of repression, England and Switzerland tried to integrate the protest into the political spectrum. "We are all familiar with the consequences. In Russia communism triumphed and soon after Nazism followed in Germany." Zakowski is highly critical of the beefed-up security precautions, military actions and curtailments of civil rights. "To destroy the good sides of the existing order in the name of the conflict with the enemy represents no solution."

In an ambitions publishing project, initiated by a Scottish publisher and adopted by 33 other houses round the world, contemporary writers rewrite the great myths of the human race. Juliusz Kurkiewicz is very taken by the idea, even if what he has read so far has failed to wow him. But the most recent publication in the series, "Anna In w Grobowcach Wiata", is different. Its author, Olga Tokarczuk, was working on the story of the Sumerian goddess Inanna before she got involved with the project. "Tokarczuk does not retell old stories or turn them around like the other writers. She immerses herself in the myths, to decipher their meaning, to show that they are stories – although they never happened to anybody – that could happen to anybody at any time. In Tokarczuk's Inanna – Anna In is a young woman one would expect to bump into on the street."

The Times Literary Supplement, 02.09.2006 (UK)

Stein Ringen found a striking similarity in the observations on the USA made over two centuries by European sociologists that Claus Offe has packed into his book "Reflections on America. Tocqueville, Weber and Adorno in the United States". "They saw liberty – precarious but nevertheless always vibrant. They saw equality – too much of it rather than too little. They saw unique features of social life, in particular the strength of religion and of voluntary associations. They saw excessive equality as a threat to liberty, and they saw religious and associational life as the bastion that kept that threat at bay. ... The classics saw it as a matter of rights and liberty, and warned against reducing the great idea of equality to a quest for goods. Their challenge, translated to present day conditions, is this: are proponents of the European social model obsessed with little inequalities at the cost of ignoring the big ones? As an egalitarian, I am uneasy about not being able to dismiss that question."

Il Foglio, 02.09.2006 (Italy)

Camillo Langonen visits punk musician Giovanni Lindo Ferretti in his farmyard in Appenin. Feretti has become calmer, almost Catholic, Langonen writes. But even as a breeder of the local small, white horses, he is still a little punk: "I let my horses fuck as they please, with the stallions they find on the meadow and all the casualness and natural dangers that entails. The stallions are brutal, they bite and kick. And the mares come back completely knackered. But I'm by no means out to improve the race, the way they do in Tuscany where thanks to all the improvements the Maremma sheepdogs don't even look like Maremmas any more. I want to make them worse, to bring them back to the state they were in when the barbarians brought them to Italy."

Le Nouvel Observateur, 31.08.2006 (France)

French sociologist Bernard Lahire demonstrates once again that the life of a writer is a difficult, laborious business, in his empirical study "La condition litteraire." He talked to over 500 French authors about their circumstances and financial situation. As Bernard Genies relates, first and foremost, the writers spoke of their "monumental frustration. Because the modern writer simply doesn't exist. Or better: to exist, he has to be something else." Lahire quotes Paul Fournel: "No one asks a filmmaker: 'And how do you make your money?' But with a writer it's the first thing people want to know... I've heard it a thousand times." Many have to earn their livelihood in "sideline jobs" like teaching, journalism or translation, because earnings from book sales are often pitiful: "In 2003, 44 percent of the respondents didn't earn a penny with their writing. 9.3 percent earned less than 200 euros, 6.6 percent less than 5,000 euros, and only 9.3 percent topped the 10,000-euro mark."

Elet es Irodalom, 01.09.2006 (Hungary)

In recent weeks, the diaries of Budapest residents Tamas Csics and Janos Kovacs have appeared, which they wrote in 1956 as 12 and 13 year olds. Cultural scientist Peter György comments on the phenomenon: "Until now, this year's fiftieth anniversary of the Uprising has been marked by empty rites, or even aesthetic barbarity. So these diaries are an unexpected source of joy and optimism... The texts portray a world that has disappeared today behind the hype around historical commemoration coloured by the reigning political consciousness. Here the reader relives everyday events, experiences the behaviour of 'average Hungarians,' the distance, the caution, and the short-lived hope that communism was really about to end. In these diaries of pre-adolescent children, nothing is to be found of 'the' revolution. Rather they tell a hitherto unknown side of the revolution, of the immediate reality surrounding the events."

Conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner is asked in an interview whether less contemporary music is being played today, and whether in an era of 'academic' conductors, it has been 'ghettoised': "Twenty or thirty years ago, baroque music was in a ghetto. People were forced to listen to appalling interpretations of baroque works. Everything was played in the same way, Bach, Mozart, Schubert or Brahms, there was only one sound. Then historical interpretations gave things a new impetus. Concert styles changed, opening up rich musical sources which people had previously been oblivious to. Possibly that is a kind of new contemporary music. In these interpretations, the works written two or three hundred years ago are new, and there's much to be discovered there."

The New York Times Book Review, 03.09.2006 (USA)

In the New York Times Magazine, Ann Hulberg doubts that "private diplomacy" is an appropriate means of polishing up the tarnished image of Americans abroad. She has little respect for emphatically unobtrusive, non-arrogant, un-ugly Americans: "Busily monitoring our well-known tendency to strident self-importance, earnest American practitioners of personal diplomacy can risk missing the genuinely humbling lesson of being abroad: an awareness of how bewildering another country’s own blend of boorishness and fervent belief, of openness and defiance, of backwardness and progress and of internal dissensions can be. In the end, it’s as narcissistic to assume we’re the overbearing cause of everybody else’s national identity crises in a dizzying world as it is to imagine that we can orchestrate the solutions to them. The sobering, and liberating, truth is that our britches are not that big." - let's talk european