"There is no centre anymore. We live in a multipolar world, and culture reflects that." Fatima Bhutto
Contexts
All he surveys

All he surveys

The eponymous King of Warsaw in Szczepan Twardoch’s first book to be translated into English is Jakub Szapiro: a champion prize-fighter; a secular Jew, whose exploits in the ring, especially against Aryan opponents, have made him the darling of his community; a devoted family man, who dotes on his two young sons. All this is,...
Coming in and going out

Coming in and going out

Plague diary, 29 March 2020. I’m reading about one of the biggest icebergs in history, “a tabular iceberg” in Antarctica, which was “more than 31,000 km2”. “Significantly larger than Belgium,” they add. I read that another giant iceberg, a sort of island 61 metres thick, “took seventeen years to be mapped.” I start studying bunkers,...
A month of singular vision

A month of singular vision

Hisham Matar is undeniably a remarkable man, with a talent for unusual journeys and their tales. A gifted storyteller, he excels in that rare balancing act between the personal and the universal, the minutely concrete and the sublimely abstract. He loves to explore the terra incognita between permanence and transience, presence and errantry, past and...
Every animal has its own madness

Every animal has its own madness

Plague diary, 25 March 2020. Sometimes, in the terrible world, people open their front doors just slightly and spit as foreigners pass. Foreign, I’m told, in one of the Slavic languages, means mute. Whoever does not speak my language, is mute. Whoever does not have my history, is mute. “Virus detected in the sewers in...
My opposite hand

My opposite hand

From the day I learned to write until I was 52 years old, I wrote with my right hand. Then, in April of 2018, due to intense repetitive-stress soreness in my right hand and wrist, I began teaching myself to write with my left. I’ll never be the same. I write my first drafts longhand...
Our Lady in peril

Our Lady in peril

Of the night of the fire I remember a kaleidoscope of images, a collision of emotions, in quick succession. Through my kitchen window seeing bright-yellow plumes of smoke coiling into the sky, then rushing down the stairs onto quai de la Tournelle, standing right opposite Notre-Dame’s south rose window, the red and orange tongues of...
Why do birds sing?

Why do birds sing?

It was around midnight when J. and I arrived. The location seemed at first glance unpromising. A snarl of train tracks, interspersed with islands of undergrowth, just outside Warsaw West Station. Neck-high grasses and thistles, less than two miles from the park. It was right here, amid the stink of heated railway sleepers, that a...
The accidental activist

The accidental activist

‘‘To say that Rob Bilott is understated,’’ his colleague Edison Hill says, ‘‘is an understatement,’’ reported Nathaniel Rich in the New York Times Magazine article that inspired Mark Ruffalo to snap up the film rights to story of the mild-mannered corporate defence lawyer who went rogue and took on the might of DuPont. Shortly before...
The Mourners' Kaddish

The Mourners’ Kaddish

Sometimes it is very hard to put words to experiences. In Adorno’s much used (and misused) own words, “there can be no poetry after Auschwitz”; the human soul and mind can conceive of no recreation of experience, no seamless relating to, or of, life through words alone, once the humanity of meaning has been so...
This great horse-faced bluestocking

This great horse-faced bluestocking

There are books that have transformed the world; stories that have changed the course of lives. For more than 150 years now, the novels of George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) have done just that for an unwavering and undiminishing succession of readers: they have stopped them in their tracks almost midway, literally nell mezzo del...