Roving thoughts and provocations

Yemen: The Houthi Enigma

Robert F. Worth

Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Safa al Ahmad’s remarkable BBC documentary, Yemen: The Rise of the Houthis, is a rare close-up look at the most mysterious player in this agonizing and complex drama. The Houthi movement, which grew out of a deep sense of victimization by the state, has long been an enigma, even to many Yemenis, and it defies easy explanation.

How to Play ‘Wolf Hall’

Hilary Mantel

The Royal Collection

Anne Boleyn: From the moment you enter public consciousness, you carry the projections of everyone who is afraid of sex or ashamed of it. You will never be loved by the English people, who want a proper, royal Queen like Katherine, and who don’t like change of any sort. Does that matter? Not really.

Tarot Dreams

Christopher Benfey

The Pierpont Morgan Library/Art Resource

It is not surprising that the images on Tarot cards, so vivid and mysterious, appeal to poets as a means of providing metaphors. Intrigued by Jessie Weston’s suggestion, in From Ritual to Romance, that the Tarot was related to fertility cults, T. S. Eliot inserted “Madame Sosotris, famous clairvoyante,” and her “wicked pack of cards” into The Waste Land.

Houellebecq in the Flesh

James Lasdun

Nicolas Guerin/Getty Images

At fifty-seven, Michel Houellebecq has the miraculous look of someone almost double his age. Etched, haggard, battered, half-collapsed, his face seems destined to become one of the great ruins of our literary era; something to measure up to Beckett or Auden—for druidic ancientness if not quite nobility. His mouth in particular is alarmingly caved-in, as though his mother had followed through on her notorious threat to smash his teeth in with her walking stick if he ever wrote about her again.

Ukraine: Divided and Bitter

Tim Judah

Tim Judah

In eastern Ukraine, civilians are suffering, as they do in all wars, but in this one, older people are suffering the most. Even when peace returns to Pervomaysk, it will have to contend with a fresh layer of bitterness. As in war-ravaged parts of the Balkans, buildings can be rebuilt, but if there is no work and no reason to return, then places like this will dwindle and die.

Israel: The Stark Truth

David Shulman

Dan Bar Dov/Demotix/Corbis

The Israeli electorate has given a clear mandate. There will be more antidemocratic legislation, more attempts to undermine the courts, more rampant racism, more thugs in high office, more acts of cruelty inflicted on innocents, more paranoid indoctrination in the schools, more hate propaganda, more wanton destruction of Bedouin villages, more war-mongering, and quite possibly more needless war.

What Happened in Homs

Jonathan Littell

AFP/Getty Images

When the photographer Mani and I arrived in Homs, in mid-January 2012, the Syrian revolution was reaching the end of its first year. In the city and the surrounding towns, the people were gathering daily to demonstrate. They still believed that song, dance, slogans, and prayer were stronger than fear and bullets. They were wrong, of course.

Laura’s World

April Bernard

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum

The knowledge that I was only one of a crowd of children devoted to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories of American pioneer life could not have altered the intensity of my personal attachment to the brave, and often surprisingly lonely, heroine, the girl Laura whose travels with her family take her from the Big Woods of Wisconsin to Indian Territory (Kansas); then to Minnesota and, finally, Dakota Territory, in the years from 1869 to 1883. By fifteen, I was already nostalgic for Laura’s world and for my eight-year-old self who had first discovered it.

A Kremlin Conspiracy Gone Wrong?

Amy Knight

When Russian authorities rounded up five Chechen suspects in the assassination of leading opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, it appeared the Kremlin was following a predictable path. Instead, the arrests have led to new speculation about the Kremlin’s involvement in the murder.