A photograph taken in Argentina in 2007 shows two cardinals, Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Tarcisio Bertone, sitting side by side, although their chairs are on two different levels. Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, occupies his virtual throne with kingly complacency, with a sporty pair of aviator sunglasses to complement his gold-embroidered miter. Next to him, in Jesuit black under plain white robes, Cardinal Bergoglio, with his iron cross and his horn-rimmed spectacles, looks open-mouthed upon the radiant spectacle.
Last week’s court ruling against job protections for California school teachers has distracted us from the genuine inequalities that harm minority children. It does not address the dire overcrowding of classes or the lack of resources for basic needs, including libraries, counselors, after-school programs, and nurses. Nor does it address segregation or poverty— root causes of poor academic performance.
Agnieszka Holland’s brilliant, ambitious, and moving new film, Burning Bush, begins at a violent and traumatic moment in Czech history, five months after Soviet tanks had brought an end to the Prague Spring. Part of what makes the film so affecting is the pace and patience with which it documents the gradual change undergone by its protagonists as they come to realize how unlikely it is that anything will change.
The conditions in which we read today are not those of fifty or even thirty years ago, and the big question is how contemporary fiction is adapting. What I’m talking about is the constant distraction we live in and how that affects the special energies required for tackling a substantial work of fiction—for immersing oneself in it and then coming back and back to it over what could be days, weeks, or months. Of course long books are still being written. But there is a battering ram quality to the contemporary novel, an insistence and repetition that permits the reader to hang in despite the frequent interruptions to which we leave ourselves open.
Narendra Modi, the decisive winner of India’s national election, rarely departs from Hindi and Gujarati; his English is serviceable but never elegant. In fact, his election coincides with a surge of confidence in India’s regional languages—a shift that is challenging English as the default medium of Indian public life.
Is it possible to feel more ambivalent than I do about Orange Is the New Black? I love the actors and I especially love that it is about a culture of women. It is good to see a light shed on the disgraceful situation of prisons in this country. But the experience of being entertained by this soap opera—which is often extremely funny—turns us into tourists of suffering.
Seventy years ago, on June 6, 1944, a heroic group of American Rangers scaled the one-hundred-foot cliffs of the Pointe du Hoc, a vital promontory on the Norman coast. They were setting out to break through the Atlantic Wall—the German defenses spanning from the Arctic to the Pyrenees. Today, these fortifications are monuments to failure.
Twenty-five years have gone by, we have all grown old. But Tank Man in these pictures is still so young. From far away, his white shirt looks like a lily in summer, pure and unblemished. Tanks stopping in front of a lily. A historical moment, a poetic moment. And on the other side of that moment, maybe three thousand lives were taken away, to be forgotten.
Hu Jia is one of China’s best-known political activists. He participated in the 1989 Tiananmen protests as a fifteen-year-old and is currently under house arrest for having launched a commemoration of the June Fourth massacre in January. But on his way back from a rare unsupervised hospital visit, I met up with him for a talk about his work and the twenty-fifth anniversary of Tiananmen.
The real danger of the UK Independence Party in EU and local elections is not the party’s own policies, but the reaction it draws from politicians and supporters of the other parties. On the one hand, there is a tendency to brush its success aside, as merely a fairly insignificant protest vote. On the other hand, there is also a dangerous overreaction by the main political parties—and a drift toward an increasingly rigid policy on immigration, even if their heart is not really in it.