Auschwitz on Trial: The Bully and the Witness

Ian Buruma

Tom Wilkinson as Richard Rampton in Denial, 2016
Laurie Sparham/Bleecker Street

Mick Jackson’s new film Denial, about the 2000 trial between British Holocaust denier David Irving and American academic Deborah E. Lipstadt, is best in the scenes that focus on a particular conflict, between Lipstadt’s view of herself and her legal team. At the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau, for example, we see Lipstadt praying in front of the ruins of the gas chamber, while Rampton is making careful notes and asking awkward questions about the exact procedures of mass murder. On the “sacred” spot of the killing, cool analysis and a search for legal proof look like disrespect to her.

Gulping Down Shakespeare

Garry Wills

Queen Margaret (Karen Aldridge) grieves a personal loss in the bloodshed of the Wars of the Roses in Barbara Gaines’s Chicago Shakespeare Theater production of Henry VI, Part Two, September, 2016
Liz Lauren

Shakespeare’s first audience had to take him in single plays, as they were conceived and put on. But we have his large body of work, and some plays are cross-referential, especially the plays of dynastic ups and downs around the British crown. The history plays beg for some consideration as a whole, as Barbara Gaines’s two-part day-long productions for the Chicago Shakespeare Theater show.

Fidelmania

Esther Allen

Fidel Castro holding The Feeding of Cattle in Latin America, by Mexican author Jorge de Alba, 1964
Lee Lockwood/Taschen

In Castro’s Cuba, a compilation of photographs and text by the late Lee Lockwood, including hundreds of previously unpublished and all gorgeously produced photographs from 1959 to 1969, Lockwood photographs Fidel himself, and people who are looking at, touching and photographing Fidel. He also photographs the photographs and other images of Fidel that proliferate before his lens as the years wear on, before this omnipresent iconography of Fidel had begun to vanish from the Cuban street.

The Trouble with Sombreros

Francine Prose

Charro Days Festival, Brownsville, Texas, 1997
Alex Webb/Magnum Photos

Novelist Lionel Shriver’s speech expressing her hope that identity politics and the concept of cultural appropriation would turn out to be passing fads contains a kernel of truth encased by a husk of cultural and historical blindness. It seems clear that one part of the fiction writer’s job is “to step into other people’s shoes.” But to paraphrase Freud, sometimes a hat is more than just a hat. Sometimes it is a symbol—and a racist one, at that.

Breakfast in the Ruins

Ingrid D. Rowland

Colonnade, Northwest Corner of the Courtyard, Temple of Bel
Louis Vignes/J. Paul Getty Trust

In September 2015, the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles acquired the first photographs ever taken of Palmyra, the great trading oasis in the heart of the Syrian desert. With a history that extends back nearly four thousand years, Palmyra has risen and fallen many times. The worst destruction, certainly, was inflicted between June and September of 2015 by the militants of the Islamic State, who obliterated the ancient buildings amid accusations of paganism and idolatry.

Clinton: Into the Headwinds

Elizabeth Drew

Hillary Clinton at the Russell Street Baptist Church, Detroit, Michigan, March 6, 2016
Carlos Barria/Reuters

Within the space of less than two weeks the political talk switched from Clinton having a possibly unbreakable grip on the Electoral College vote to how much Trump has gained on her. How did this happen? Why isn’t the far more qualified candidate creaming an opponent so clearly unfit for presidency? What is it about Clinton that puts so many people off?

America’s Lost Workers

Jeff Madrick

Cleveland, 2016
Alex Webb/Magnum Photos

While macroeconomic data show a relatively healthy US economy, overall participation in the workforce—what is known as the employment-to-population ratio—is historically low. One explanation is that many more people are in school, but that still leaves some 9.5 million fewer men at work than in 1965. There are simply too few jobs.

The Music of Blighted Dreams

Francine Prose

Conrad Tao and Rod Gilfry in the world premiere of David Lang's The Loser at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, 2016
Richard Termine

Adapted from the Thomas Bernhard novel, David Lang’s beautiful and startlingly original new opera The Loser is an obsessive, maddened rant about the ways in which art can change (and destroy) our lives. The gauntlet that Bernhard and his characters have thrown down is: if you aspire to be any sort of artist, particularly a musician, be brilliant, be a genius—or don’t bother.

Italy: Writing to Belong

Tim Parks

Abner Dean: I can cure you (detail), from Dean's What Am I Doing Here?, which will be published in a new edition by New York Review Comics on October 11
Abner Dean/New York Review Comics

It’s generally agreed that one of the most distinctive features of Italian public life is factionalism, in all its various manifestations: regionalism, familism, corporativism, campanilism. If Italian writers have always condemned factionalism, their work inevitably expresses the emotions, values, and stories of a world where belonging is more important than any other value, freedom, goodness, and success included.

Obama & Palestine: The Last Chance

Nathan Thrall

Palestinian protestors run from tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers at a weekly protest against the Israeli occupation, West Bank, Nabi Saleh, 2013
Peter van Agtmael/Magnum Photos

There is only one option left to Obama that isn’t seen as unrealistic, unpalatable, or insignificant: to set down the guidelines or “parameters” of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement—on the four core issues of borders, security, refugees, and Jerusalem—in a US-supported UN Security Council resolution. Once passed, with US support, it would become international law, binding, in theory, on all future presidents and peace brokers.