Ian Buruma has been a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books since 1985 and the magazine’s editor since September 2017. From 2003 to 2017 he was professor of human rights, democracy and journalism at Bard College. Buruma was born in 1951 in The Hague, Holland. He was educated at Leyden University, where he studied Chinese literature and history, and at Nihon University College of Arts, in Tokyo, where he studied cinema. Living in Japan from 1975 to 1981, Buruma worked as a film reviewer, photographer, and documentary filmmaker. In the 1980s, Buruma was based in Hong Kong, where he edited the cultural section of the Far Eastern Economic Review, and from where he later travelled all over Asia as a freelance writer. Buruma was a fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin in 1991, and a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC in 1999. He is a fellow of the European Council of Foreign Relations and a board member of Human Rights in China. In 2008, Buruma won the Erasmus Prize for “exceptional contributions to culture society, or social sciences in Europe.” Buruma has written over seventeen books, including The Wages of Guilt (1995), Murder in Amsterdam (2006), Year Zero (2013), and Theater of Cruelty (2014). He has won several prizes for his books, including the LA Times Book Prize for Murder in Amsterdam, and PEN-Diamonstein Spielvogel award for the art of the essay for Theater of Cruelty. His ­memoir, A Tokyo Romance, has just been published. (April 2018)

IN THE REVIEW

Stray Dog

Photograph by Daidō Moriyama from ‘Tokyo Color,’ December 2008–July 2015; included in Daido Tokyo

Daidō Moriyama: Record

edited by Mark Holborn

Provoke: Between Protest and Performance—Photography in Japan 1960/1975

edited by Diane Dufour and Matthew S. Witkovsky, with Duncan Forbes and Walter Moser
Most people can come up with a decent photograph once in a while, which will look like millions of other photographs. Only the greatest photographers can be easily identified by a unique personal style. Moriyama Daidō is one of them.

Fools, Cowards, or Criminals?

Nazi leaders accused of war crimes during World War II standing to hear the verdict in their trial, Nuremburg, October 2, 1946. Albert Speer is third from right in the back row of defendants; Karl Dönitz is at the far left of the same row.

The Memory of Justice

a documentary film directed by Marcel Ophuls, restored by the Academy Film Archive in association with Paramount Pictures and the Film Foundation
Marcel Ophuls’s The Memory of Justice never suggests that Auschwitz and the My Lai massacre, or French torture prisons in Algiers, are equivalent, let alone that the Vietnam War was a criminal enterprise on the same level as the Holocaust. Nor does Ophuls doubt that the judgment on Göring and his gang at Nuremberg was justified. Ophuls himself was a refugee from the Nazis, forced to leave Germany in 1933, and to flee again when France was invaded in 1940. Instead he tries, dispassionately and sometimes with touches of sardonic humor, to complicate the problem of moral judgment. What makes human beings who are normally unexceptional commit atrocities under abnormal circumstances? What if such crimes are committed by our fellow citizens in the name of our own country? How does our commitment to justice appear today in the light of the judgments at Nuremberg? Will the memory of justice, as Plato assumed, make us strive to do better?

Robert B. Silvers (1929–2017)

Robert B. Silvers in his office at The New York Review of Books, early 1980s
From its first issue in 1963, Robert Silvers was either co-editor with Barbara Epstein or, after her death in 2006, editor of The New York Review. Bob worked almost to the very end of his life, which would be no surprise to those who knew him well, including those who have written these brief memoirs.

The ‘Indescribable Fragrance’ of Youths

Kitagawa Utamaro: The Young Man’s Dream, from the series Profitable Visions in Daydreams of Glory, circa 1801–1802. In this woodcut, Ian Buruma writes, a wakashu,or ‘beautiful youth,’ is ‘dreaming of sleeping with a famous high-class courtesan (the dream is revealed in a cartoon-like bubble over his head), while a young woman solicitously wraps a jacket around his shoulders lest he catch a cold.’

A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Edo-Period Prints and Paintings (1600–1868)

an exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario, May 7–November 27, 2016; and the Japan Society, New York City, March 10–June 11, 2017
Lusting after pretty teenage boys was not considered shameful in premodern Japan. Experienced older women did it. Young women did too. Older men indulged in it (as long as the boys were passive sexual partners). Adultery was not permitted, on the other hand, and it was unseemly for grown men …

NYR DAILY

V.S. Naipaul, Poet of the Displaced

V.S. Naipaul, 1968

Naipaul was our greatest poet of the half-baked and the displaced. It was the imaginary wholeness of civilizations that sometimes led him astray. There is no such thing as a whole civilization. But some of Naipaul’s greatest literature came out of his yearning for it. Although he may, at times, have associated this with England or India, his imaginary civilization was not tied to any nation. It was a literary idea, secular, enlightened, passed on through writing. That is where he made his home, and that is where, in his books, he will live on.

Araki, Erotomaniac

If Araki’s self-presentation is authenticity, it is a stylized, theatrical form of authenticity. His mode is not confessional in the way Nan Goldin’s is. Araki is not interested in showing his most intimate feelings. He is a showman as much as a photographer. His round face, fluffy hair, odd spectacles, T-shirts, and colored suspenders, instantly recognizable in Japan, are now part of his brand, which he promotes in published diaries and endless interviews. But that life looks as staged as many of his photographs.

Doolittle Done Well

Lauren Ambrose and Harry Hadden-Paton in My Fair Lady, Lincoln Center Theater, 2018

One of the most moving scenes is the private celebration after the ball, where Eliza manages to pass for the first time as a grand lady. Higgins is toasted by all his servants, and Pickering sings: “You did it! You did it!…” All the while, Eliza sits in a corner, utterly ignored, as though she had played no active part in her transformation from a flower girl to a lady, as though she were nothing but Higgins’s artifact. This is also the moment of her rebellion.

Myth-Maker of the Brothel

Utamaro: Moon at Shinagawa (detail), 1788-1790

Of all the masters of the woodblock print in the Edo Period, Utamaro has the most colorful reputation. Hokusai was perhaps the greatest draughtsman, Hiroshige excelled in landscapes, and Kuniyoshi had the wildest theatrical flair. Utamaro (1753–1806), whose work is featured in an exhibition at the Sackler Gallery, was the lover of women.