Madeleine Schwartz is a regular contributor to The New York Review. (October 2018)

Follow Madeleine Schwartz on Twitter: @mmschwartz.


The View from the Attic

Jean Rhys, circa 1921

A View of the Empire at Sunset

by Caryl Phillips
Few books have been as poorly served by their authors as the novels of Jean Rhys. The drinking (two bottles of wine a day, so drunk that she got violent, so drunk that she got stuck in the toilet), the poverty and the helplessness, the tangled affairs and the excruciating …

Pushing Against the Apocalypse

Doris Lessing at the Frankfurt Book Fair, 1981; photograph by Isolde Ohlbaum from her book Lesen & Schreiben, published by Ars Vivendi last year

Free Woman: Life, Liberation, and Doris Lessing

by Lara Feigel
“It seemed that Lessing was a writer to discover in your thirties; a writer who wrote about the lives of grown-up women with an honesty and fullness I had not found in any novelist before or since,” Lara Feigel writes in the opening pages of her memoir Free Woman: Life, Liberation, and Doris Lessing. Feigel returns to The Golden Notebook during summer wedding season. After “white weddings, gold weddings; weddings in village churches, on beaches, at woolen mills,” she finds herself wondering: Is this it? Why do her friends seem so eager to throw their selves away for a man or a family? “They began by identifying as part of a couple and then once a child arrived they identified themselves primarily as mothers.” She is happily married and trying for a second child. Yet she begins to resent “the apparent assumption that this remained the only way to live.”

Notes from the Inside

Rachel Kushner

The Mars Room

by Rachel Kushner
Rachel Kushner’s novels are the product of enormous research, but she rarely shows her work; history and creation knot together like threads in a tapestry. Her voice is always authoritative, direct, and knowledgeable, so that even the fictions she creates have the certainty of fact. This talent for verisimilitude shapes The Mars Room. Kushner has described how she worked on the novel by spending time in prisons meeting inmates and “covertly” following criminology students as they toured the facilities. The amount of detail she presents here, some amassed and some imagined, is astonishing.

Writing on Thin Ice

Jenny Diski, Cambridge, England, August 2002

The Vanishing Princess

by Jenny Diski, with a foreword by Heidi Julavits
Jenny Diski covered nearly every conceivable topic in her essays for the London Review of Books: shoes, Stanley Milgram, the women’s movement, Karl Marx. But the essays are always as much about herself as the subject at hand. “I start with me, and often enough end with me,” she once …


Merkel’s Problem on Her Right

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and Chancellor Angela Merkel flanking Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the formation of Germany’s new coalition government, Berlin, March 14, 2018

Migration, always a specter in German politics, has been front and center in the news. Horst Seehofer, the new minister for the interior and leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), announced an immigration plan that proposed Germany’s turning away refugees at the country’s southern border with Austria. Which migrants is Seehofer afraid of? The number of people trying to get to Europe has dropped drastically. For her part, Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed back against Seehofer’s plan.

Germany: With Centrists Like These…

Supporters of Germany's far-right AfD party holding a banner that reads,

Pundits often marvel at how quickly Germany’s far-right AfD has acquired power. But if the party has gained prominence, in some polls even surpassing the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), it is because the anti-immigrant sentiment it represents has, in fact, been present as an undercurrent in German politics for years. Even if the AfD, constantly beset by internal conflicts and scandal, implodes, he says, “there will be another right-wing populist party” to take its place.

Trump to Undocumented Teens: Give Birth or Get Out

People with Planned Parenthood protesting for

At the core of the anti-abortion movement is the tenet that a fetus is a person whose rights need to be protected. The Trump administration is taking this argument to an absurd and cruel extreme. A fetus in the United States requires the full protection and support of American law. As for its undocumented, adolescent mother—well, if she wants her rights, she should leave the country.

Germany’s Election: Choosing the Unspeakable

Stage crew members covering the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) logo after a campaign event, Gendarmenmarkt Square, Berlin, September 22, 2017

The apparent calm of the election belied the real concerns of the German public, concerns evident in the election results. Chancellor Angela Merkel barely campaigned. To the eyes of the public, the two major parties seemed nearly identical. This provided the far-right party with an opening to be the opposition. If people turned to a party that said the unspeakable, it was partly because very speakable things weren’t being said at all.