Simon Leys (1935–2014) was the pen name of Pierre Ryckmans, who was born in Belgium and settled in Australia in 1970. He taught Chinese literature at the Australian Na­tional University and was Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney from 1987 to 1993. Leys was a contributor to such publications as The New York Review of Books, Le Monde, and Le Figaro Littéraire, writing on literature and contemporary China. Among his books are Chinese Shadows, Other People’s Thoughts, and The Wreck of the Batavia & Prosper. In addition to The Death of Napoleon NYRB publishes The Hall of Uselessness, a collection of essays, and On the Abolition of All Political Parties, an essay by Simone Weil that Leys translated and edited. His many awards include the Prix Renaudot, the Prix Femina, the Prix Guizot, and the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction.


He Told the Truth About China’s Tyranny

The Nobel Prize–winning writer Liu Xiaobo before his arrest, photographed by his wife, Liu Xia; from the exhibition ‘The Silent Strength of Liu Xia,’ which opened last fall at the Boulogne Museum outside Paris and will be on view at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies at Columbia University February 9–March 1. Liu Xia’s photographs, which were smuggled out of China, show what she calls her ‘ugly babies’: mute dolls that, according to the curator Guy Sorman, represent ‘the Chinese people, and sometimes Liu Xia and her husband.’

No Enemies, No Hatred: Selected Essays and Poems

by Liu Xiaobo, edited by Perry Link, Tienchi Martin-Liao, and Liu Xia, and with a foreword by Václav Havel
All thinking people wish now to obtain at least some basic understanding of the deeper dynamics that underlie this sudden and stupendous metamorphosis: What are its true nature and significance? To what extent is it viable and real? Where is it heading? Bookshops are now submerged by a tidal wave of new publications attempting to provide information about China, and yet there is (it seems to me) one new book whose reading should be of urgent and essential importance, both for the specialist and for the general reader alike—the new collection of essays by Liu Xiaobo, judiciously selected, translated, and presented by very competent scholars, whose work greatly benefited from their personal acquaintance with the author.

The Intimate Orwell

George Orwell on Southwold Beach, Suffolk, early 1930s


by George Orwell, edited by Peter Davison

George Orwell: A Life in Letters

selected and annotated by Peter Davison
Orwell once defined himself half in jest—but only half—as a “Tory Anarchist.” Indeed, after his first youthful experience in the colonial police in Burma, he only knew that he hated imperialism and all forms of political oppression; all authority appeared suspect to him, even “mere success seemed to me a form of bullying.” Then after his inquiry into workers’ conditions in northern industrial England during the Depression he developed a broad nonpartisan commitment to “socialism”: “socialism does mean justice and liberty when the nonsense is stripped off it.” The decisive turning point in his political evolution took place in Spain, where he volunteered to fight fascism.

‘Ravished by Oranges’

Return to Dragon Mountain: Memories of a Late Ming Man

by Jonathan D. Spence
How can we be informed? Chesterton famously observed that when we read in today’s newspapers that one window-cleaner fell to his death, our general understanding of window-cleaning is distorted; the information that 35,000 window-cleaners actually did not fall to their deaths would have provided a more balanced view of the …


Victor Hugo: A Biography

by Graham Robb

Shadows of a Hand: The Drawings of Victor Hugo

by Ann Philbin and Florian Rodari
For the sophisticated connoisseur, the greatness of Hugo is a bitter paradox: France’s most famous writer is also the one who is most offensive to French taste. The French genius cultivates measure, lucidity, and perfection and Hugo is excessive, mad, and flawed. In a tradition that values order, harmony, and a sense of proportion, Hugo came to pitch the gaudy tent of his freak show: a nightmarish circus full of hunchbacks and dwarves and monsters, and fights to the death with crocodiles and giant octopuses, against a backdrop of dark sewers, Gothic ruins, stormy nights, fires, floods, and shipwrecks…. And the madness that accompanied him in life (both his brother and his daughter had to be confined till death in a lunatic asylum) constantly lurks in his works.

The Imitation of Our Lord Don Quixote

In debates, the word “quixotic” is nearly always meant as an insult—which puzzles me, since I can hardly think of a greater compliment. The way most people refer to Don Quixote makes you wonder if they have actually read the book. In fact, it would be interesting to find out …