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Posts Tagged ‘North Korea’

The Hermit Kingdom—in Fabulous 3-D! And Other News

October 8, 2015 | by

Won Il-myong, a furnace worker at North Korea’s Chollima Steelworks. Photo: Matjaž Tančič, via The Guardian

  • The Belarussian writer Svetlana Alexievich has won this year’s Nobel Prize for literature. Read her piece “Voices from Chernobyl” from our Winter 2004 issue. “Alexievich,” The New York Times writes, “is best known for giving voice to women and men who had lived through World War II, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan that lasted from 1979 to 1989, and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986.”
  • Our editor Lorin Stein discusses translating Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission—specifically, one sentence about arousal, Muslims, and politics: “At first I wrote, ‘Given the political situation, choosing a Muslim turned me on.’ But this was very un-Houellebecqian … One of us came up with arouse: ‘Arousing, in a way’ — for me, that’s how Houellebecq sounds. And even though the syntax doesn’t track the French exactly, it preserves the air of anticlimax, the slight fussiness, the stoicism of the original. The sentence became less brutal, less vulgar.”
  • When he’s not making movies, Wim Wenders takes photographs—and yes, most of these photos contain landscapes, and sure, most of them are devoid of human life, but don’t call the guy a landscape photographer. He’s got your number. “I am not a landscape photographer. I am interested in people. I am interested in our civilization. I am interested in what traces we leave in landscapes, in cities and places. But I wait until people have gone, until they are out of the shot. So the place can start talking about us. Places are so much more able to evoke people when people are out. As soon as there is one person in the shot everybody looks at that person. If there is nobody in the shot, the beholder is able to listen to the story of that place. And that’s my job. I try to make places tell their stories about us. So I am not a landscape photographer. I am really interested in people, but my way of finding out things about people is that I do photos about their absence, about their traces.”
  • When the Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced plans to translate all thirty-six plays into modern English, people got very pissed, very fast. These days we like our Shakespeare unadulterated; his genius, the thinking goes, reposes in his language. But it wasn’t always so.So many serious Shakespeareans over the centuries have argued the opposite: that Shakespeare’s genius had to be salvaged from the obscure, indecorous, archaic, quibbling mess of his language. For poets, playwrights, editors, and actors from the seventeenth century through much of the nineteenth, Shakespeare’s language wasn’t intoxicating so much as intoxicated: it needed a sobering intervention.”
  • North Korea just held its first photography exhibition curated by Western artists. Among the works on display were pictures by the Slovenian photographer Matjaž Tančič, who took portraits of North Koreans in—wait for it—3-D. And though that art form is liberating, his travels were not: “My guides would keep trying to trick me by taking me to the ‘beautiful bits’ like the pristine maternity hospital in Pyongyang, or a newly refurbished library. I’d keep trying to trick them into letting me talk to ordinary North Koreans.” Tančič described the country as “like a stage,” and then, later, “like a movie.”

What We’re Loving: Carson, Comyns, “Carriers”

June 27, 2014 | by


Detail from an illustration by Ellen Weinstein for the summer issue of Nautilus, a science quarterly.

I don’t care if I never read another charming little book about Marcel Proust—not now that I’ve read Anne Carson’s chapbook The Albertine Workout. In fifty-nine numbered paragraphs (or perhaps, exercises), Carson reviews what little we know about Marcel’s mistress, the most-mentioned and yet most elusive character in Proust’s work. Carson’s findings take us deep into the questions of what love and sex mean to Proust, and in our own lives. As the title implies, you can read The Albertine Workout in one sitting, but you will keep feeling it for days. —Lorin Stein

This week, I discovered the Web site for Nautilus, a science quarterly. I have yet to see the print version, but if it’s anything like the online iteration—elegantly and smartly designed, with illustrations that often have the look of early- to mid-twentieth-century artwork—then it’s worth picking up. The content isn’t what you’d necessary expect from a science magazine (I grew up around hardcore publications like Nature and Science): there’s fiction, photography, and art, in addition to pieces on, say, evolution, lepidoptery, architecture, and ecology. I came to the site looking for Lauren Weinstein’s comic strip “Carriers,” which she posted daily this past week. Weinstein is one of the best cartoonists at work, and this five-part story is proof of that. She and her husband are both carriers for cystic fibrosis, and the comic details her struggle in waiting to find out if her unborn child tests positive for the defect. Weinstein’s characteristic humor keeps pathos at bay, and she reflects entertainingly, by way of her terrific serpentine scroll-downs, on the how and why of genetic mutations such as this one. —Nicole Rudick

What do you think when you hear the name Luis Suárez? If you’ve followed the news this week, the phrases “biting lunatic,” “delinquent toddler,” and the “Hannibal Lecter of soccer” might come to mind; “family guy,” “superhuman,” and Uruguay’s “favorite son” haven’t crossed the minds—or lips—of many sports pundits. If you’re curious about understanding Suárez beyond the memes and gifs, Wright Thompson’s profile from late last month explores the Uruguayan player’s childhood and the mystery surrounding an incident when he head-butted a referee and received a red card in a youth match—which may or may not be true. What really stuck with me after finishing the essay wasn’t the story of the referee or the media scrutiny, but the history of Suárez and his wife, Sofia Balbi. After the pair fell in love at fifteen, Sofia moved to Spain with her family. Suárez, at the time working as a street sweeper, knew that he could never afford a plane ticket on his own. Instead, he dedicated himself to soccer until he became good enough to be picked up by a European team. The thing is, his “completely irrational” plan worked—he played first for Groningen, then moved to Ajax and finally to Liverpool, where he now plays. He married Balbi in 2009, and as Thompson writes, “He loves his family, and soccer gave it to him, and guarantees no Suárez will ever again pick up coins while cleaning the streets.” While this romantic tale doesn’t justify his actions last week, it helps explain the desperation you catch sometimes in his eyes when you watch him play, “someone who fights to win, no matter what … He bites because he is clinging to a new life, terrified of being sucked back into the one he left behind.” —Justin Alvarez

Regular readers of the Daily already know how NicoleSadie, and I feel about the neglected English writer Barbara Comyns. Last week it was my turn to read her gothic novel The Vet’s Daughter. It reminded me powerfully of something Donald Antrim told The Paris Review in issue 203: “In building another world through the fantastic I was making a set of rules that had to be observed, a logic that had to be carried through—that I was in some ways obeying the premise of the very opening line.”  —L.S. Read More »


Ah, Bless, and Other News

April 30, 2014 | by


Heinrich Zille, Die Witwe, 1929.

  • The winners of this year’s Best Translated Book Awards: in fiction, László Krasznahorkai’s Seiobo There Below, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet; in poetry, Elisa Biagini’s The Guest in the Wood, translated from the Italian by Diana Thow, Sarah Stickney, and Eugene Ostashevsky.
  • Jenny Diski, bless her, on aging, or something like it: “I must accept that I was old because my hairdresser says, ‘Ah, bless,’ in response to whatever I say in answer to her questions. ‘Are you busy today?’ ‘Just regular working.’ ‘Ah, bless.’ ‘How was the weekend?’ ‘A friend came to stay.’ ‘Ah, bless.’ The other day, when she asked, I said: ‘I’m being interviewed by a journalist from Poland.’ ‘Ah, bless.’ … The ah-bless alters or confirms whatever it’s responding to, and in my mind’s eye (altered and confirmed) I see a small, nondescript old lady going bravely about her business. There are other signs that I am no longer young, but the ah-bless is the most open and public.”
  • In 1968, Charles Simic witnessed a group of disgruntled poets settle things the old-fashioned way—with fisticuffs. “I stood on the porch watching in astonishment with the Chilean poet Nicanor Parra and the French poet Eugène Guillevic. They were delighted by the spectacle and assumed that this is how American poets always settled their literary quarrels; I tried to tell them that this was the first time I had seen anything like that and it scared the hell out of me, but they just laughed.”
  • A series of photos compares public spaces in North and South Korea. (The shot of the Pyongyang Metro is especially poignant.)
  • Guillaume Nicloux discusses his new film, The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, starring, yes, Michel Houellebecq: “He is also really annoying to the captors. He is always asking for wine and cigarettes, he asks for another visit from the prostitute, he is really tiresome for them. He gets angry. He begs our sympathy, but at the same time he behaves really badly.”



Kim Jong-Un’s First Speech, Interpreted as Doggerel

May 16, 2012 | by

On April 15, Kim Jong-Un, the new leader of North Korea, gave his long-awaited maiden speech, on the hundredth anniversary of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, the country’s founder. Befitting the occasion, enormous crowds attended, and male and female soldiers marched with goose-stepping precision.

North Korea-watchers considered it an important moment to gauge the new leader, and he did not disappoint, celebrating the particular take on history that distinguishes North Korea from all other nations.

A full transcript has just been provided by a North Korean website, but for the readers of The Paris Review, a condensed version has been prepared, in poetic form.
Read More »


Adam Johnson on ‘The Orphan Master’s Son’

January 24, 2012 | by

On December 19, 2011, one of the main characters in Adam Johnson’s new novel, The Orphan Master’s Son, died. His name was Kim Jong Il. Had Kim lived, he might have approved of the impish, devious, and dangerously mercurial simulacrum that Johnson summons in his epic about modern North Korea, published by Random House this month. He may have been less pleased that an ordinary citizen named Jun Do usurps him as the hero of the book—springing from a labor camp in a doomed quest for freedom.

Johnson, who teaches fiction at Stanford’s Stegner Program and grew up in South Dakota and Arizona, has written about characters caught in dystopian settings before (he is the author of a short-story collection, Emporium, and a novel, Parasites Like Us) but never on such a grand scale or in such unfamiliar territory. Earlier this month I caught up with him by phone to ask how he came to write about North Korea, and about the perils of researching a place about which so little is known. Read More »


On the Shelf

January 4, 2012 | by

A cultural news roundup.

  • RIP Josef Skvorecky.
  • The Adequate Gatsby.
  • Jay Caulfield?
  • Actors Anonymous.
  • The strange mystery of Michiko Kakutani’s Twitter.
  • The strange experience of eating with Marianne Moore.
  • “By two o’clock on New Year’s Day in this Dickens bicentennial year, I already found myself wishing that either he or I had never been born.”
  • Reading North Korea.
  • Martin Luther online.
  • “The endless malleability of digital writing promises to overturn a whole lot of our assumptions about publishing.”
  • The world’s most expensive book?
  • A good year for the Good Book.