My junior year of high school, I was not asked to the prom. Bear in mind that my high school had 4,500 students and that although 2,250 of them were eligible to attend this dance, not a single person deigned to be my date. I went, instead, to see Oklahoma! A lovely time, to be sure, but boring as all get-out. While my peers enjoyed a disastrous evening of sex, drugs, and revelry, I watched that bland production from a blurry distance. At Daniel Fish’s Oklahoma! last weekend, I found these two evenings had merged into a marvelous party, to which I had finally, belatedly been invited. Twitter chatter informed me this was “Sexy Oklahoma!,” and while it certainly is sexy, it’s also so delightful I beamed through much of the first act. It’s funny and warm. The house lights are almost always up, and they serve chili during intermission. First, we are primed with tenderness; then, tragedy unfolds, and its arrival is shocking, cold, and truthful. I loved it, and I’m pretty darn sure it loved me back—if only for one night. —Noor Qasim Read More
We have all heard that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, but during dark and difficult times, it’s sometimes a challenge to see it curving in the right direction. History tells us the stories of the great men—charismatic, brave, and doomed—who gave their lives to the struggle for racial equality. While these men earned our praise, we know that they did not change the world alone. Mighty Justice is the story of a great woman, Dovey Johnson Roundtree, who dedicated her life to moving the United States closer to ideals outlined in the Constitution. Born in 1914 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Dovey Roundtree came into this world with her mind stayed on freedom, as the sixties protest song goes.
Mighty Justice is a love story. Dovey Johnson Roundtree was a patriot, in love with a flawed, unfair, and often cruel nation. One of her earliest memories was the sight of her grandmother’s feet, misshapen and gnarled as a result of violence at the hands of an angry white man. But along with her memory of the damage done to her grandmother’s body, she recalls herself on bended knee, kneading and massaging the same feet, providing comfort to the woman who had been brave enough to say no in the face of power and paid the price. Even as a small child, Dovey Johnson Roundtree understood that the ultimate act of love is service.
I wonder how Dovey Johnson Roundtree would want this work to be discussed. I am sure many will read her story, as I did, and marvel that her name and contributions are not better known. Still, I resist the impulse to call her a “hidden figure,” the term coined to honor the black women whose unsung contributions to NASA helped put a man on the moon. But I can’t imagine that Ms. Roundtree would cotton to such a description. While she was no doubt aware that hers was not a household name, I am not convinced she would consider that a tragedy. There is a hymn well-loved in the African Methodist Episcopal Church that proclaims, “Let the work I’ve done speak for me.” Read More
In Tash Aw’s column Freeze Frame, he explores his favorite masterpieces of Asian cinema. In this installment, Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Three Times.
Not long after the turn of the millennium, there were a few years where it seemed I was saying goodbye to people all the time. People I loved, who had been part of my life for a very long time, but also people I’d only recently met and formed close friendships with strangely and swiftly, the way you sometimes do when you find yourself in a city far from home. My first book had recently been published and suddenly I was offered opportunities to travel in ways that I had only dreamed of as a child. I went to places I’d always wanted to visit, and occasionally I would stay on once the book tour was over, forming attachments to cities that seemed magical and full of promise, like Vancouver or Mumbai. Friends would put me in touch with friends of theirs, in some cases people they barely knew, who would show me around, and talk to me about what it meant to live there. They opened their lives to me and in doing so, changed the way I saw the world. Each time I had to say goodbye I felt unexpectedly sad, as if I was losing something that I had come to regard as my own—as if after only a few days, a week, a month, I had carved out a space for myself in that new country, in those new friends’ lives, only to leave it all behind.
Shanghai, where I lived on and off over the space of two years, proved especially difficult to leave. I had initially gone there to research a novel, but friends in Malaysia thought that I was going to rediscover my Chinese roots. I laughed because the idea seemed ridiculous. Growing up in Malaysia, I couldn’t not be aware of my origins—of what it meant to have the language, culture, and physical features of southern China embedded in my identity, whether I liked it or not. I didn’t need to go searching for a heritage that was already mine. And yet. Several times in Shanghai, I met locals who weren’t interested in the multiplicity of my identity (Chinese Malaysian, Chinese- and English-speaking at home, Malay-speaking at school, et cetera). For them, I was Chinese, and only Chinese, a simplicity that should have upset me, would have upset me if I had been in New York or Paris. But in Shanghai, it felt as though the city were absorbing me, claiming me as its own, even though we both knew that this sense of belonging was just an illusion.
Back in Kuala Lumpur, I spoke with my parents about this odd sensation of wanting to be part of somewhere that isn’t your home. I asked them about the three years they spent working in Taipei in the early seventies, a time when—as the few remaining stories and photographs would suggest—they seemed happy and settled. (There had been race riots in Malaysia in 1969, hundreds of ethnic Chinese had been murdered on the streets of Kuala Lumpur; Taipei must have been a relief). Had they been tempted to stay in Taipei? Were they sad to leave? They shrugged. “Don’t remember,” they said. “Anyway, that’s life, isn’t it? It was time to go home.”
I only have one insight about the Little House TV series, so I’m just gonna get it out of the way up front here. It’s this: Nellie Oleson made that show. I don’t just mean the character is an essential part of the show’s success. I mean Nellie Oleson wrote the original books and most of the scripts for the TV program. She directed most of the episodes, and, for the most part, she was the audience.
I am saying: you and I and Ronald Reagan and possibly Saddam Hussein and definitely Michael Landon—were Nellie Oleson.
Put down that gun. Sorry, put down that frontier rifle. Hear me out. Let’s start on a very basic, noncontroversial level.
The books came out in the thirties and early forties. The woman who wrote them, Laura Ingalls Wilder, was in her midsixties when the first one dropped. Her case is well documented. She did live more or less like she describes in those novels, and so she had the luxury of being able to traffic in billions of authentic details. And the novels were a big hit. For forty or fifty years, everybody read ’em. (Except me—’til a couple months ago.)
In the books, Nellie is not a very important character. She isn’t even introduced ’til the fourth book in the series (On the Banks of Plum Creek, 1937). Read More
On the morning of November 16, 2019, we, the exiled Iranians, woke up and like billions of other internet addicts in the world immediately checked our phones, only to realize that Iran had been cut off from the global internet.
Many of us are members of family group chats on WhatsApp and Telegram, used to receiving a “good morning to my children” from a parent, a “did you finally go to the doctor?” from the other parent, a picture of the overdue first snow in Tehran from an aunt, and a joke about the president from an uncle. Over the years, these short messages have served as daily reminders of where we come from and who our people are. Above all, they have been our daily reassurance that our families were fine. The internet had functioned as the umbilical cord that kept alive the part of our soul still dependent on the motherland. That morning, the cord was cut.
The internet blackout, we learned, was the Iranian government’s response to the protests that broke out after it announced a 300 percent increase in the price of gas. The decision was made and implemented at midnight, with no advance warning given.
Thanks to the state of Iran under sanctions, the news of the price hike was like a lit match in a barrel of dynamite. Protests spread very wide, very fast. The protesters moved beyond the gas price issue to target the entire status quo. The Iranian government let loose its police and militia. The crisis became so deep and so serious, the bloodshed so vast and the heap of corpses so high, that the government cut off the internet to keep people from organizing and to stifle the distribution of videos of its brutality, which included numerous instances of indiscriminate shooting at unarmed protesters.
For us, the Iranians abroad, desperate and in the dark, the savagery was nothing new. Everyone who has paid attention to Iran, a country beleaguered by ruthlessness of sanctions and brutalized by its own vicious, paranoid government, expected an explosion of violence. But the internet blackout came out of nowhere. None of us had ever thought that one day Iran would become a digital black hole, a dark void on the blindingly glittering map of the global network. We found ourselves locked out of the house whose windows, we had thought, we would always be able to look through.
Every week, the editors of The Paris Review lift the paywall on a selection of interviews, stories, poems, and more from the magazine’s archive. You can have these unlocked pieces delivered straight to your inbox every Sunday by signing up for the Redux newsletter.
This week at The Paris Review, we’re celebrating the release of the Winter issue. Read on for three archive pieces written by contributors to our new issue: an excerpt from Georges Perec’s novel A Man Asleep, a selection from Jeffrey Yang and Kazumi Tanaka’s collaboration “No Home Go Home / Go Home No Home,” and Rae Armantrout’s poem “Now See.”
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from A Man Asleep
By Georges Perec
Issue no. 116 (Fall 1990)
You are sitting, naked from the waist up, wearing only pajama bottoms, in your garret, on the narrow bench that serves as your bed, with a book. Raymond Aron’s Eighteen Lectures on Industrial Society, resting on your knees, open at page one-hundred and twelve.
At first it’s just a sort of lassitude or tiredness, as if you suddenly became aware that for a long time, for several hours, you have been succumbing to an insidious, numbing discomfort, not exactly painful but nonetheless intolerable, succumbing to the sickly-sweet and stifling sensation of being without muscles or bones, of being a sack of potatoes surrounded by other sacks of potatoes.