What We’re Loving: Romanian Cinema, African Art


This Week’s Reading

beyond-the-hills-2012-001For three years—ever since it came out—people have been recommending this unusual family history, by a potter named Edmund de Waal, all about the fate of a collection of Japanese miniatures whose owners migrated from Odessa to Paris to Vienna. And for three years I took their word for it. Because really, a book about somebody’s heirlooms? Then one night last week, all keyed up from three hours of House of Cards, I pulled down The Hare with Amber Eyes (a gift copy), hoping it would put me to sleep. Fat chance. I’d expected charm, but here was astringent wit, quiet erudition, just the necessary amount of first person, and an unromantic, sharply observed, very poignant account of a Jewish family’s rise and fall between the Belle Epoque and World War II. From House to Hare: from the frying pan into the fire. —Lorin Stein

I debated recommending the Romanian film Beyond the Hills, not because it isn’t terrific—a fact that will come as no surprise to anyone who saw director Cristian Mungiu’s first feature, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days—but rather because so many critics have done it more justice than I ever could, and because I found watching it so harrowing an experience. Loosely based on a real-life 2005 case of an exorcism in a Moldavian monastery, the film is a horror movie, a romance, a character study, and, most of all, the kind of true tragedy we normally don’t see, or feel. It’s long and slow paced, but utterly riveting; I came out of the theater completely shell-shocked. I don’t think I could sit through it again, but you’ll be making a mistake if you don’t see it while you can. —Sadie Stein

Chimurenga is a difficult magazine to define: a collection of African art, comics, journalism, and photography, every edition looks entirely different (to give you an idea of its inscrutability, the October 2011 edition was set in May 2008). The founder is also a DJ who runs a jazz bar, and sometimes hosts twenty-four-hour secret jam sessions. There are no invites and no posters; the Chimurenga motto is “who no know go know.” Their latest venture is Chimurenga Chronic, a “pan-African quarterly print gazette” that deals in everything from art and faith to dirty deals and cricket stars. (To get a sense of its sweep, try “The Last Words of Fela Anikulapo Kuti” and the interactive comic strip.) Print availability is another matter: Chronic was due out on the streets “now-now,” which in South Africa translates roughly to “it’ll be out when it’s out, which will probably be soon, we can’t say exactly when, but we know you want to keep your eyes peeled for it. And it might already be out, so look sharp.” —Olivia Walton

“I might even argue … that the ideal book is one that we never open, since an unopened book contains our dreams, whereas an open book contains someone else’s.” So says Green Apple Books’s Stephen Sparks, in an essay for Tin House on one of his favorite books—which he has never actually read. The essay prompted me to scan my bookcase for all the lonely titles that have never been opened, all the ones I promised I would get to “next month” or have brought on vacations and which never left my suitcase. Is it sacrilegious to admit I’ve never read David Foster Wallace while owning four of his books? Have I even read War and Peace? It feels like I have. As Sparks writes, “I think it’s possible to love the idea of a book or its title.” —Justin Alvarez

I’m in the midst of Maiden Voyage, by Denton Welch, and can’t get enough. In this “seminovelistic” account of youth, Welch writes about running away from boarding school in England and being sent to live with his father in Shanghai. Don’t expect to feel buoyed by adolescent adventures, however; the mood is mostly melancholy, with sentences that loop and play but inevitably descend. See Welch’s description of London’s Victoria station, “like a dark, cloudy aquarium where great black eels wriggled swiftly in to swallow up mouthfuls of small, eddying fishes. From the crowd, faces glanced up, pale and floating, like spirit pictures.” —Brenna Scheving

Roland Barthes’s mother died on October 25, 1977, and the very next day, he began making notes on index cards that captured, in a few lines apiece, each day’s feelings of grief. This Mourning Diary—which spans two years—was published in 2010, but I’ve been perusing it over the past week. Some entries are pure and painful expressions of sadness, fumblings for some form of understanding (“Does being able to live without someone you loved mean you loved her less than you thought…?”); other times, Barthes relies on a philosophic reasoning to pierce the chaos of emotion (“true mourning is not susceptible to any narrative dialectic”). My favorite entries, though, are those in which he attains a moment of clarity, and the banality of mourning—its day-to-dayness—transmits a farsighted wisdom: “I am either lacerated or ill at ease and occasionally subject to gusts of life.” —Nicole Rudick

One more thing about House of Cards? I love the opening credit sequence. Something about the tired winter shrubbery outside Union Station, together with the empty avenues, conjures up the essential crappiness of federal Washington, D. C., in a way that I have never seen on-screen. —L.S.