Two new books—David Van Reybrouck's Congo and Dayo Olopade's The Bright Continent—take a fresh look at the African past and future. Both escape the constant need to treat Africa as a problem, the tedious compulsion to explain what has gone wrong or to prescribe how to fix it, that plagues so much writing about the continent.
In the 1920s and '30s, the Vienna-born biographer and fiction writer Stefan Zweig was the best-selling author in the world. His emotionally charged books captured a culture that was about to fracture beyond recognition. With the rise of Hitler, Zweig, who was Jewish, fled that world to watch it crumble from afar—moving to England, America, and finally Brazil, where he committed suicide in 1942. Seventy years later, his books are still popular and still inspire a range of responses: admiration, sympathy, and, in some cases, loathing.
This charming collection of very personal essays by writers, artists, scholars, and filmmakers does the great service of offering no generalizable advice. Once you finish the forty or so short pieces, you will certainly like these interesting and accomplished people. But if you are considering grad school, you will not find your answer here. And that's a good thing.
Writing, like life, is a series of choices. Which word here, there; when to stop? Like Proust, whom she has translated, Lydia Davis writes the act of writing itself. It's not just that her narrators tend to be teachers or authors, though that's true; it's that her stories are filled with moments of crisis about how to carry on, or what word to put down next, and fears that it could all mean nothing in the end.
What does it mean to make an accounting of a past you can't fully remember? This elegiac dilemma is one of Karl Ove Knausgaard's primary subjects—the difference between how we think about life and its actual moment-by-moment reality. Time changes our perspective: The terrifying tyrant becomes the shrunken Lear; the large, animated rooms of our childhood become small and plain.
The narrator of Every Day Is for the Thief is a young Nigerian American on a trip home to Lagos. In this reissue of Teju Cole's first novel, originally published in Nigeria in 2007, the backdrop often feels like the foreground.
Web-enabled innovations like crowdfunding make for wonderful add-ons to, but very poor substitutes for, existing cultural institutions. We have never fully grasped the logic that has produced these institutions in the first place—and, in pre-digital times, we didn't really have to.
Utopianism is as much an enunciation of a better world as it is an enactment of one. Benjamin Kunkel's Utopia or Bust, a guide to several of the master theoreticians of the left, helps us believe in a future alternative to our present.
Anand Giridharadas's The True American operates on the seemingly provocative question of who is more American: the Bangladeshi air-force officer who immigrates to Dallas, hires on as a gas-station cashier, and dreams of working with computers; or the Bud-swilling, tatted, truck-driving, meth-blasted Texas peckerwood who shot him as "revenge" for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Which man more encapsulates the true core of American ideals? And, really, what are America's post-9/11 ideals?