Alex Abramovich

  • Built to Last

    JOHN MCPHEE WAS BORN in Princeton, New Jersey, attended Princeton High School and Princeton University (class of 1953), and raised his four daughters in Princeton. He lives and works in Princeton to this day, practicing the craft he learned in New York—at Time magazine, where he spent seven years, and at the New Yorker, where he’s been a writer on staff since 1965. The Patch is his thirty-third book overall. It takes in the whole arc of his long career, assembling recent essays and previously uncollected pieces dating back to the ’50s, and is McPhee’s second victory lap in a row, if we include

  • Siberia Made Me

    “Shalamov’s experience in the camps was longer and more bitter than my own,” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in The Gulag Archipelago. “I respectfully confess that to him and not me it was given to touch those depths of bestiality and despair toward which life in the camps dragged us all.”

    Varlam Shalamov was a decade older than Solzhenitsyn. Born in Vologda in 1907, he was arrested for the first time in Moscow, in 1929, for seeking to distribute copies of “Lenin’s Testament”—a document that called for Stalin’s removal as General Secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. Sentenced to

  • Grave Reservation

    The Osage were warriors, buffalo hunters, harvesters, farmers—one of the great nations of the Great Plains. Europeans who encountered them early on described them as uncommonly tall, well-built, imposing: The "finest men we have ever seen," Thomas Jefferson said in 1804, after meeting a delegation of Osage chiefs in the White House. By the time of Jefferson's death, they'd been stripped of their ancestral lands—"forced to cede nearly a hundred million acres," David Grann writesin Killers of the Flower Moon, "ultimately finding refuge in a 50-by-125-mile area in southeastern Kansas." And in the

  • Breaking the Waves

    Recently in the New Yorker, where he’s been a staff writer since 1987, William Finnegan published an article about artisan gold miners in the mountains of Peru. It begins in medias res, with Finnegan talking to one of his subjects: “Look, there are her eyes, her face, her arm, her hip,” a miner says, looking up at his mountain. “And when the snow melts, exposing more rock, the glacier turns into a skinny old hag called Awicha,” Finnegan replies. “Where the hell did you hear that?” the miner asks, and Finnegan tells us:

    I’d heard it from a sociologist in Puno, down on the Peruvian

  • The Walking Dead

    In America, the genre of the prison memoir includes Soul on Ice, by Eldridge Cleaver, and George Jackson’s prison letters. It runs through Alexander Berkman’s Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist on its way to memoirs of slavery and indentured servitude. It includes ancient captivity narratives—The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano; Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson—and, with the publication of Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantánamo Diary, it runs right up to our present tense.

    In Russia, the tradition begins with the very first written work in the

  • Far from Heaven

    When J. M. Coetzee’s novel The Childhood of Jesus appeared in the rest of the English-speaking world, in March, critics expressed a sense of polite befuddlement:

    “[Coetzee] knows what he’s doing but he’s not going to tell you what that is, and I spent much of The Childhood of Jesus trying to figure it out. I can’t say I have figured it out.” (Benjamin Markovits, The Guardian)

    “The reader is abandoned at the end of the book, still trying to determine whether Coetzee has written another great allegorical piece, or

  • The Roles of Black Folk

    In his first year as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, Phil Jackson made headlines by passing important books out to his star players: Shaquille O’Neal described the author of Ecce Homo as “ahead of his time” and “digital” and began referring to himself as “the black, basketball-playing Nietzsche.” Kobe Bryant, who viewed Jackson’s gesture as a personal affront, judged the book he received—Paul Beatty’s first novel, The White Boy Shuffle (1996)to be “bogus.”

    Well, yes. Insofar as The White Boy Shuffle is fiction, it might be described as such. And in Bryant’s defense, it’s the kind of novel

  • Of Wives and Men

    Like his contemporaries Stanley Elkin and Wallace Markfield, Leonard Michaels is much beloved by other writers—first and foremost for the angle and thrust of his sentences. “What he cared about most of all was truth,” Michael’s friend Wendy Lesser wrote earlier this year in her memoir Room for Doubt. “He could hear truth in the rhythm of a sentence, his own or someone else’s.” And it’s true: Sentence by sentence, Michaels is as good as any writer you’re likely to run across:

    She didn’t like me. So I phoned her every day. I announced

    the new movies, concerts,

  • Bard Day's Night

    Roberto Bolaño was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1953, and died in Barcelona in 2003, leaving behind four story collections, three books of poetry, and ten novels and novellas; his reputation rests on works produced in the last few years of his life, when fatherhood, and a fatal liver disease, caused a certain focusing of his powers. The results sent critics scrambling for comparison—to Borges and Cortázar or, somewhat less congruously, Hemingway and Babel. What Bolaño really has in common with these writers is that he was brave and unique. Tags like "Post-Boom Latin America" or "The Literature

  • It shakes a village

    Two years ago in Amsterdam, a twenty-six-year-old Dutch man named Mohammed Bouyeri shot, stabbed, and slit the throat of newspaper columnist and filmmaker Theo van Gogh. The victim, a great-grandson of Vincent van Gogh's brother, was Holland's foremost provocateur, a self-proclaimed "village idiot" who was not above calling Muslims "goat fuckers" or suggesting that Jews have "wet dreams about being fucked by Dr. Mengele"—anything, it seemed, to shake up Holland's sleepy status quo. The killer was a Dutch Moroccan who'd failed to assimilate into Dutch society, turned to radical Islam, and set