Namara Smith

  • Print the Legend

    One scene in The Post, Steven Spielberg’s 2017 love letter to the American newspaper, happens twice. Near the beginning of the film, someone leaves a mystery package, a shoebox wrapped in brown paper, on a reporter’s desk. The journalist undoes the twine, tears off the paper, lifts the lid. The second time around, it’s a crate, but again we see hands removing the twine and lifting the lid, faces peering inside. It’s like watching an unboxing video on YouTube—those vaguely soothing, vaguely creepy clips of strangers methodically opening a Kinder Egg or unpacking an iPhone—except the secret

  • The Second Sect

    In August 2016, a widely circulated photograph showed armed police officers standing over a woman on a crowded beach in Nice as she awkwardly removed the top layer of her burkini. The confrontation was the latest stage in France’s decades-long struggle over certain forms of religious expression in public. Building on a 2004 law prohibiting head scarves in public schools, several towns in the South of France had banned “beach attire that ostentatiously displays a religious affiliation” in response to the 2016 Bastille Day terrorist attack in Nice. Around the same time, a woman in Cannes was

  • Empire Stakes

    In 2007, Suzy Hansen was a reporter at the New York Observer. Hansen was twenty-nine; she had grown up in a small town in New Jersey and moved to New York City after college. When she first arrived, New York seemed like the center of the world, but in the years after September 11 it began to feel increasingly provincial, both feverish and inward-looking. The liberal journalists she knew were “extremely arrogant,” convinced of their moral superiority to the Bush-era Republicans but strangely indifferent to the wars being fought in their names in Iraq and Afghanistan. Caught up in a narrow round

  • Read My Apocalypse

    Lydia Millet’s new novel, Sweet Lamb of Heaven, begins with an unwanted pregnancy. Its heroine, Anna, is a virtuous, long-suffering suburban wife. Her sole mistake in life was in her choice of husband; despite herself, she fell in love with a charismatic but predatory businessman who was less attracted to her than to her small family inheritance. Nevertheless, when she gets pregnant by mistake, Anna wants to keep the baby. (“It had been an accident, technically more his fault than mine, but who’s haggling? And once it happened I felt I needed to accept it—I wanted to.”) Her husband, Ned, who

  • Some Like It Fraught

    The socialist Rosa Luxemburg met her lover and lifelong collaborator Leo Jogiches at a student-radical club in 1890. Luxemburg was nineteen. Jogiches, a few years older than her, was known for his severity and single-minded devotion to the cause. She was drawn to his zeal, and within a year they were a couple, but not a happy one. He resented her success, refused to be seen with her, and tried to control where she went and what she did. When he found out she was seeing someone else, he threatened her with a gun. Luxemburg’s letters to him, written over a period of two decades, show her begging

  • culture March 16, 2015

    Repetition Compulsion

    Elena Ferrante is often asked about the classical influences in her work, and reading her early novels you can see why. They are strikingly compressed and spare, set largely in enclosed, almost anonymous, spaces that evoke the stage of a Greek drama, their focus turned inward. The Neapolitan series takes a different tack, resembling not the claustrophobic Greek tragedy but the expansive epic.

    Before she published My Brilliant Friend, the first volume of her much-celebrated Neapolitan series, in 2011, Elena Ferrante was known for three short, violent novels about women on the outer boundary of sanity. Although their stories are unrelated, the books form a thematic trilogy. Each is narrated by a woman who embodies a different aspect of female experience—in Troubling Love, a daughter; in Days of Abandonment, a wife; in The Lost Daughter, a mother—and each is concerned with how these domestic roles constrict the lives of their protagonists. Ferrante is often asked about the classical