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Longform’s Picks of the Week

Longform’s Picks of the Week

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

New Delhi Attack: The Victim’s Story
Krishna Pokharel, Saurabh Chaturvedi, Vibhuti Agarwal, Tripti Lahiri • Wall Street Journal

A profile of the 23-year-old woman who was savagely raped on a private bus as it circled New Delhi.

The two met at Select Citywalk, a trendy mall where New Delhi’s 20-somethings gather to spend pocket change and enjoy a small taste of the glamour promised by India’s economic rise. The young woman—her family’s nickname for her was “Bitiya,” which means daughter—admired a long coat in a shop window, her friend said in an interview. He thought he would like to buy it for her later. Then, they took in a movie, “Life of Pi,” sitting in the same seats where, on an earlier visit, they had watched “Gulliver’s Travels” together. A few hours later, the pair were dumped, naked and bleeding, from a private bus along a highway. Both had been viciously attacked with an iron rod, according to police, and the young woman so violently raped that she died two weeks later, on Dec. 29.

RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images

Into the Unknown
David Roberts • National Geographic

In 1912, 300 miles deep on a trek into the uncharted Antarctic wilderness, Douglas Mawson lost most of his crew and supplies. The story of how he made it back.

Something was wrong with Mertz. He was rapidly losing strength. Too weak to move on January 2, he could manage only five miles the next day before giving up, forcing Mawson to pitch the tent. In disbelief that his fingers had been frostbitten, Mertz surprised Mawson by biting off the tip of one. Mawson knew that their only hope was to keep moving, but on January 5, Mertz refused. It would be suicide, he said. Though racked with pain himself, Mawson persuaded Mertz to ride the sledge. Summoning extraordinary powers, Mawson pulled the terrible load by himself for two and a half miles. In his diary that night, he wrote, “If he cannot go on 8 or 10 m[iles] a day, in a day or two we are doomed. I could pull through myself with the provisions at hand but I cannot leave him.”

SOPHIE LAUTIER/AFP/Getty Images

A Two-Year Travelogue from Hell
Christoph Reuter • Der Spiegel

After years of on-the-ground reporting, a journalist reflects on the war in Syria and its mounting toll.

This is also a story of loose ends. The people with whom it begins, in the summer of 2011, are almost all dead or missing. Some have taken their place, and some of those are now dead, too. Others have become hardened and obsessed with revenge. Still others have transformed themselves: Interior decorators have become guerilla commanders and electricians are now mayors. They are doing things they have never learned how to do, building a new system even before the old one has been overthrown.

-/AFP/Getty Images

‘Disturbing’ & ‘Misleading’
Steve Coll • The New York Review of Books

On truth and torture in Zero Dark Thirty, a film about finding Osama bin Laden.

It is not unusual for filmmakers to try to inject authenticity into a movie’s first frames by flashing onscreen words such as “based on real events.” Yet the language chosen by the makers of Zero Dark Thirty to preface their film about events leading to the death of Osama bin Laden is distinctively journalistic: “Based on Firsthand Accounts of Actual Events.” As those words fade, “September 11, 2001” appears against a black screen and we hear genuine emergency calls made by victims of al-Qaeda’s attack on the World Trade Center. One caller describes flames spreading around her and says that she is “burning up”; she pleads against death and then her voice disappears. Before any actor speaks a single fictional line, then, Zero Dark Thirty makes two choices: it aligns its methods with those of journalists and historians, and it appropriates as drama what remains the most undigested trauma in American national life during the last several decades.

Columbia Pictures

In the Time of Cholera
Jonathan M. Katz • Foreign Policy

The U.N.’s role in creating an epidemic in Haiti.

By weekend’s end, 200 people were dead. The cameras were back on Haiti. Brian Williams set the tone on NBC: “It’s what all of us worried about when we arrived in Haiti just hours after the quake … beyond the death toll, the inevitable spread of disease. Now it’s happening in Haiti, an outbreak of cholera in that nation struggling every day, still, just to survive.” But the narrative didn’t make sense. If cholera was the inevitable result of the earthquake, centered 15 miles southwest of the capital, why had the first concentration of cases appeared in the countryside, some 45 miles to the north? And why had it taken nine months to appear?

Mario Tama/Getty Images