Longform’s Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.


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.

The Serial Killer Has Second Thoughts

Chris Heath • GQ

Why Sweden’s most notorious serial killer believes he is “the subject of Sweden’s greatest miscarriage of justice” after confessing to eight grisly murders.

“I looked at his background,” Christianson says. “If you look at literature on serial killers and rapists, they start early. He was very consistent, these attacks on young guys. And serial rapes. In the hospital he combined violence and rape, strangulation and rape.” Christianson offers technical jargon I have read in his book-that most rapists are non-increasers but that Bergwall was in the rare category of increasers, those whose sexual attacks grow in intensity. He asserts that it is impossible for this behavior to simply have gone away. “When sex and violence has been twisted, how do you take that apart?… That sadistic behavior is still there.”

Toward the end of our meeting, I ask Sven Christianson this: If Bergwall is an untreated sadistic sexual predator and if someone like him cannot stop himself from expressing it, where has this behavior manifested itself in recent years?

Christianson almost seems to rejoice at this question, as though he has successfully trapped me into asking it. “This!” he exclaims. “This whole pattern!” To have successfully pulled so many people into his fight for freedom-to have made a country’s once proud legal system contort itself in knots-is the pinnacle of the sadist’s art.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

My Week in North Korea

Michael Malice • Reason

Playing tourist in the isolated nation.

At the very top center of the cemetery was the ultimate North Korean martyr: Kim Il Sung’s wife and Kim Jong Il’s mother. Kim Jong Suk (always called the “anti-Japanese heroine”) is the Mother Goddess in the North Korean mythology. She allegedly doted over her husband constantly, cutting off her hair to line his shoes as he singlehandedly defeated the Japs. We all bowed before her grave with due reverence. As the group milled about the cemetery taking pictures, I pulled Kim aside. “Did Kim Jong Suk have any other children?” I asked her.

She froze, and for the first and only time during my entire trip her affect became tense. “…Yes,” Kim said. She said it in the same way a Mississippian would reply if asked whether his state was known for lynching. Kim didn’t want to lie, but neither did she want to talk about it at all.

I apologized, telling her I didn’t mean any disrespect. I deduced what fueled Kim’s reticence: Despite being forced to learn the legends of the Kim family in excruciating detail, North Koreans know few actual facts-and never ever ask questions. Kim Il Sung’s second wife is a non-person, for example, and to this day few people anywhere know how many times Kim Jong Il was married, and when. It is not known where Kim Jong Un lives; there is no equivalent of the White House in North Korea. In fact, government buildings don’t have signs to illustrate what lies within. If you needed to know where to go, then you’d know. Otherwise, mind your business and don’t ask questions.



In the Violent Favelas of Brazil

Suketu Mehta • New York Review of Books

Rampant rape and murder in the Brazilian slums.

Soon after that meeting, the Rio police found Lulu. It was stupid of him: the first place a wanted man runs to is his mother. Men came up in a jeep and, without arresting him, took him back to Rio, to his favela, to the police station.

According to Luiz, the chief of the local police appealed to Lulu: “We want you back. It’s been hell since you left. You kept the peace among the gangs. And besides, I need your money for my political campaigns. You have to get back to work, or else.”

So Lulu went back to work, selling coke and meth to the rich kids in the nightclubs of Copacabana and Ipanema. But he had tried to break away; the boys on the corner didn’t trust him, didn’t respect him as they used to. He couldn’t make the 300,000 reais the cops demanded each week.

So one day they came again for Lulu. The cops, Luiz told me, sat him down in a stone chair in an open area of the slum and, with the whole favela watching, shot him in the head. He was useful to the police only when he had power to share. Powerless, he was dead.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images


Virginia Hughes • Aeon

On the scientific research of Romanian orphans.

‘We’re limited in our resources,’ says Elizabeth Furtado, who has been the Bucharest project’s manager since 2006 and visits the Bucharest lab about twice a year. Furtado has a four-year-old son. She copes with the job by compartmentalising; for example, she has very intentionally not read the full life histories of any of the participants. But sometimes the pain is unavoidable. She was with Nelson and me the day we visited the orphanage – her first time in an institution since becoming a mother. ‘It took me almost a month after coming back to get to a [point] where I could kind of let it go and focus on my relationship with my son,’ she told me.

The last two years on the project have been somewhat defeating, Furtado says, because the adolescents’ behaviours are becoming more difficult to manage, and the foster-care parents are getting less and less support – financial, educational, emotional – from the government. ‘On the one hand, I know that we are doing a lot of good for a lot of these kids,’ she says. ‘But it makes me sad that legislation isn’t keeping up with enough of what we’re finding.’


To Live, the Oyster Must Die

Oliver Bullough • Roads & Kingdoms

The fight to save a “delicious gold mine.”   

We picked over the stretch marked out by Haward’s withies-long willow poles thrust into the mud to mark his territory-filling up four boxes. Whiting explained, as we sorted the shells, that you could tell the live ones from the dead ones because they don’t rattle when you shake them. I tried but could hear no difference.

“It takes a bit of practice,” he said, with a low chuckle.

Of course, the bars of London and Dubai would need more than four boxes to keep their customers happy that day, and the real fishing is further out to sea. When the sun rose, Haward’s boats would be out dredging the seabed, bringing up oysters in their hundreds.

But Haward’s job is not just a question of going out there, dredging them up, and counting the money as it pours in. The number of things that will kill oysters before he can even get them onto a boat is improbably huge. They cannot spawn if the water is too cold, and they suffocate if it is too hot. They will be killed by land run-off, by silt, by marine anti-fouling, by untreated sewage, and possibly even by treated sewage if the people whose sewage it is have been taking the contraceptive pill.

“The first thing oysters think of doing is dying,” said Haward. “They would die twice if they could.”

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

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