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.

The Mercenary

Joshua Davis • Epic

Roy Petersen was blind in one eye, had two replaced hips, and was twice divorced. His job was to solve a gold mine robbery case in the Peruvian Andes. He would need some help.

“I’m circling the drain now,” he says. “But I’m not going down quietly. It’s gonna be suicide by Al Qaeda. There’ll be a hail of bullets.”

In the fading light, Roy flips through pictures from better days. There aren’t many: a marine buddy drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette with a good-looking woman (“He’s dead now”), another of a marine in dress blues (“Dead too”), and then a photo of a woman: dark lipstick, silver earrings, skin the color of mahogany. She’s wearing a suit with a blue turtleneck and her fists are balled. She looks like she could do some damage in a fight.

“Maria,” he says.

He’s quiet for a moment.

“Everything would have been different if Peru had worked out,” he says finally, staring at the photo. “I would have been in high clover.”


The Hard Life of Celebrity Elephants

Rollo Romig • New York Times Magazine

On the captive parade elephants in Kerala, India and the “two men battling over their fate.”

A week after I met Venkitachalam, I took a train to Kerala’s capital to meet Kumar in his ministerial office. His assistant had told me that I might have to wait: the minister’s schedule was hard to foretell. His aides waited with me, none of them busy, it seemed, with anything but drinking coffee. Four hours later, the minister finally swept into the room, and the aides leapt to their feet. Kumar has dark, curly hair, a macho mustache and a weakness for loud shirts; he was wearing a shiny purple number covered with paisleys. I was surprised at how soft-spoken he was. A half-dozen of his staff members sat opposite us, laughing whenever their boss cracked a joke.

When I asked him why there’s such a fondness for elephants in Kerala, a dreamy look fell over his eyes: it’s because they’re like the sea, he said, always moving and endlessly alluring. But when I mentioned Venkitachalam, his soft speech turned sharp. “This Venkitachalam, he never gave a banana to an elephant,” he said. “If you love an elephant, you can send a complaint, but first you should feed the elephant. This fellow hasn’t even fed one banana.” (In response, Venkitachalam told me that bananas aren’t a suitable food for an elephant – they might cause constipation.)

Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images

My Teacher’s Shadow

Caleb Crain • New Yorker

A former student discovers the family letters of his late translation professor, written from Nazi-occupied Prague.

A turning point came in the summer of 1939, when new regulations were posted that divided Jews from Gentiles in cafés and restaurants. Soon they were divided in movie theatres, swimming pools, and parks. A little while later, the Nazis took away radios. Eisenstein lost his job. The family lost its home in the country. Bit by bit, their freedoms were taken from them.

The power of the letter is in its specificity about the nature and timing of the losses. It is evident that they were still fresh in Eisenstein’s mind when he wrote, as were the pleasures still possible at each stage of loss. After the family car had to be sold, for example, the family members were still able to ride their bicycles “a bit,” until, a short while later, “the yellow star came” and, along with it, “the confiscation of bicycles.” In the end, there were the so-called transports. The first ones did not quite seize what this word meant-we know it already [we know it now]. Crowded rooms without beds, foot equal to none [square footage equal to zero], no heating in winter, no right to move about-the confiscation (sequestration) of our remaining property except fifty kilos per person which we can take along towards-?

How painful it is that Kussi’s uncle took so much pride in his hardheadedness, yet seems not to have known what lay behind his dash and question mark.

AFP/Getty Images


Adnan Khan • The Awl

In search of racial understanding.

There’s an interesting loneliness that comes with having no reflections. I want to think that the closest I’ve found is Kumar from the Harold and Kumar movie franchise; n+1 recently suggested Kumar might be the “single best role model for generations of brown people otherwise condemned to going pre-med.” But how flat is his rendering? How desperate is my desire that I fling everything on to poor Kal Penn? I treat Kumar with the same sort of reverence that someone could treat a Max Payne. Why am I so eager for the immigrant Dude, Where’s My Car? I hold “Grand Theft Auto IV”-about a Serbian immigrant-strangely close to my heart, pumping the narrative full of meaning that was probably not intended.

The uselessness of brown angst. What am I supposed to do with all this scaffolding of thought that I’ve built? All these sputtering images, do they place any of us in the world? This color of pain gets brighter and more opaque with age, into something that I notice more but am less sure what to do with.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Who Is Ali Khamenei?

Akbar Ganji • Foreign Affairs

An intellectual profile of Iran’s Supreme Leader.

. . . . Today, the capitalist system has reached a complete dead end. Perhaps it will take years for the consequences of this dead end to reach their final conclusion. But the crisis of the West has begun in earnest.”

For Khamenei, world history is “turning a corner,” and “a new age in the entire world” is beginning. The Marxist, liberal, and nationalist creeds have lost their attraction, and only Islam has kept its. The Arab Spring — or, as he calls it, “the Islamic Awakening” — is a prelude to a worldwide uprising against the United States and international Zionism. In his view, the fact that routine materialistic calculations make such an outcome unlikely is unimportant, because divine providence will bring it about. He sees the survival of the Islamic Republic in the face of more than three decades of international opposition as evidence of this heavenly support and counts on it continuing in the future. Khamenei believes that the historic turn he anticipates will lead to the victory of spiritual and divine values in the world. Contrary to Max Weber’s diagnosis that modern science has disenchanted the world and the realm of power, Khamenei still relies on esoteric notions and divine beings in his approach to politics. He is re-enchanting the world.


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