Longform’s Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

CATHERINE HENRIETTE/AFP/Getty Images; DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images; JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images; Bethany Clarke/Getty Images; AFP/AFP/Getty Images
CATHERINE HENRIETTE/AFP/Getty Images; DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images; JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images; Bethany Clarke/Getty Images; AFP/AFP/Getty Images

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.


Springtime in Tiananmen Square, 1989, Kate Phillips, the Atlantic.

While teaching English in Beijing, I witnessed one of the most tumultuous protests in modern history.

By May 4-the 70th anniversary of a famous student-led protest in Beijing-students were referring to a “movement for democracy.” The students demanded not just an end to government corruption, but also wholesale change in the Chinese system. They argued that the Communist Party’s economic reforms could not succeed without parallel political reform. They wanted a more accountable, open, pluralistic government with freedom of speech and press, and rule by law. Outside my second-story classroom windows, groups of undergraduates regularly interrupted our lessons with shouts of “Ba ke! Ba ke!”-“Strike class! Strike class!” Some young professors brought paper and paint to our sessions and made political posters on the hallway floor. Gregory told us how he’d gone to the Square one night with a homemade cartoon-a picture of a cat hanging from a noose, with a toppled stool below-and been greeted by wild cheering. The Chinese word for stool is homonymous with “Deng,” and Deng Xiaoping had once described himself as a cat who could catch mice.

Mr. Wu, who had warmed to me in our private English tutorials, refused to be swept up in the excitement. “When we are young like that we have a lot of dreams,” he said ruefully one day. We could hear crowds of singing undergraduates passing by on their way toward the university gates, which had long ago been flung wide open. Mr. Wu’s lips tightened into a grimace. “Just remember, you cannot know who is really behind this.”


The Burden of Being Messi, Jeff Himmelman, New York Times Magazine.

In much of Argentina, where Lionel Messi lived until he was 13, native speakers replace the “y” sound with a “sh” sound. Yo, the personal pronoun for “I,” becomes “sho,” and calle, which other Spanish speakers would pronounce “ka-yay,” becomes “ka-shey.” The sound gives Argentine Spanish a slurry softness that resembles aspects of the Portuguese spoken in Brazil. More important to this story, that “sh,” and the fact that Messi has retained it all his life, has at times been the sole lifeline between the greatest soccer player in the world and the country he plays for.

Over the past nine years, Messi has led F.C. Barcelona to national and international titles while breaking individual records in ways that seem otherworldly. In 2012, he scored 91 goals in 69 games – a ridiculous number – for club and country, and he has been chosen by FIFA, soccer’s governing body, as the best player in the world an unprecedented four of the last five years. He is something of a freak, a blazing left-footer whose legs and spatial intuition operate at electrifying speed, and his performances in Europe have already put him, at age 26, on the short list of the greatest players ever.

And yet, for all of that, Messi has never won widespread devotion in Argentina. The main resistance to him, beyond his uneven play for the national team thus far, is that he isn’t Argentine enough.


Being Gay in Iran, Farhad Dolatizadeh, the Stranger.

Coming Out in a Country Where That Can Get You Killed, and the TV Documentary That Outed Me to the World.

I’m 16.

“May I ask you something personal?”

I know what’s coming.

I look at my aunt as she takes her time to assemble the correct words. She is a tiny, sweet woman wearing a loosely draped head scarf, staring at me with shining dark-brown eyes. I love her more dearly than anything in the world. Of course I will tell her the truth. I can’t think of a reason to hide from her. It isn’t as if she might murder me or run around spreading my secret. She’s not one of those closed-minded, brainwashed people who would automatically judge me. She spent most of her life outside of Iran, living and working as an architect in Norway and Germany. If there is anyone out there who would understand me, it’s her.

“Are you gay, Feri Kitty?” she asks.

My name is Farhad, but since I was little, my aunt has affectionately called me Feri Kitty, referring to my soft spot for kittens.

“You call me Feri Kitty and expect me to be who? Robocop?” I snap. The bitch inside me has been growing day by day.

She just gazes at me. Eventually she smiles and wraps me in her arms. “It’s okay. There’s no need to be aggressive… everything is going to be okay.”

I weep into her shoulder and can’t respond.

This is my first coming out.


The Guardian at the Gate, Michael Wolff, British GQ.

It broke the WikiLeaks story, then the Snowden scandal, now Alan Rusbridger’s crusading newspaper is trying to break America. But with its US campaign on the brink of disaster, has the deadline passed to beat a dignified retreat?

The Guardian, financed through a trust created by its then owners in the Thirties, has traditionally been organised as something like a private-equity firm, with investments in a variety of businesses whose profits went to supporting a newspaper. Earlier this year, with the newspaper costing more than the investments yielded, it liquidated most of its holdings, converting itself into an entity more like a wealth-management company or, perhaps, even a family office, wherein capital could be tapped to support the interest of the family.

One of those interests is Edward Snowden – at a cost far from accounted for.

Curiously, the Guardian  may well be the best-funded newspaper in the world. But, at its current losses, there is also something finite to that money – even a willingness for it to be finite. Between business discipline and philosophical mission, it would choose the latter. Between exigencies and martyrdom, martyrdom.


The Massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane, Shane Harris, Foreign Policy.

An American lawyer finds new evidence about one of World War II’s most notorious war crimes, seven decades after D-Day.

McKay Smith is used to keeping secrets. A lawyer with the Justice Department’s National Security Division, he advises U.S. intelligence agencies on the legality of some of the country’s most highly classified operations. The division oversees electronic surveillance and counterterrorism, and on a daily basis Smith might find himself eyeballs deep in classified memoranda and documents that will probably never see the light of day in his lifetime. The discovery of a 70-year-old military intelligence report written by a young Army Air Corps lieutenant, however, stopped Smith cold and led him to take on a new, public role.

Three years ago, Smith obtained a copy of a once-secret “escape and evasion report,” in which one Lt. Raymond Murphy describes in precise detail how he bailed out of his flaming B-17 bomber over Avord, France, on April 28, 1944, and survived for the next four months behind enemy lines before making his way to England. Murphy had been part of a mission to attack a German-held airfield less than six weeks ahead of the D-Day landing at Normandy, which marks its 70th anniversary this Friday. Amid the harrowing stories of the airman’s hard parachute landing, his efforts to avoid capture by German soldiers, and his exploits with French Resistance fighters, Smith spotted two barely legible lines, handwritten in pencil, at the end of the neatly typed document: “About 3 weeks ago, I saw a town within 4 hours bicycle ride up the Gerbeau farm where some 500 men, women, and children had been murdered by the Germans. I saw one baby who had been crucified.”

Smith, a self-made World War II historian with an outsized passion for document research, concluded that based on Murphy’s description of the scene and his location at the time, the young airman had seen the aftermath of a notorious massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane, a town in west-central France. On June 10, 1944, four days after the Allied landing at Normandy, a unit of the Waffen-SS, the Nazi Party military wing, descended on the village and killed 642 men, women, and children. It was one of the largest mass murders of French civilians during the German occupation, and an act of retribution against the townspeople for their perceived assistance to the French Resistance and the invading American forces.

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