Longform’s Picks of the Week

The best reads 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 brand-new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

The Camorra Never Sleeps, by Aaron Shulma. Los Angeles Review of Books.

The enduring system of organized crime in Naples:

Silence is a Neapolitan birthright. The city has such a culture of it that some years ago, when an innocent girl was killed in a Camorra crossfire, many of the witnesses who had initially identified the shooters to the police recanted their statements during the trial that ensued. In frustration, the investigating judge lost his calm and began berating the witnesses, as if here in the courtroom he had come face-to-face with the Camorra itself. He had not. He had come face-to-face with ordinary Neapolitans. You cannot really berate the Camorra. If you try, you will find yourself meeting blank stares.

The Camorra is not an organization like the Mafia that can be separated from society, disciplined in court, or even quite defined. It is an amorphous grouping in Naples and its hinterlands of more than 100 autonomous clans and perhaps 10,000 immediate associates, along with a much larger population of dependents, clients, and friends. It is an understanding, a way of justice, a means of creating wealth and spreading it around. It has been a part of life in Naples for centuries-far longer than the fragile construct called Italy has even existed. At its strongest it has grown in recent years into a complete parallel world and, in many people’s minds, an alternative to the Italian government, whatever that term may mean. Neapolitans call it “the system” with resignation and pride. The Camorra offers them work, lends them money, protects them from the government, and even suppresses street crime. The problem is that periodically the Camorra also tries to tear itself apart, and when that happens, ordinary Neapolitans need to duck.

Mission From God: The Upstart Christian Sect Driving Invisible Children and Changing Africa, by Josh Kron. The Atlantic.

The evangelical group behind Invisible Children, makers of Kony2012:

For Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children, stumbling into Uganda’s one-time civil war wasn’t an accident; it was a divine calling.

While the rest of the world laughs at or ponders the psych ward-ridden creator of Kony 2012, the unlikely Internet video sensation that brought both himself and a vicious Ugandan rebel instant and overwhelming fame, the mystery of his inspiration and success only grows more curious.

Who is this man? Is he crazy?  What drives him? Russell summed it up in two hesitant words — Jesus Christ.

On Tipping in Cuba, by Chris Turner. The Walrus.

Colonialism, the convertible peso, and the strange dance between the cheap beach tourist and the tour guide tout:

What happened, in brief, is that my wife and I had hired a young man named Antonio to give us a tour. We’d spent the morning chugging around in an ancient Moskvich sedan, with another young man driving as Antonio pointed out the sights and delivered a running commentary about what he called “the reality of Cuba.” We’d visited an Afro-Cuban cultural museum, toured the old Spanish fort, bought contraband rum. We’d gone back to Antonio’s tiny concrete box of a home, met his wife and mother, sipped beers, talked some politics, and taken pictures. In the late afternoon, he and another friend had led us to a lovely little restaurant at the base of Santiago’s landmark Padre Pico steps. We’d eaten grilled lobster, drunk more beers, and traded jokes and vows of eternal friendship.

At the end of the meal, I’d given the waiter CUC $80 and received CUC $10 in change, and as I stood there with the ten-peso note in my hand Antonio grabbed and pocketed it. I shot him a confused look, and he responded with a half shrug that seemed calibrated somewhere between What’s it matter? and You know the score. I hadn’t intended to give him the money, but he decided he deserved it. Hours later, on the rooftop patio of the Casa Granda, drinking a mojito that cost nearly half the amount I was obsessing about, I wondered what that shrug really meant.


Supply & Demand, by Mehboob Jeelan. The Caravan.

Inside India’s prostitution business:

Like many other purveyors of luxury goods and services to the capital’s wealthiest residents and visitors, Khan’s outlook is bullish. The only real obstacle to growth is the sporadic attention of the city’s police, whose crackdowns on upscale prostitution tend to alternate with long periods of apparent indifference. In April 2011, police busted Sonu Punjaban, a famously aggressive female pimp whose operation catered mostly to middle-class Indian clients, and whom police described as the reigning kingpin of Delhi prostitution. In the wake of the raid on Punjaban, Khan said, he became “more cautious” — turning down clients who hadn’t been referred by regular patrons, or sending one of his employees to check that prospective customers were genuine. But these were minor worries: “Lack of clients will never be a problem here,” he said. “The clients always come.”

Yemeni Idol, by Gaar Adams. Foreign Policy.

It’s not easy being the second-biggest rock band in Sanaa:

The fact that 3 Meters Away is at the center of this pivotal moment in Yemeni history does not mean that any of this — the protests, the electricity cuts, the price gauging, the violence — is easy. Ahmed grabs a bullet from a candle-wax covered table in the corner of the room and places it in my hand. He explains to me that Hassan picked it up off the street one day after taking cover when the sounds of gunfire erupted during his normal walk to band practice. It wasn’t until next morning that anyone even found out what happened — pro-Saleh forces had let off a torrent of celebratory gunfire in support of their embattled president. The ensuing rainfall of bullets killed several people in the streets of Sanaa who were just going about their business like Hassan.

“You become so numb that you don’t even realize there are explosions all around you,” Omr chimes in. Playing in Change Square, the danger and death surrounding the band has forced them to grapple with these same issues of responsibility and mortality. The band’s name reckons with these hazards in several ways: It was inspired by their own rule of staying 3 meters away from riot police and not engaging in physically dangerous situations; it also acts as their own twist on the phrase “6 feet under,” serving as a reminder and tribute of respect to the martyrs who died in Change Square.

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