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.
Kidnapped by Iran, by Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal, and Sarah Shourd, Mother Jones
Three Americans are held hostage in Iran for two years, much of it spent in solitary confinement.
Just as we’re setting out, Sarah stops in her tracks. “There’s a soldier on the ridge. He’s got a gun,” she says. “He’s waving us up the trail.” I pause and look at my friends. Maybe it’s an Iraqi army outpost. We stride silently uphill. I can feel my heart pounding against my ribs.
The soldier is young and nonchalant, and he beckons us to him with a wave. When we finally approach him, he asks, “Farsi?”
“Faransi?” Shane asks, then continues in Arabic. “I don’t speak French. Do you speak Arabic?”
“Shane!” I whisper urgently. “He asked if we speak Farsi!” I notice the red, white, and green flag on the soldier’s lapel. This isn’t an Iraqi soldier. We’re in Iran.
The Secret World of Fast Fashion, by Christina Moon, Pacific Standard
How Korean immigrants in Los Angeles revolutionized fashion’s production cycle.
As an anthropologist, I have been coming to Los Angeles with the photographer Lauren Lancaster for the past two years to study the hundreds of Korean families who have, over the last decade, transformed the city’s garment district into a central hub for fast fashion in the Americas. These families make their living by designing clothes, organizing the factory labor that will cut and sew them in places like China and Vietnam, and selling them wholesale to many of the most famous retailers in the U.S. — including Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, T.J. Maxx, Anthropologie, and Nordstrom.
I first became curious about the garment sector in Los Angeles after noticing that an increasingly large proportion of students at Parsons, the New York design school where I teach, were second-generation children of Korean immigrants from Southern California. Many of them were studying fashion marketing and design so they could return to Los Angeles to help scale up their parents’ businesses. These students and their contemporaries were, I came to understand, the driving force behind U.S. fast fashion — a phenomenon whose rise is less a story about corporate innovation than one about an immigrant subculture coming of age.
A Passage from Hong Kong, by Maya Jasanoff, the New York Review of Books
Notes from a month-long voyage on a massive container ship.
By reducing the cost of transport, containerization accelerated a process of global economic integration whose earlier stages Conrad had witnessed. Today “shipping is so cheap,” writes the British journalist Rose George in Ninety Percent of Everything, “that it makes more financial sense for Scottish cod to be sent ten thousand miles to China to be filleted, then sent back to Scottish shops and restaurants, than to pay Scottish filleters.” Residents of the English port city Southampton were recently asked what percentage of goods they thought traveled by sea. All their answers, George says, “had the interrogative upswing of the unsure. ‘Thirty-five percent?’ ‘Not a lot?’ The answer is, nearly everything.” Ninety percent of everything, to be more accurate: most of the clothes you put on this morning; the coffee or tea you drank; your car, or at least parts of it, and some of the gas you put into it; your computer, television, phone, earphones — in short, the stuff of daily life.
The Devil and the Art Dealer, by Alex Shoumatoff, Vanity Fair
How 1,280 pieces of art stolen by the Nazis were hidden in a Munich apartment until 2012.
Cornelius Gurlitt was a ghost. He had told the officer that he had an apartment in Munich, although his residence — where he pays taxes — was in Salzburg. But, according to newspaper reports, there was little record of his existence in Munich or anywhere in Germany. The customs and tax investigators, following up on the officer’s recommendation, discovered no state pension, no health insurance, no tax or employment records, no bank accounts — Gurlitt had apparently never had a job — and he wasn’t even listed in the Munich phone book. This was truly an invisible man.
And yet with a little more digging they discovered that he had been living in Schwabing, one of Munich’s nicer neighborhoods, in a million-dollar-plus apartment for half a century. Then there was that name. Gurlitt. To those with knowledge of Germany’s art world during Hitler’s reign, and especially those now in the business of searching for Raubkunst — art looted by the Nazis — the name Gurlitt is significant: Hildebrand Gurlitt was a museum curator who, despite being a second-degree Mischling, a quarter Jewish, according to Nazi law, became one of the Nazis’ approved art dealers. During the Third Reich, he had amassed a large collection of Raubkunst, much of it from Jewish dealers and collectors. The investigators began to wonder: Was there a connection between Hildebrand Gurlitt and Cornelius Gurlitt? Cornelius had mentioned the art gallery on the train. Could he have been living off the quiet sale of artworks?
‘On Va Tuer Les Demons,’ by Deni Béchard, Foreign Policy
Fear, faith, and the hunt for child sorcerers in Congo.
“I think it’s a trick so they [families] can get rid of them,” said Marie Marguerite Djokaba, of the Network of Educators for Street Children and Youth (REEJER), in an interview. “The child sorcerer problem is related to the economic situation. It’s an excuse to kick children out.”
But this explanation of poverty and convenience feels incomplete; it doesn’t account for how utter societal breakdown in Congo — a country with a life expectancy of about 50 years and a GDP per capita of around $300 — intertwines with religion. Revival churches, their leaders, and the extreme beliefs they promote offer a way for people to cope with a place like Kinshasa. Coined Kin la Belle (“Kin the Beautiful”) during the colonial era, the Congolese capital — with its sprawling slums, its widespread sickness, its refugees of the country’s wars, and its scarce opportunity — now sports the nickname Kin la Poubelle (“The Trash Can”).
The Kinois, as the city’s residents are known, seem to be searching for some semblance of power over their lives: a way to understand it, control it, eliminate the terrible from it. Tragically, religious faith that promises protection from evil — and that locates the source of that evil in beings as vulnerable and ever present as children — has become an answer.