Longform’s Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

JM LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images; Wikimedia; Fadi al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images; STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images; Ashoka Mukpo
JM LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images; Wikimedia; Fadi al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images; STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images; Ashoka Mukpo

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 iPhone or iPad? Download Longform’s new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.


The Fight of Their Lives, by Dexter Filkins, The New Yorker

The White House wants the Kurds to help save Iraq from ISIS. The Kurds might be more interested in breaking away.

The incursion of ISIS presents the Kurds with both opportunity and risk. In June, the ISIS army swept out of the Syrian desert and into Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. As the Islamist forces took control, Iraqi Army soldiers fled, setting off a military collapse through the region. The Kurds, taking advantage of the chaos, seized huge tracts of territory that had been claimed by both Kurdistan and the government in Baghdad. With the newly acquired land, the political climate for independence seemed promising. The region was also finding new economic strength; vast reserves of oil have been discovered there in the past decade. In July, President Barzani asked the Kurdish parliament to begin preparations for a vote on self-rule. “The time has come to decide our fate, and we should not wait for other people to decide it for us,” Barzani said.


Your Future is Very Dark,’ by Andrew Burt, Slate

The story of former CIA agent John T. Downey, the longest held American captive of war.

Shot down in a country the United States was at war with, whose communist government the two men were secretly attempting to overthrow, the CIA agents were, as Fecteau would later recount, in a hell of a mess. A crowd of Chinese men emerged from the woods, guns drawn.

“Your future is very dark,” a Chinese security officer said, in English.

Beside the still burning wreckage of the C-47, one of the agents Downey had trained was brought in and asked, “Who is Jack Downey?” The agent pointed at his former handler. The CIA’s Far East division would later conclude that the agents had been turned immediately after being dropped into China.


The Syrian Front: Waiting to Die in Aleppo, by Christoph Reuter, Der Spiegel

A week behind Aleppo’s front lines.

Shortly after 9 a.m. on Wednesday, there is the sound of rotors followed by an explosion, causing walls to shake hundreds of meters away. A light wind carries a giant cloud of dust across the sky. On the empty street, a woman carrying two plastic bags walks calmly in the direction of the impact, not even slowing her steps.

It isn’t far to the site, down wide Akjul Street and then to the left. Most of the buildings are riddled with bullet holes and curtains flutter out of broken windows. The buildings are still standing, but almost all are empty. On one skewed balcony, a man is watering his plants.


The Secret Life of Max Stern, by Sara Angel, The Walrus

The Nazis stole Stern’s paintings. Twenty years after his death, his estate is changing the rules of restitution.

There was one subject on which Stern remained silent: his life in Europe. “When asked,” says Charles Hill, curator of Canadian art at the National Gallery of Canada, “he would say, Oh, that’s the past. I’m interested in the present.” And yet in conversations with his clients, he sometimes hinted that there was more to his story, cautioning them to avoid making purchases at auction houses where a painting or sculpture’s provenance was seldom fully revealed and often wilfully obscured. “Pedigree,” he liked to say, “is not only important in animals.”


Is Ebola the Beginning of the End of the World? by Clair MacDougall, Foreign Policy

As deaths rise in Monrovia and the sick cluster in gutters outside overcrowded treatment centers, many people are turning to God for answers — and salvation.

Amid the chaos of ambulances roaring, family members waiting, and people dying in and near Ebola treatment units, there is a paradoxical sense that Monrovia has come to a standstill. The plush, maroon-carpeted amphitheaters of Capitol Hill, where senators and legislators usually sit in dark wood chairs behind lecterns, were empty on Tuesday. The political center had been closed after James K. Morlu, the deputy sergeant at arms, was suspected to have died of Ebola at Redemption. The halls were disinfected with chlorine spray. Many other government buildings in downtown Monrovia and along Tubman Boulevard, the city’s main thoroughfare, are largely empty, with nonessential staff sent home. The clicking of black shoes and roar of children departing school each afternoon is gone; classrooms stand empty, unlikely to be filled until next year. 

John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital, the nation’s largest hospital, is desolate and quiet, now filled with a jumble of plastic chairs, stacked beds, and abandoned hazmat suits. Many health workers are frightened to come to in, for fear that a patient might arrive with Ebola. Patients with other ailments are being turned away.


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