Longform’s Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

Ukrainian soldiers man the frontline outside the eastern Ukrainian city of Debaltseve, Donetsk region, on December 24,2014. A new round of talks aimed at ending a protracted Moscow-backed separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine got underway in the Belarussian capital Minsk, a foreign ministry spokesman said. AFP PHOTO/ SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/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.

Michel Houellebecq Portrait Session

Scare Tactics: Michel Houellebecq Defends Controversial New Book, by Sylvain Bourmeau, the Paris Review.

In an exclusive interview—the first he’s given about this novel—Houellebecq explains what led him to write a book that has already created a scandal in France, even before its publication.

“Well, Marine Le Pen strikes me as a realistic candidate for 2022—even for 2017 … The Muslim party is more … That’s the heart of the matter, really. I tried to put myself in the place of a Muslim, and I realized that, in reality, they are in a totally schizophrenic situation. Because overall Muslims aren’t interested in economic issues, their big issues are what we nowadays call societal issues. On these issues, obviously, they are very far from the left and even further from the Green Party. Just think of gay marriage and you’ll see what I mean, but the same is true across the board. And one doesn’t really see why they’d vote for the right, much less for the extreme right, which utterly rejects them. So if a Muslim wants to vote, what’s he supposed to do? The truth is, he’s in an impossible situation. He has no representation whatsoever. It would be wrong to say that this religion has no political consequences—it does. So does Catholicism, for that matter, even if the Catholics have been more or less marginalized. For those reasons, it seems to me, a Muslim party makes a lot of sense.”

Tijuana Lucha Libre

Addict, Priest, Luchador: The Unbelievable Life of Fray Tormenta, by Eric Nusbaum, Vice.

The true story of Nacho Libre.

“They say there are no original stories, that since Biblical times, we’ve been telling the same ones over and over. Even the story of Fray Tormenta the wrestling priest–a story that itself inspired the Jack Black movie Nacho Libre and before that a lesser known French film starring Jean Reno called The Man in the Golden Mask–is borrowed. It is borrowed, as it turns out, from another movie: a low-budget Mexican film from 1963 called El Señor Tormenta about, as you might imagine, a priest who begins a secret lucha libre career in order to raise money for starving orphans in his care.

The movie was part of a tide of luchador films that swept Mexico from the 1950s through the 1970s. The country’s most iconic wrestlers, El Santo and Blue Demon, gained their greatest fame as movie stars fighting zombies, aliens, and vampires. El Señor Tormenta was a minor wrestling film. It did feature a couple of big names, Black Shadow and Cavernario Galindo (he dressed as a caveman), but only in supporting parts. What makes the movie special is that it came true.”

Crisis Continues In Eastern Ukraine

The Search for Petr Khokhlov, by Joshua Yaffa, the New York Times Magazine.

A Russian soldier vanishes in Ukraine.

“On Aug. 19, Sergey got a call from a friend in town, who told him that the local draft board in Novouzensk was claiming that Petr had abandoned his post. He was missing. Two officers were on their way to Novouzensk to look for him. Sergey assured them that Petr had not returned home, but he had no idea where his brother could be. “Why would he run off?” Sergey wondered. He was a contract soldier now, not a conscript, and he could quit if he wanted to.

An hour later, Sergey and Nazira arrived at the draft office to find the officers already there. They handed him a stack of fliers that they were posting around town, bearing Petr’s face and birth date, his military ID number, his home address. As the officers talked with Sergey, one received a call from a commander back in Nizhny Novgorod. There is a video on YouTube, the caller said. Petr was in Ukraine.”

Hannover Messe 2013 Industrial Trade Fair

Remote Control, by Julia Ioffe, the New Yorker.

Can an exiled oligarch persuade Russia that Putin must go?

“These days, many of those who still agitate for a freer Russia assemble abroad. The editor of Lenta.ru, once the most popular news site in Russia, was pushed out because of the site’s reporting on the war in Ukraine; most of the editorial staff resigned in protest. Part of the team moved to Riga, where it has established a new Web operation, called Meduza. Ilya Ponomarev, once a vaguely oppositional figure in the Russian parliament, is now living in San Jose, California. Anna Veduta, the press secretary of the opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner Alexey Navalny, is studying at Columbia University. Navalny’s lieutenant, a banker named Vladimir Ashurkov, is in London, having fled a set of trumped-up criminal charges. Leonid Bershidsky, one of Russia’s most prominent columnists, is writing about Russia’s ills from Berlin. Sergei Guriev, an economist who once advised both the Kremlin and Navalny, now teaches in Paris, at the Institut d’Études Politiques. Rustem Adagamov, one of Russia’s leading bloggers, is in Prague. Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia, a loose affiliation of journalists and activists, has its nerve center there, too.”


The Forgotten Streets, by Scott Johnson, Foreign Policy.

While ongoing peace talks may
 finally put an end to Colombia’s guerrilla
 fighting, it remains to be seen what
 will happen to Buenaventura, the urban
 monster the war created.

“For decades, the Colombian government paid scant attention to the stretch of Pacific coastline where Buenaventura sits. With the exception of the port, the state largely abandoned these areas, leaving Buenaventura and its residents—mostly Afro-Colombian descendants of slaves—isolated and impoverished. Geographically separated from the rest of Colombia by the Andes Mountains, the city is a signature of government indifference
and continues to lack the necessary infrastructure that could connect Buenaventura with the rest of the country.

In 2012, Colombia joined the Pacific Alliance, a trading bloc that includes Mexico, Peru, and Chile, whose principle aim is to aggressively pursue economic ties with Asia, in particular China. But when government officials presented Buenaventura as a location for a Pacific Alliance summit the following year—a Pacific gateway to South America, the city had the region’s largest port and could establish Colombia as a key player in the Pacific Alliance, the thinking went—the idea was shot down because the city was far too dangerous. The summit was ultimately held hundreds of miles away on the Caribbean, serving as a wake-up call for those intent on moving the country into the next century. Since then, President Juan Manuel Santos has worked with city officials to improve Buenaventura’s image by developing an aggressive plan to promote tourism and downtown development that includes a multimillion-dollar waterfront esplanade and luxury hotels. But the state of affairs in this city have made such an about-face nearly impossible.”

Surgei Supinsky; Francois Berthier; Donald Miralle; Brendan Hoffman; Sean Gallup; Fabio Cuttica

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