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.
“Karachi vice: inside the city torn apart by killings, extortion and terrorism” by Samira Shackle, The Guardian
Amid the mayhem that has turned some areas into no-go zones, reporters risk their lives to make sense of a crime wave that is virtually an insurgency.
Where Hyder’s right forearm meets his wrist, there is a bullet. Within minutes of my first meeting with him this spring, he pointed it out to me. “It’s a very exciting job,” he laughed, as he traced the outline of a small, hard bulge lodged just under the skin.
Hyder acquired the bullet three years ago, while filming a night-time shootout between two militant groups in Sohrab Goth, a Taliban stronghold in northern Karachi. He was caught in the crossfire, and was rushed to hospital, where a surgeon managed to remove three of the four bullets lodged in his arm. His TV channel Geo made the event into a cause celebre, putting up huge posters bearing Hyder’s image. “While chaos, bullets, and explosions cause most people to flee, Geo’s field staff is fearless and brave,” read the caption. “Taking their life in their hands, they fulfill their duty.”
“American Horror Story” by Josh Dean, Matter
She was a Canadian student whose travels brought her to the cheap hotel on Skid Row. The only clue in her disappearance was a strange elevator video in which she peeks and then gestures with her hands down an unseen hallway.
Lam was Canadian, and had spent parts of the previous three years studying at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, but struggles with depression caused her to miss more classes than she’d attended. The California trip was meant as a break from that life, a long-planned journey that she’d been calling “my whirlwind adventure.” Her parents — immigrants from Hong Kong — didn’t like the idea, but Elisa was comfortable traveling alone. She used trains and buses to get around, checked in every day from the road and sporadically posted pictures to Facebook. In San Diego, she’d gone to the zoo, and to a speakeasy, where she lost a Blackberry she’d borrowed from a friend. In L.A., she went to a taping of Conan O’Brien’s TV show, and explored downtown by foot.
On the afternoon of January 31, Elisa Lam walked a few blocks to the Last Bookstore, where she bought books and records to take home as presents. “She was very outgoing, very lively, very friendly,” the bookstore’s manager Katie Orphan said a few days later. Lam was worried that her purchases would be too heavy to carry around on the rest of her trip.
That evening, she was spotted in lobby of the Cecil.
Then Elisa Lam vanished.
“The Hateful Life And Spiteful Death Of The Man Who Was Vigo The Carpathian” by Shaun Raviv, Deadspin
The story of Norbert Grupe — a Nazi soldier’s son, boxer, professional wrestler, failed actor, criminal, and miserable human being who was never so happy as when he could make someone hate him — who also was once a man so beautiful that other men wanted to paint him.
One painting of Norbert was done by a brothel owner named Wolli Köhler, a friend from the days when they were young men living in the St. Pauli quarter of the city of Hamburg. Köhler painted Norbert Grupe as Jesus, with long flowing blonde hair below a gold crown. The painting shows “the devastated prince looking at his devastated world,” Köhler described it. “It is the broken prince. He is standing before his demise.”
Norbert did not meet his own demise with nearly so much grace. In 2004, he went to Rona Weber’s office in Santa Monica, Calif., and sat outside on a concrete flowerbed. Around eight in the morning, Rona looked out the window and saw her much older half-brother sitting there. Sitting and sitting. This wasn’t the first time he’d done this, and Rona wondered what the hell was going on with Norbert this time.
“Who’s to Judge?” by Lauren Collins, The New Yorker
How the World’s 50 Best Restaurants are chosen.
Rodolfo Guzmán, a chef from Chile, ascended the stage to collect the Chefs’ Choice Award. At Boragó, his restaurant in Santiago, he uses mostly indigenous ingredients, relying on more than two hundred foragers and small producers to supply the raw materials for dishes such as venison tartare with maqui berries and a soup of Patagonian rainwater served on a bed of moss. Guzmán had the dreamy, doomed look of a duellist (or, as more than one woman in the audience pointed out, of Johnny Depp). Unlike his peers, who pumped fists and garlanded themselves in saffron-colored raw-silk scarves furnished by LesConcierges, “the premier provider of global lifestyle services and solutions,” he seemed abashed to be standing on a podium, under a giant projection of his own head shot.
“‘One Day, We Will Start a Big War’” by Ty McCormick, Foreign Policy
Outgunned by powerful rebels in the Central African Republic, the U.N. can’t even protect civilians. Now it’s pushing for early elections that could destroy a fragile peace.
There are scarcely 200 paces of tarmacked road in Bambari, a sprawling city of rusty tin kiosks and crumbling concrete edifices, smudged with rust-colored clay, deep in the heavily forested interior of the Central African Republic (CAR). They span the length of a single-lane bridge across the Ouaka River, a muddy torrent that cleaves Bambari in half from north to south. They also happen to be the most important 200 paces of road in town, though for reasons unrelated to the quality of the driving surface. The bridge marks the boundary between two dangerously divided communities, a red line across which visitors from the other side risk death, occasionally by decapitation.
The east bank of the Ouaka is controlled by remnants of the Seleka, a largely Muslim rebel coalition that pillaged and raped its way across CAR before seizing power over the country for a brief period in 2013. The west bank belongs to the anti-Balaka, the knife- and machete-wielding Christian self-defense militias that sprang up to counter the Seleka but managed to make the Muslim rebel coalition’s abuses look relatively mild by comparison. “Muslims are too afraid to travel to the [west] bank,” the mayor of Bambari, Abel Matchipata, told me recently. “Some Christians are traveling to the [east] bank, but they are doing so with a lot of fear.”
Photo credits: ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images; ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images; Youtube; MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images; Ty McCormick/Foreign Policy; Nacer Telal/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images