Monthly Archives: October 2003

The Dominion of the Dead

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Human beings are the only living creatures that bury their dead. Burial traditions remain, even after customs of religion or matrimony disappear. Even today, in a culture that considers itself largely secular and scientific, the living insist on laying their dead properly to rest and are in anguish if that privilege is denied. Think of the grief of those who lose loved ones at sea or the families of the September 11th dead who were left with only ashes.

But even after the dead are buried, they do not leave our lives. In fact, says literary philosopher Robert Pogue Harrison, the dead have dominion. They give us our language and laws, our passions and pathologies, they teach what it means to live. Dwelling among the dead.


Robert Pogue Harrison, professor of Italian Literature, Stanford University, author, “The Dominion of the Dead”

Gerry Adams

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From militant to statesman. That’s been the journey for Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, who at age 16 joined the fight against British rule in Northern Ireland. In the decades since, Adams has been shot, jailed, labeled a terrorist, and celebrated as a voice for the aspirations of Irish nationalists.

For many years, Adams was known for his close links to the Irish Republican Army. Then in the mid 1990s, he began secret talks with his political opponents that eventually produced the Good Friday Agreement and brought a measure of peace and prosperity to Northern Ireland. Today, Adams is at the center of a standoff between the IRA and the Ulster Unionists over giving up arms, an issue that threatens to upset the fragile peace that Adams has fought for.


Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland

MacArthur Fellow Tom Joyce

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Tom Joyce was apprenticed to a blacksmith at the age of 13, and no, Joyce is not a character from a Dickens novel, he’s a artist who just won a MacArthur genius grant for his ability to melt and mold metal in completely unexpected ways.

Fascinated by what fire, a hammer, and an anvil can do to a piece of metal, Joyce dropped out of high school to become a full time craftsman. For him, metal is magic, he believes it holds the emotions and energies of all the people who have touched it.

And so from a baptismal font forged from a community’s cast-offs to a museum gate fashioned from trash from the banks of the Rio Grande, Joyce practices his peculiar alchemy, transforming craft into art.


Tom Joyce, blacksmith and MacArthur fellow .

France in Focus

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Leave it to a nation’s best seller list to reveal a touch of cultural schizophrenia. In France, books with titles like “The American Enemy” and “The United States” and “Planetary Manipulation” vie for shelf space with books like “Falling France” and “French Disarray.”

Name-calling and navel-gazing it seems, sell. But the French bookshelf also reveals a nation as perturbed by American unilateralism and hegemony as it is concerned with preserving its patrimony and place in the world. Both preoccupations are time-honored Gallic traditions, and both beg the question of how, if given the chance, the French would do things differently. The world according to France


Jean David Levitte, French Ambassador to the United States

Toni Morrison

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It’s hard to imagine the literary world without Toni Morrison. Without her Beloved. Or her Sula. Her Song of Solomon or her Paradise.

Without stories that hang between destruction and redemption; without writing which is both hypnotic and deliberate, lyrical and stark. Without pages filled with myth and mystery, primal forces and peaceful reveries. Or characters who live in this world, and others who speak from the next.

Now, Morrison has a new novel. It’s called, simply, Love. Yes, it can be “a boring meaningless word,” she says. But it’s also “the most forceful human emotion that drives us to do all sorts of things.”


Toni Morrison, Professor of Humanities at Princeton University, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize in Literature. Her new book is “Love.”

Rebuilding Afghanistan

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Sarah Chayes is a woman with a cause. After the fighting broke out in Afghanistan after 9-11, she was on the ground covering the war for National Public Radio. But when combat ended, she realized her responsibility didn’t. And so she quit her job as a journalist and returned to Afghanistan as an activist.

She is now working to rebuild the broken country, starting in the small Southern village of Akokolacha. Caught in the crossfire between the Taliban and US forces, the town was half smashed to rubble… and many of the villagers’ homes were destroyed. Now Chayes is working to build new homes there, and along the way encountering warlords, opium growers, and indifference from some in the U.S. government.


Sarah Chayes, field director of Afghans for Civil Society

Kathy Gannon, Associated Press Bureau Chief for Afghanistan and Pakistan and current fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations

Dirty But Clean Pierre

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The Texas town of DBC Pierre’s imagination is filled with Jerry Springer characters in garish shades of neon, which is too bad, really, because Martirio, Texas is a place where folks like their truths to come in black and white.

And that’s why the book’s eponymous hero, the 15-year old Vernon God Little, can’t catch a break. He still remembers when congestion at the drive thru on a Saturday night was his biggest headache. Now, it’s being the best friend of a lonesome loser who killed sixteen of his classmates and leaves him to take the blame. Redemption is hard to come by in Pierre’s debut novel. But by awarding it the coveted ManBooker prize for literature, judges in London proved that truth can be more forgiving than fiction.

Pierre Finlay and Dan Rhodes will read from their books at Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner, Wednesday, November 5th.


Pierre Finlay, (a.k.a. DBC Pierre) author, “Vernon God Little,” winner of the 2003 Booker Prize

Saudi Voices of Dissent

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Saad al-Fagih is a man with a mission and a radio station. Everyday, from a modest back room studio in London, he broadcasts his call for democratic reform and human rights to millions of households in Saudi Arabia. And it’s making the Saudi royal family very nervous, so nervous that they called on the country’s most senior religious leader to denounce the radio station’s call to protest.

Saad al-Fagih is himself from a prominent Saudi family, but he was forced to leave home and seek asylum in London after being jailed for his political efforts. Now he and his team are penetrating the carefully censored Saudi media with a satellite radio signal that is broadcasting critical voices back to the Kingdom. Tuning in dissent and civil disobedience discourse in Saudi Arabia.


Saad al-Fagih, founder of Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia

Greg Gause , director of the Middle Eastern Studies program at the University of Vermont.

Anti-Semitism in the News

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It was to be his international swan song. A time for the Malaysian prime minister, the moderate Muslim, to deliver some parting words before leaving office. And so, in a speech to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Mahathir Mohamad declared that, “Jews rule the world by proxy, they get others to fight and die for them.”

His remarks triggered a volley of criticism from the United States and from some European corners. Many people cited his remarks as signaling a world-wide rise in anti-Semitism, others, many from Islamic countries, have risen to Mahathir’s defense. They say his remarks were designed more to shame Muslims than to criticize Jews, and furthermore they say, there has to be some room to express criticism of Israel and America.


Ian Buruma, Professor at Bard College and author of the New York Times Magazine article, “How to Talk about Israel”

Abraham Foxman, president of the Anti-Defamation League and author of “Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism.”

A Surgeon Under Fire

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In 1994, with war raging in his homeland, Khassan Baiev did the unthinkable. The Chechen surgeon closed his successful Moscow medical practice, and returned home to work on the frontlines of the conflict.

He operated without electricity, gas, or running water, as missiles crashed into the hospitals. In the worst moments of his five years under fire he was amputating dozens of limbs at a stretch, using a hack saw, and working without anesthetic.

Through it all, Baiev kept the oath he had made to treat all those who need help, from the Russian soldiers, to the Chechen rebels who fought them, and civilians being killed in the crossfire. Keeping this oath was an act of heroism that made him a marked man for both sides. Khassan Baiev’s first hand account of war.


Dr. Khassan Baiev, author “The Oath: A Surgeon Under Fire”;
Nick Daniloff, co-author “The Oath” and former Moscow bureau chief for U.S. News & World Report;