| |1. A German museum puts the questionable provenance of its art on displayÏò., 25 ìàÿ[−]
BETWEEN 1933 and 1945, in a systematic effort, Germany’s Nazi party stole or forced compulsory purchase of a vast number of artworks, both from museums around Europe and from Jewish collectors. The exact figures are impossible to know, but estimates suggest the number of looted paintings alone totalled 650,000—a fifth of all paintings in Europe at the time.
Restitution efforts for private claims in particular have been slow, and it wasn’t until 1998 that an international set of principles to deal with the problem of Nazi-looted art was created. Forty-four countries came together to establish the Washington Principles, which encourage public collections to undertake provenance research, and if necessary, return stolen artworks in their possession to the rightful owners or their descendants, particularly in the case of Jewish collectors who were forced to flee. Time is of the essence: these processes become more and more difficult as trails grow colder and original owners (and their memories) grow older.
The Nazi... Continue reading
|↑|2. Satire is booming after Robert Mugabe’s fall×ò., 24 ìàÿ[−]
ON A stage in a park in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, Carl Joshua Ncube, perhaps the country’s most famous comedian, is coaching a novice. Imitating her act, in which she pretends to deliver a baby, he mimes a doctor slapping its bottom. “People love to hear about bottoms,” he tells her. An hour or so later, he introduces her—and three other wannabe female comics, one of whom is his wife—to a big audience. “In Zimbabwe we only have one female comedian,” he says, mock-solemnly. “We need some competition for Grace!” Feigning anxiety, he adds: “Although we know what happens when people try to introduce their wives to the profession!”
By Grace, Mr Ncube of course means Mugabe, the couture-loving wife of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s leader until his removal last November. Before the coup de Grace, jokes at her expense were a bit risqu?. These days they can be told anywhere, loud and clear. “Operation Restore Regasi”, a play crudely satirising the Mugabes, sold out repeatedly... Continue reading
|↑|3. Anthony Beevor’s new history of Arnhem×ò., 24 ìàÿ[−]
He did for them all by his plan of attack
Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, 1944. By Antony Beevor.Viking; 480 pages; ?25. To be published in America as “The Battle of Arnhem: The Deadliest Airborne Operation of World War II” in September; $35.
THERE is a particularly British tendency to romanticise valiant military failure. The retreat to Corunna, the charge of the Light Brigade and the death of General Gordon at Khartoum are remembered as much as famous victories. The “Battle of the Bridges” of 1944, fought predominantly in the Netherlands, fits into this category. Two films celebrate the heroics of what was the biggest airborne battle in history—“Theirs is the Glory” (made in 1946, immediately after the second world war) and “A Bridge Too Far” (1977).
Sir Antony Beevor avoids this trap. In the meticulous narrative style he first employed in “Stalingrad”, he recreates the operation from the... Continue reading
|↑|4. The weasel voice in journalism×ò., 24 ìàÿ[−]
ON MAY 14th, as Palestinians massed at the Gaza Strip’s border, Israeli soldiers fired on them, killing around 60 people. Shortly afterwards, the New York Times tweeted: “Dozens of Palestinians have died in protests as the US prepares to open its Jerusalem embassy.” Social media went ballistic. “From old age?” was one incredulous reply. #HaveDied quickly became a hashtag campaign.
The fault was soon laid not only at the door of the Times, but at a feature of English grammar. As Glenn Greenwald, a left-wing journalist, put it, “Most Western media outlets have become quite skilled—through years of practice—at writing headlines and describing Israeli massacres using the passive tense so as to hide the culprit.” His view was retweeted over 5,000 times and echoed by other critics.
The problem is that the Times’stweet was not passive. “Have died” is the verb “to die” in the active voice and the... Continue reading
|↑|5. Rachel Kushner goes behind bars×ò., 24 ìàÿ[−]
The Mars Room: A Novel. By Rachel Kushner. Scribner; 352 pages; $27. Jonathan Cape; ?16.99.
AS RACHEL KUSHNER’S third novel opens, Romy Hall is on a bus to Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility in California. At 29 she has lived most of her life in San Francisco, but not the city of tourist brochures: “It was not about rainbow flags or Beat poetry or steep crooked streets but fog and Irish bars and liquor stores all the way to the Great Highway, where a sea of broken glass glittered along the endless parking strip of Ocean Beach.” Her mother fed her instant ramen, “then attended to whichever of the men she was dating”.
Romy’s crime is murder. The Mars Room is a strip club where she worked. A client became obsessed with her; finally she bludgeoned him to death.
This is a disturbing and atmospheric book, if a flawed one. Ms Kushner makes the prison, and the world beyond its walls, vivid. The novel is not Romy’s... Continue reading
|↑|6. “Heavenly Bodies” mixes metaphors at the Met×ò., 24 ìàÿ[−]
TWO diverging meanings of “divine” underpin “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This, the largest show in the history of the Met’s Costume Institute, and one of the biggest at the Met overall, is in large part “just divine, dahling,”—an exuberant and luscious treat. In contrast, the rare loan of some 40 ecclesiastical garments and objects from the Sistine Chapel Sacristy at the Vatican—all “dedicated to worship”—are divine in the traditional sense. To unite these two meanings is the goal of Andrew Bolton, the exhibition’s curator.
The hint that this was an over-reaching ambition was there from the start, with the organiser’s repeated references to taking a tour of the show as going on a “pilgrimage”. Of course the two meanings of divine can merge, and often do, when High Mass in performed in a magnificent cathedral, for example. Other denominations can achieve this, too, as was evident in Windsor at the royal wedding. “Heavenly Bodies” is drawing... Continue reading
|↑|7. Olga Tokarczuk has finally found major recognition in English×ò., 24 ìàÿ[−]
EVERYTHING in “Flights” is lucidly, if fragmentarily, recounted by its narrator. “My spatial reasoning is particularly advanced, almost eidetic, though my laterality is lousy. Personality unstable, or not entirely reliable. Age all in your mind. Gender ungrammatical. I actually buy my books in paperback, so that I can leave them behind without remorse on the platform, for someone else to find. I don’t collect anything.” Moments of such surprising self-revelation recur, like staccato mantras, throughout the book. It is this originality of voice that made Olga Tokarczuk, the author, and Jennifer Croft, who translated the work, the latest recipients of the International Man Booker prize. The judges noted that the novel “guides the reader beyond the surface layer of modernity and towards the core of the very nature of humankind”.
The prize is awarded each year to a work of foreign fiction translated into English. “Flights” appeared in Poland in 2007, winning the Nike prize there, and was quickly translated into French and German,... Continue reading
|↑|8. Philip Roth was one of America’s greatest novelistsÑð., 23 ìàÿ[−]
IF THERE is one detail of Philip Roth’s biography that is worth knowing, it is not that he was Jewish or that he had no children or that he was born in New Jersey—it is that he preferred to write standing up at a lectern. There are pages of his work where the irrepressible vitality of his writing seems to glow on the page as if charged with some kind of existential incandescence—the great and persistent question of his novels being no less and no more than: what the hell do human beings think they are doing here on Earth?
Mr Roth died on May 22nd. His work will forever be synonymous with verve, energy, wit, ontological wrath and—above all—a total commitment to both subject and style. His career began in 1959 when he was accused of being anti-Semitic following the publication of one of his early short stories, “Defender of the Faith”, in the New Yorker. The row nearly overwhelmed him. “What is being done to silence this man?” wrote a prominent... Continue reading
|↑|9. The paper that poisoned its printersÑð., 23 ìàÿ[−]
IT WAS a lovely idea: for the coronation of Queen Victoria on June 28th 1838, an entrepreneur thought a paper printed in golden-hued ink would make for a lucrative keepsake. The Sun (no relation to today’s tabloid of the same name) partnered with this businessman, Thomas de la Rue, a printer who also dabbled in making straw hats and paper bonnets. He had experimented with inks, and came up with a compound that gave enough of an appearance of gilding to do the trick.
The so-called “Golden Sun” was an astonishing hit. It went through 20 editions and sold an estimated 250,000 copies—an astonishing number at that time. The reverse of the new queen’s portrait was left unprinted, so it could be cut out and mounted; the September 1840 issue of Monthly Belle Assembl?e noted that the portrait appeared in a museum its correspondent visited in St Omer, France, alongside more ancient artefacts. (De La Rue’s company survives to this day under that name, and prints banknotes and passports, among other things.... Continue reading
|↑|10. Exploring German WanderlustÂò., 22 ìàÿ[−]
WHEN spring arrives, the first rays of sunshine begin to tempt people off their couches and into nature for a walk. But few can top the Germans when it comes to Wanderlust. The Megamarsch, founded two years ago, sees hikes of 100 km in 24 hours in seven big German cities, attracting a growing number of participants (sometimes, as this year in Munich, more than logistics will allow). The annual “Tag des Wanderns” (Hiking Day), held on May 14th, promotes hiking in tours and workshops all over the country. And with 1.2m members, the Deutscher Alpenverein (DAV), founded in 1869, is the biggest mountaineering sports association in the world. Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, pulls on her boots with her husband nearly every summer holiday, often heading to South Tyrol.
Naturally, this is reflected in the culture. Where else would hiking books top the bestseller lists? Christine Th?rmer has hiked 40,000 km in Europe, America and Australia since she left her job, her flat and her normal life in 2007, fully embracing a new... Continue reading
|↑|11. “Shoplifters”, a touching tale of outsiders, wins at CannesÏí., 21 ìàÿ[−]
TRUE TO its title, the top prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival was stolen by “Shoplifters” while everyone was looking the other way. Not that Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s drama didn’t deserve to win. Mr Kore-Eda is one of world cinema’s most humane and skilful storytellers, and “Shoplifters” is another of his low-key, acutely observed, ultimately devastating studies of contemporary Japanese life.
All the same, it was a surprise when it took the Palme d’Or, partly because other films at Cannes had been reviewed even more enthusiastically, and partly because there was so much talk among festival-goers about the pressing need to give the award to a female director. So far in Cannes’s seven-decade history, this has happened only once, when Jane Campion’s “The Piano” won in 1993. But this year, following the fall of one of the festival’s most high-profile regulars, Harvey Weinstein, the event’s ingrained sexism was scrutinised and criticised more intently than ever. Just before the prizewinners were announced on Saturday... Continue reading
|↑|12. Inside Vladimir Putin’s “mafia state”×ò., 17 ìàÿ[−]
These days he wears Armani
The Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia. By Mark Galeotti. Yale University Press; 344 pages; $28 and ?20.
MANY labels have been applied to Vladimir Putin’s Russia: kleptocracy, post-modern authoritarianism and, in Barack Obama’s ill-advised put-down, a “regional power”. One that stuck came from a Spanish prosecutor in a mob trial. He described modern Russia as a “mafia state”.
It is a memorable phrase, but what does that notion actually entail? Mark Galeotti, an expert on this murky subject, offers the best answer to date. “The Vory”—meaning “The Thieves”—is a colourful and comprehensive guide to the intersection of crime and politics in Russia.
The unwritten rules of the criminal underworld developed under the tsars, when the country’s serfs—a big chunk of the population—lived under a code that smiled on occasional diddling of feudal overlords. “Theft of wood... Continue reading