When Gloria Emerson's sprawling portrait of the United States in the wake of the Vietnam War was first published, it was hailed as a classic. But it also inspired some strikingly hostile reviews. This vastly polarized response would suggest that one of Emerson's major arguments—she insisted, in despair and disgust, that the Vietnam War had made no significant impact on America or Americans—might itself be wrong.
ALL MEN MUST DIE. A few months ago, posters emblazoned with this slogan began cropping up around New York, auguring both the doom that is our mortal lot and the season premiere of Game of Thrones. Like all things related to Game of Thrones, the ads were embraced with great enthusiasm and a striking
ANNE CARSON, IN GRIEF LESSONS—her extraordinarily bold translations of Euripides—writes, “Why does tragedy exist? Because you are full of rage. Why are you full of rage? Because you are full of grief.” This is absolutely right. Antigone rages because she is full of grief for her brother Polynices,
BY THE AGE OF THIRTEEN, bloodthirsty baby-boomer bookworm that I was, I was already well read in the literature of World War II, with particular concentration on accounts of POW-camp breakouts and the exploits of fighter pilots. (My father had served in the Army Air Forces.) So my eye was easily
THE HISTORIES by Herodotus of Halicarnassus, fifth century BCE, is the founding work of history written by anyone not a god. Its fourth book—subtitled Melpomene, after the muse of tragedy—gives an account of the Scythians, a martial confederation of nomadic Eurasian tribes that converged around the
IN DISPATCHES (1977), Michael Herr’s seminal Vietnam memoir, the author remembers being a kid and poring over war photographs in Life magazine, “the ones that showed dead people or a lot of dead people.” The corpses, he recalls, were all smashed together, often in positions of strange intimacy, as
It would be easy to overlook the fact that communist literature is fictional, and, like most good fiction, bears, at least intermittently, some resemblance to the particulars of our real world. There is the desperation of the toiling many, alongside the indifference of the privileged few, and rounded out by the inability, ever, by anyone, to find a lasting solution.
I read only one war novel while I was writing my own. There were reasons: I didn't want to hear another novelist's voice as I was trying to find my own way into a soldier's mind. Also, my book is about a marine coming home from Iraq, and every war has its own weather and terrain, its own equipment and language.
Two new books—David Van Reybrouck's Congo and Dayo Olopade's The Bright Continent—take a fresh look at the African past and future. Both escape the constant need to treat Africa as a problem, the tedious compulsion to explain what has gone wrong or to prescribe how to fix it, that plagues so much writing about the continent.