Culture & Literature
The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books July 18, 2019

For over 50 years, The New York Review of Books has been the place where the world's leading authors, scientists, educators, artists, and political leaders turn when they wish to engage in a spirited debate on literature, politics, art, and ideas with a small but influential audience that welcomes the challenge. Each issue addresses some of the most passionate political and cultural controversies of the day, and reviews the most engrossing new books and the ideas that illuminate them. Get The New York Review of Books digital magazine subscription today.

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20 Issues

in this issue

2 min.

JOAN ACOCELLA is a staff writer for The New Yorker. Her most recent book is Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints. She is writing a biography of Mikhail Baryshnikov. RACHEL CUSK is the author of the Outline trilogy, among other books. Coventry, a collection of essays, will be published in August. DEBORAH EISENBERG’s fifth collection of short stories is Your Duck Is My Duck. She is also the author of a play, Pastorale. ORLANDO FIGES is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London. His new book, The Europeans: Three Lives and the Making of a Cosmopolitan Culture, will be published in October. MARK FORD’s fourth collection of poetry, Enter, Fleeing, was published last year. CAROLINE FRASER’s most recent book, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, received the Pulitzer Prize for biography.…

18 min.
the case of yiyun li

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Lifeby Yiyun Li.Random House, 208 pp.,$16.00 (paper) Where Reasons Endby Yiyun Li.Random House, 170 pp., $25.00 The effort of self-transformation is generally regarded as an improving journey, whatever its vicissitudes may have been. The writer Yiyun Li, who left China in 1996 as a trained scientist and set herself the task of becoming instead an American novelist, might appear to belong to that narrative of success. For an immigrant writer, the psychological problem of lost links can be meaningful terrain; likewise, the abandoned homeland can be fruitfully considered, from a safe distance. Yet creativity is no fortress, and even language—as Li has proved—is a bridge that can be burned. You can unlearn your own language as a stratagem for escaping the…

19 min.
the road taken

Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Futureby Pete Buttigieg.Liveright, 352 pp., $27.95 “All his life, he’d displayed an interest in history and politics. He was disciplined, hardworking, bright, and earnest.” That could be a fitting description of Pete Buttigieg, the thirty-seven-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who’s currently running for president of the United States. But it’s not. It instead describes the youthful promise of our thirty-seventh president, Richard Nixon, in a passage from John A. Farrell’s recent award-winning biography.1 Young, upcoming politicians often make such a sparkling impression, which shows the limits of early distinction and hopeful expectations. That’s not to say that Buttigieg’s Beaver Cleaver visage may be concealing some secret, sweaty Nixonian paranoia. Surely not. The youngest mayor of an American city with a population…

19 min.
the driest eye

The Dry Heartby Natalia Ginzburg, translated from the Italianby Frances Frenaye.New Directions, 88 pp., $12.95 (paper) Happiness, as Suchby Natalia Ginzburg, translated from the Italian by Minna Zallman Proctor.New Directions, 162 pp., $15.95 (paper) Family Lexiconby Natalia Ginzburg, translated from the Italian by Jenny McPhee, with an afterword by Peg Boyers.New York Review Books, 221 pp., $14.95 (paper) Natalia Ginzburg published her first novella, I Bandini, in 1934, when she was eighteen. Three years later she completed the first Italian translation of Marcel Proust’s Du côté de chez Swann. Over the course of her seventy-five years—during which she also worked as an editor at the Einaudi publishing house, brought up the four of her five children who survived infancy, served as a member of Parliament, and involved herself in humanitarian causes, including support…

14 min.
now you see me, now you don’t

The Self-Portrait: From Schiele to Beckmannan exhibition at the Neue Galerie,New York City,February 28–June 24, 2019.Catalog of the exhibition edited by Tobias G. Natter.Prestel/Neue Galerie, 215 pp., $50.00 Ever since Giorgio Vasari wrote Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects in the sixteenth century, we in the Western world have understood artworks and biographies as intertwined. This isn’t inevitable. A glance sideways geographically, or over the shoulder historically, shows that most cultures have not much cared how someone was feeling when an artist sat down to carve a particular idol or paint a certain krater. We, on the other hand, are so accustomed to using the art to illuminate the life, and the life to interpret the art, that when faced with a skeletal CV and a great painter—Johannes…

18 min.
the rules of the game

The fight for the Democratic presidential nomination will begin to assume a more concrete shape on the nights of June 26 and 27, when twenty candidates take the stage in Miami for the first round of debates. They qualified to participate by meeting one of two criteria before June 12: securing a minimum number of donors (at least 65,000) or registering more than one percent support in three major polls. The qualifying criteria are the same for the second round of debates in Detroit on July 30 and 31. For the third round, to be held on September 12 and 13 (in a location not yet chosen), the criteria are essentially doubled, which could winnow the field considerably. The Democratic National Committee has sanctioned twelve debates, to be held until…