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The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books July 23, 2020

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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United States
20 Issues

in this issue

3 min.

ESTHER ALLEN, a Professor at Baruch and the CUNY Graduate Center, is the editor and translator of José Martí: Selected Writings. She is currently writing a biography of Martí. DAVID COLE is the National Legal Director of the ACLU and the Honorable George J. Mitchell Professor in Law and Public Policy at the Georgetown University Law Center. His latest book is Engines of Liberty: How Citizen Movements Succeed. JASON DEPARLE, a reporter for The New York Times, is the author of A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves: One Family and Migration in the 21st Century. RACHEL DONADIO is a contributing writer for The Atlantic and former Rome Bureau Chief and European Cultural Correspondent for The New York Times. ANNE ENRIGHT is a Professor of Creative Writing at University College Dublin. Her short stories…

18 min.
wanting wrong

Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey. Knopf, 215 pp., $24.00 Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz, translated from the Spanish by Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff. Edinburgh: Charco, 123 pp., $13.95 (paper) Sometime in the 1980s Catholic primary school teachers in Ireland abandoned the concept of sin, considering it too harsh for the six-year-olds they were training for the confessional. They reached instead for the phrase “a failure to love,” a devastating switch that moved children from the pleasures of transgression (who doesn’t like a good sin?) to the wilderness of abandonment. It was like accusing them of causing their own loneliness. There is, perhaps, a game to be played with novels along these lines, dividing fictional characters into those who sin and those who are merely wrongheaded and sad. It might…

16 min.
what black america means to europe

In September 1963, in Llansteffan, Wales, a stained-glass artist named John Petts was listening to the radio when he heard the news that four black girls had been murdered in a bombing just after Sunday school at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The news deeply moved Petts, who was white and British. “Naturally, as a father, I was horrified by the death of the children,” said Petts, in a recording archived by London’s Imperial War Museum. “As a craftsman in a meticulous craft, I was horrified by the smashing of all those [stained-glass] windows. And I thought to myself, my word, what can we do about this?” Petts decided to employ his skills as an artist in an act of solidarity. “An idea doesn’t exist unless you do something…

21 min.
family values

Adèle by Leila Slimani, translated from the French by Sam Taylor. Penguin, 216 pp., $16.00 (paper) The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani, translated from the French by Sam Taylor. Penguin, 228 pp., $9.99 (paper) Sex and Lies by Leila Slimani, translated from the French by Sophie Lewis. Penguin, 162 pp., $17.00 (paper) Le Pays des Autres: Première Partie: La guerre, la guerre, la guerre by Leila Slimani. Paris: Gallimard, 365 pp., €20.00 (paper) The women in Leila Slimani’s novels are unhappy. The men are dissatisfied too, but they are secondary, more oblivious characters. The women are unhappy because their husbands don’t understand them, because their children are a burden on them, and because their existence strikes them as humiliatingly humdrum. They love those husbands and children, but their joy in their families is always…

19 min.
less punishment, more justice

Punishment Without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal by Alexandra Natapoff. Basic Books, 334 pp., $30.00 Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration by Rachel Elise Barkow. Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 291 pp., $35.00 The mass protests spurred by George Floyd’s killing have been more sustained and widespread than any this country has seen before in response to police abuse. When the initial ones prompted even more police violence—officers driving cars into peaceful demonstrators or beating them with truncheons, using chemical agents and flash grenades to clear crowds for a presidential photo op, pepper-spraying young and old alike—the aggression, much of it captured on video, only inspired more people to join the protests. When it became clear that local police, the National Guard,…

17 min.
sketches from solitude

Constance Fenimore Woolson: Collected Stories edited by Anne Boyd Rioux. Library of America, 724 pp., $40.00 The March 1877 issue of The Atlantic Monthly included a memoir by the great English actress Fanny Kemble and a set of poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. There was a travel piece about the Canary Islands, the back of the book offered a shrewd appraisal of Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, and for many readers the highlight was an installment of Henry James’s The American, a serial moving toward its melodramatic conclusion. But the issue opened with a story by Constance Fenimore Woolson set in the reconstructed South called “Rodman the Keeper.” Its title character, John Rodman, is a Union veteran, a New Englander who has taken a post as superintendent of the national cemetery at what…