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The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books December 3, 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.

COLIN B. BAILEY is Director of the Morgan Library and Museum. His books include Patriotic Taste: Collecting Modern Art in Pre-Revolutionary Paris, which was awarded the 2004 Mitchell Prize, and Renoir, Impressionism, and Full-Length Painting. MARIANNE BORUCH’s most recent book of poems is The Anti-Grief. Her forthcoming collection, Bestiary Dark, was completed through her research as a 2019 Fulbright Scholar in Australia. 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. ARIEL DORFMAN, a Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Literature at Duke, is the author of the play Death and the Maiden. His books include, most recently, the children’s story The Rabbits’ Rebellion and…

21 min.
democracy’s afterlife

It is an infallible law that if Seamus Hea ney is the Irish poet of choice, things are looking up, but if W. B. Yeats is in the air, they look ominous. Joe Biden at the National Democratic Convention in August created great expectations with Heaney’s “once in a lifetime/ … longed-for tidal wave/Of justice.” But there is no blue tsunami. Instead, we must turn, fretfully, to Yeats: “We are closed in, and the key is turned/On our uncertainty.” That key was always in the hands of Donald Trump. It has been obvious for many months that his strategy for retaining power would center on the generation of a force field of radical indecision. As Barton Gellman put it in The Atlantic, “He could prevent the formation of consensus about…

18 min.
‘something resembling normal life’

Friend: A Novel from North Korea by Paek Nam-nyong, translated from the Korean by Immanuel Kim. Columbia University Press, 224 pp., $60.00; $20.00 (paper) “Whenever I go to North Korea,” Immanuel Kim told an interviewer in 2017, “I see people reading.” In the metro, in elevators, in buses and restaurants. But what were they reading, in a state unrivaled in the harshness of its censorship? As a graduate student at the University of California at Riverside studying Korean literature, Kim—who is now a professor at George Washington University specializing in North Korean culture—had become curious about North Korean fiction, which was usually dismissed as mind-numbing propaganda. There was a basis for this stereotype, it turned out, but after eight months of diligent reading, Kim began to find work that he genuinely…

22 min.
suffering, unfaltering manet

Manet and Modern Beauty: The Artist’s Last Years an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, May 26–September 8, 2019; and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, October 8, 2019–January 12, 2020. Catalog of the exhibition edited by Scott Allan, Emily A. Beeny, and Gloria Groom. Getty Publications, 384 pp., $65.00 During a visit to the eighty-five-yearold Claude Monet in the summer of 1926, Florence Gimpel, the wife of the Parisian art dealer Rene Gimpel, asked her host if he had known Edouard Manet. “Yes, he was a great friend, a great friend,” was the response. Monet told Gimpel that on April 29, 1883, he had received a telegram from Manet’s brother Gustave informing him that the painter was dying: I saw him two days before his death. He had phlebitis…

15 min.
criminalizing a constitutional right

National discussions of abortion—of any services that might end a pregnancy, make contraception available, or provide other means of regulating one’s capacity to bear children—usually focus on the Supreme Court. But for many Americans, Roe v. Wade might as well have been overturned already. Whether RBG or ACB, five conservative justices or six, many American women live in counties without clinics, or cannot afford to pay for an abortion, or do not know how to slip under the limbo bars to get one. Many Americans cannot access basic medical care no matter what decisions they make, but state-level legislation makes abortion in particular nearly impossible to procure in much of the country. Almost four hundred state-level restrictions were proposed in the first half of 2019 alone. This week in Louisiana,…

14 min.
the sense of an ending

The Silence by Don De Lillo. Scribner, 117 pp., $22.00 The Silence is full of voices, a work of talky minimalism whose characters are all troubled by the absence of sound. Five of them, three men and two women: a string quintet, and with the youngest, a high school physics teacher, as a decidedly insistent cello. Noise, chatter, the smother of static, the wearing hum in one’s head: you might think you’d welcome its stopping, and enjoy the grace of an unsought calm. You might think these characters especially would welcome it, New Yorkers all—two long-married middle-class couples, and then Martin, the younger man, a former student of one of the women. But this is Don De Lillo, for whom white noise is both comfort and scourge. It deadens our senses…