The Prague Cemetery By Umberto Eco (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 445 pp., $27) Barack Obama is a Kenyan-born communist jihadist. The Mossad staged the attacks of September 11. Vince Foster was murdered on the orders of his lover, the notorious lesbian Hillary Clinton. The United States government is concealing the wreckage of an alien spacecraft that crashed in New Mexico in 1947. A secret society named the Priory of Sion protects the living descendants of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. It is tempting to think that we are living in a golden age of conspiracy theories.
[Guest post by Isaac Chotiner] A French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, was firebombed yesterday after the publication made a joke about the Prophet Muhammad.
It takes a lot of courage to call a film Happy, Happy, and the young Norwegian director Anne Sewitsky manages to justify it. Her first feature film fixes on the very idea of happiness: what it is or is thought to be, and what happens to it. Other directors of her generation have been likewise concerned, but with Ragnhild Tronvoll’s supple screenplay, Sewitsky puts a story before us that is both recognizable and sufficiently probing. Kaja and Eirik are a young couple who live in the countryside with their son.
Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live By Jeff Jarvis (Simon & Schuster, 263 pp., $26.99) In 1975, Malcolm Bradbury published The History Man, a piercing satire of the narcissistic pseudo-intellectualism of modern academia. The novel recounts a year in the life of the young radical sociologist Howard Kirk—“a theoretician of sociability”—who is working on a book called The Defeat of Privacy.
The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1944-1945 By Ian Kershaw (Penguin, 564 pp., $35) It can be harder to lose a war than to win one. Nazi Germany won quick victories in 1939 and 1940 against its eastern and western neighbors, Poland and France. Many Germans who had doubted the wisdom of war came around with enthusiasm to the sound of German boots on the Champs Elysées. Warsaw and Paris fell more quickly and with fewer complications than anticipated. Their conquest convinced many Germans, including army officers, that further campaigns could be won by strokes of genius.
Kol Nidre is the most haunting prayer in the Jewish liturgy. I would gauge that more Jews attend synagogue at this moment than at any other time in the year. (You’ve already missed it if you wanted to go.) For some it may be an act of desperation, a stance between belief and non-belief, hovering somewhere between trust and trembling. In any case, it is my or your—if you had decided to try—last chance to settle accounts with God, in the heavens or with the god of your imagination.
The Bright StreamAmerican Ballet Theatre Anna Karenina; The Little Humpbacked HorseMariinsky Ballet, Metropolitan Opera House Incredibly, the hit of the New York dance season this spring was The Bright Stream, a restaging of a Soviet “tractor-ballet” from 1935, about a Caucasian collective farm complete with hammer, sickle, and happy farmers making merry in a sunlit workers’ paradise. The ballet comes to us directly from Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, where it was first restaged in 2003 with new choreography by the Russian choreographer Alexei Ratmansky.
Last week, as morsels of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s new memoir began to go public, The New York Times published an odd revelation: After undergoing heart surgery in 2010, Cheney had “a prolonged, vivid dream that he was living in an Italian villa, pacing the stone paths to get coffee and newspapers.” Lacking any additional context, the scene seemed rather opaque. What could it possibly mean? I decided to call up some psychoanalysts and dream experts for their interpretations.
I was in bed at a New York hotel when my stock trader called to say that one of the Twin Towers had been hit by an airplane. “A horrible accident,” he surmised, adding “unprecedented” to the presumption. He told me to turn on the “tube,” such nomenclature dating him as middle-aged. The phone rang again: “The second tower is on its way down. And, of course, this means it is no accident at all.” Which was my intuition as soon as I’d heard the first terrible tidings. Moreover, I knew instinctively who’d done the dreadful deed; and it wasn’t a new version of the Unabomber.
In the 1970s I knew a young artist who painted cityscapes and talked about creating a series of New York City views in which the towers of the World Trade Center, then only a year or so old, would appear in every composition. My friend’s idea, which he discussed in a playful and speculative spirit, was to develop a modern urban counterpart to Hokusai’s One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji. Sometimes the towers would be the focal point; sometimes they would be seen from a curious and unexpected vantage point; sometimes they would be no more than a speck in the distance.