Posts filed under 'wartime'

Festive Reads: Holiday Writing from Around the World

The Christmas season can be oppressive in everything from familial expectation to brow-beating advertising to relentless good cheer.

For many of us, Christmas is a time for gathering with family, giving gifts, and singing carols. For others, however, the holiday isn’t a snowy Love Actually postcard scene; in some parts of the world, it features tropical weather and end-of-year department store sales, while in others, it’s a just a regular day. You’ve read the blog’s Summer Ennui reading recommendations, and now we’re back with a list of our favorite Christmastime reads from Assistant Managing Editor Rachael Pennington, Communications Manager Alexander Dickow, and Editors-at-Large Alice Inggs and Barbara Halla.

Alice Inggs, Editor-at-Large for South Africa

Picture this: it’s December 25 in South Africa and there is drought somewhere in the country. Farmers pray for rain, sink boreholes, shoot dying sheep. The acacia in the bushveld to the north is bone-white and the grass invites fire. The heat is a white heat and cattle bones glare in the sun. The paint on Father Christmas statues outside shopping centres begins to melt and pine cuttings out of water droop. Tempers crackle and flare. The roads are too busy and the accident death toll climbs. White-robed umnazaretha worshipping in the open veld stand out against the brown-grey earth. It is hot and bleak and houses are full because all the family came to visit.

“It is a dry, white season” begins South African Black Consciousness writer Mongane Wally Serote’s poem “For Don M. — Banned.” It was written in the early 1970s for Don Mattera, a Xhosa-Italian poet and friend of Serote’s who had been banned by the apartheid government. The first line of Serote’s poem was later borrowed by Afrikaner André Brink for his 1979 novel ’n Droë Wit Seisoen (A Dry White Season). The book was banned too, as well as a subsequent film adaptation starring Zakes Mokae and Donald Sutherland. It’s been two and a half decades since those laws were repealed and the cultural whitewash acknowledged, but that line—“It is a dry, white season”—still echoes through summer in South Africa, the season in which Christmas falls; a reminder of the oppressive atmosphere that back then was not limited to the months when the temperature climbed.

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The Return of the Flood: How ISIS is Destroying Iraq’s Literary Heritage

Paul M.M. Cooper assesses the damage done to Iraqi literature and heritage by ISIS’s destruction of thousands of undeciphered cuneiform tablets.

ISIS continues to shock the world with calculated acts of cultural vandalism: taking sledgehammers and electric drills to the millennia-old pieces of art held at Mosul Museum, bulldozing the archaeological sites of Nimrud and Dur-Sharrukin, and most recently releasing a video showing the destruction of artefacts at Hatra. While the predictable images of gleeful vandalism circulate on social media, archaeologists took stock of the antiquities destroyed: statues of the kings of Hatra that form “the finest of all the sculptures unearthed” in the region, several enormous winged bulls with human heads known as lamassu, and assorted irreplaceable relics of the Babylonian, Persian and Roman Empires.

ISIS’s goals are clear: to destroy anything that hints at the region’s pluralistic past, and to strike a blow full of impotent cruelty against the Iraqi government and international organisations such as the UN and UNESCO. Against this backdrop and coupled with the stunning callousness of the group’s ongoing humanitarian atrocities, it has been easy to overlook another loss, one felt particularly acutely by lovers of international literature the world over: that of the still-undeciphered cuneiform tablets caught up in ISIS’s frenzy of destruction. READ MORE…