Editor's Note — September 12, 2013, 7:50 am

Introducing the October 2013 Issue

The show trials at Guantánamo Bay, Bela Bartók’s monsters, the fate of Russia’s adopted children, and new fiction by T. C. Boyle

October 2013

The October issue of Harper’s Magazine begins with a letter to readers from publisher John R. MacArthur, in which he outlines the principles he set out with at the magazine more than thirty years ago and his hopes for the future of magazine publishing. Our cover story concerns the prison at Guantánamo, which continues to shake my confidence in our country’s values. Despite President Obama’s promises, he has proven either reluctant or unable to close the camp, a fact that returned to the news this summer thanks to an extended hunger strike by dozens of prisoners. Less remarked upon was another Bush-era policy that Obama has maintained at Guantánamo: the use of military commissions to try terrorism suspects. Lawrence Douglas, who wrote about the trial of Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk for our March 2012 issue, traveled to the base to report on the preliminary hearings of Abd al-Nashiri, the senior Al Qaeda lieutenant alleged to have masterminded the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen in 2000. Under Obama, Douglas writes, extensive efforts have been made to establish the legal legitimacy of the commissions through scrupulous attention to the rules of due process. But, the author asks, can there be such a thing as a fair trial for a man the United States has tortured so extensively that he can hardly function? Al-Nashiri may be guilty of serious crimes, but his trial is likely to be merely for show. The report is accompanied by drawings and paintings from Steve Mumford, who accompanied Douglas on several trips to Guantánamo.

In a long folio narrative that speaks to the best human instincts, Jay Kirk writes about the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, who acted out his fantasies by traveling through Transylvania and recording the music of the Roma. Kirk retraces Bartók’s journey through a haunted landscape, a place little changed since the composer was there in the early days of the twentieth century with his Edison wax-cylinder recorder. Things go wrong almost from the start, and Kirk barely escapes with his life. The essay is a tour de force — an absurd, scary, drunken, funny, and finally heartfelt tribute to Bartók’s music, one that is sure to enthrall lovers of both modernist music and brilliant travel writing.

Readers might remember the young child who in 2010 was sent back to Russia carrying a stuffed animal because his American adoptive parents couldn’t handle him. The note pinned to his chest, which was addressed “To Whom It May Concern,” said: “This child is mentally unstable. . . . I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself I no longer wish to parent this child. . . . As he is a Russian National, I am returning him to your guardianship.” With the relationship between Russia and the United States continuing to deteriorate—over Syria, Edward Snowden, missile defense, and gay rights — Irina Aleksander has written a timely report on one of the most controversial measures enacted by Russia’s leaders in the past year: a total ban on American adoptions of Russian children. She investigates what led the Kremlin to this decision, and what has happened to the children caught in middle.

In T.C. Boyle’s “Sic Transit,” a burnt-out rock star dies alone in his California bungalow — and whets the curiosity of a nosy neighbor, who steals a diary from the deceased man’s house. An old hand at juggling multiple narratives, Boyle cuts back and forth between the past and the present, the living and the dead, all the while exploring the thin line between fellow-feeling and voyeurism. And like most of the author’s cautionary tales, this one has its moments of black comedy.

Also in this issue: Joshua Cohen’s review of Thomas Pynchon’s new novel, Bleeding Edge; Jeff Sharlet’s review of two documentary films about Uganda’s homophobia; and Michael Christopher Brown’s photographs of Libya’s civil war.

Single Page

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  • Maria Hodek

    “Kirk retraces Bartók’s journey through a haunted landscape, a place little changed since the composer was there in the early days of the nineteenth century with his Edison wax-cylinder recorder.”
    Please, correct the mistake in the above statement: instead of “nineteenth century” it must be “twentieth century”. Bartok traveled & collected folk songs in Transylvania at the beginning of the 20th century.

    • http://harpers.org/ Harper’s Magazine

      Fixed, thank you.



September 2014

Israel and Palestine

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Washington Is Burning

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On Free Will

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They Were Awake

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Arab artists take up — and look past — regional politics
“When everyday life regularly throws up images of terror and drama and the technological sublime, how can a photographer compete?”
“Qalandia 2087, 2009,” by Wafa Hourani
“There was torture by the previous regime and by the current Iraqi regime,” Dr. Amin said. “Torture by our Kurdish government, torture by Syrians, torture by the U.S.”
Visiting His Own Grave © Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
The Tale of the Tape·

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“Heroin isn’t the weakness Art Pepper submits to; it’s the passion he revels in.”
Photograph (detail) © Laurie Pepper
The Soft-Kill Solution·

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"Policymakers, recognizing the growing influence of civil disobedience and riots on the direction of the nation, had already begun turning to science for a response."
Illustration by Richard Mia
New Books
New Books·

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“Almond insists that watching football does more than feed an appetite for violence. It’s a kind of modern-day human sacrifice, and it makes us more likely to go to war.”
Photograph by Harold Edgerton

Chance that a movie script copyrighted in the U.S. before 1925 was written by a woman:

1 in 2

Engineers funded by the United States military were working on electrical brain implants that will enable the creation of remote-controlled sharks.

Malaysian police were seeking fifteen people who appeared in an online video of the Malaysia-International Nude Sports Games 2014 Extravaganza, and Spanish police fined six Swiss tourists conducting an orgy in the back of a moving van for not wearing their seatbelts.

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In Praise of Idleness


I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

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