Editor's Note — July 18, 2017, 12:19 pm

Inside the August Issue

David Wong Louie, Sarah A. Topol, Helen Vendler, Philip Roth, and more…

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are,” wrote Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in his epicurean bible, The Physiology of Taste. But what are we when we can eat no longer? It is a question most of us will never have to answer, since we go on noshing until we are a stone’s throw from the grave. David Wong Louie, alas, has not been so lucky. In 2011, this lifelong gourmand was informed that he had a cancerous tumor in his throat, which would prevent him indulging his greatest passion. “I loved to chew and swallow,” he writes. “My desire for food had the urgency of lust; I was constantly horny.” As he recounts in “Eat, Memory,” he was soon reduced to ingesting therapeutic smoothies from a feeding tube, and there is certainly an elegiac note to his chronicle—a farewell to what now strikes him as a culinary paradise lost. “Chewing was glorious,” he recalls. “Swallowing was king.” Yet he has lost none of his ability to evoke the sensuousness that makes even a half-decent meal an erotic experience—and, with surprising frequency, a kind of romance.

In “Sons and Daughters,” Sarah A. Topol visits a tiny village in the Dominican Republic where a genetic mutation has led to a prevalence of intersex children—that is, where children seem to transform from girls into boys at the onset of puberty. There are all sorts of ethical and scientific riddles posed by the population of Las Salinas, including the question of whether such children benefit from early corrective surgery. But the author is more interested in how easily the intersex inhabitants are accepted by their fellow villagers, especially given the prevalent machismo of Dominican culture. Closer to home, Richard Manning chronicles a transformation of political life in America’s Mountain West, where environmentalism is no longer the exclusive purview of tree-hugging liberals but a major driver of progressive change. As he writes in “Political Climbers,” public lands form the backbone of the region’s cultural identity and economy, and the struggle to preserve them may also offer an escape from the cul-de-sac of identity politics.

Elsewhere, we have an extraordinary portfolio of drawings by Olivier Kugler, bringing to life Syrian refugees who have resettled in England and Germany. Walter Kirn writes about the return of the dystopian note to American culture, and its latest iteration in Y.A. fiction, whose “story lines capture perfectly the plight of the adolescent psyche as it begins to chafe against authority.” Anthony Amsterdam contributes two poems, Helen Vendler delves into the expansionist ardor of A. R. Ammons’s verse, and in Akil Kumarasamy’s story, “New World,” Sri Lankan independence is the occasion for festivities, an Old Testament tempest, and at least one likely murder. Last but not least, in Readings, we have short works by Philip Roth and Patrick Modiano, and a list of dubious over-the-counter sexual-enhancement drugs including Anaconda, Cave Diver, O.M.G., Hard Wang, and the esteem-boosting Big Penis Male.

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Afew months before the United States invaded Iraq, in 2003, Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary at the time, was asked on a radio show how long the war would take. “Five days or five weeks or five months,” he replied. “It certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.” When George W. Bush departed the White House more than five years later, there were nearly 136,000 US soldiers stationed in the country. 

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Before he died, my father reminded me that when I was four and he asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to be a writer. Of course, what I meant by “writer” then was a writer of Superman comics. In part I was infatuated with the practically invulnerable Man of Steel, his blue eyes and his spit curl. I wanted both to be him and to marry him—to be his Robin, so to speak. But more importantly, I wanted to write his story, the adventures of the man who fought for truth, justice, and the American Way—if only I could figure out what the fuck the American Way was.

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Sarah was four years old when her spirit guide first appeared. One day, she woke up from a nap and saw him there beside her bed. He was short, with longish curly hair, like a cherub made of light. She couldn’t see his feet. They played a board game—she remembers pushing the pieces around—and then he melted away.

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In the fall of 1969, I was a freelance journalist working out of a small, cheap office I had rented on the eighth floor of the National Press Building in downtown Washington. A few doors down was a young Ralph Nader, also a loner, whose exposé of the safety failures in American automobiles had changed the industry. There was nothing in those days quite like a quick lunch at the downstairs coffee shop with Ralph. Once, he grabbed a spoonful of my tuna-fish salad, flattened it out on a plate, and pointed out small pieces of paper and even tinier pieces of mouse shit in it. He was marvelous, if a bit hard to digest.

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The family was informed they would be moving to a place called Montana. Jaber Abdullah had never heard of it, but a Google search revealed that it was mountainous. Up to that point, he and his wife, Heba, had thought they’d be moving from Turkey to Newark, New Jersey. The prospect of crime there concerned Heba, as she and Jaber had two young sons: Jan, a petulant two-year-old, and Ivan, a newborn. 

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