When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

TOPIC: literature


Winnetou, The Immortal: Germany's Complicated Love Affair With Native American Lore

The latest season of Germany's largest festival celebrating the adventure writer Karl May ended with a record audience. Over 430,000 visitors watched the adventures of the Native American character Winnetou, despite criticism of the story's problematic legacy from some sections.

BAD SEGEBERG — "It's simply amazing! You're dropped off in the middle of the Wild West," gushes Markus after his visit to the Karl May Festival in Bad Segeberg. He is one of over 430,000 people who have seen a stage adaptation of German adventure writer Karl May's Winnetou I on the open-air stage in Schleswig-Holstein this year. That number has broken all records for attendance in a single season of the festival.

Much was written a year ago about how the Karl May classic had fallen out of time. The trigger was a series of books and fan articles about the movie The Little Chief Winnetou, forcing the publisher Ravensburger to withdraw the titles shortly before delivery.

The reason offered by the company was that it did not want to "repeat and spread any trivializing clichés." A debate ensued as to whether and how a story from the 19th century, whose depiction of Native Americans is primarily based on the author's imagination, could be too racist, sexist and dismissive for our time.

Watch VideoShow less

A Future For Timbuktu's Ancient Books? Conservation And Digitalization

Mali's "mysterious city" welcomes a new class of students trained in looking after ancient books. From conservation to digitization of these works, a colossal task awaits them to preserve this endangered heritage and the secrets they contain.

Updated Nov. 13, 2023 at 6:30 p.m.

TIMBUKTU — In the workroom of the Ahmed-Baba Institute of Higher Studies and Islamic Research, time seems to have slowed down. As the dust and the sound of brushes on paper float by, six students hold in their hands one of the most precious heritages of the region.

Ceremoniously, they repeat the same gestures: lifting the pages, one by one, with the tip of a thin wooden spatula, then, with the flat of the brush, ridding the inks and the centuries-old papers of dust.

Keep reading...Show less

An Unearthed García Márquez Essay Collection Reveals: "Gabo, The Chronicler"

A noted expert of the late Gabriel García Márquez is putting to rest the idea that the legendary Gabo was just a fantasist and man of fiction, revealing poignant and pointed essays and literary criticism.


BOGOTÁ — Call it a miracle, of sorts: we have a new book by Gabriel García Márquez, Colombia's late and perhaps greatest novelist. In fact, with painstaking effort, Fernando Jaramillo, a recognized expert on Gabo, has made an informal or "pirate" edition of the novelist's prologues.

His prologue to De sobremesa ('After Dinner'), a late 19th century novel (written as an "anxious" diary, and published in 1925) and the only one by the poet José Asunción Silva, is Gabo's longest piece of literary criticism. He writes of a passage in the book where a character, Helena, disappears: "The style, tone and lyrical breath, all stand out in the trembling, feverish evocations and quietly exploding apparitions. The writing becomes evanescent, ghostly and more in the romantic mode than the decadent style that marks the book."

In a detailed biography of Silva, Almas en pena, chapolas negras (Pained Souls, Black Butterflies) the author Fernando Vallejo shows how that eminently middle-class gentleman was also a sharp business operator — poet or not (he killed himself in 1896). Likewise, this unique piece of prose shows us all the virtues, and vices, of Garcia Márquez.

In his prologue to a book dedicated to Argentine-French writer Julio Cortázar, García Márquez recounts a train conversation with Cortázar and Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes "crossing the divided night of the Germanies, their oceans of beetroot, immense factories of everything, and the scars of atrocious wars and boundless love affairs."

How can one invent such an implausible construction as the "divided night?"

It is of course a hypallage, as it was Germany, not the night that was divided. But it's an easy switch if you happened to be crossing the Cold War border of the two German states, in the company of two literary giants, Fuentes and Cortázar, and you're Gabo, with his immense breadth and knowledge of us all ... not to mention of the night.

Keep reading...Show less

What If Globalization Creates Vampires?

Inspired by a new book on vampires, Italian writer Chiara Valerio analyzes how the figure of the vampire has come to represent life and death over centuries of science, art and culture. When understood through a modern lens, what can the vampire tell us about our own Gothic concerns?


TURIN — What is death?

Well, let's put it like this: what is a vampire? From the moment that they first made their appearance in fiction, vampires have served as a symbol through which to understand the relationship between life and death. But did vampires exist before Gothic fiction? What did it mean to return from the dead and be nourished by blood? Could it have been not horrifying — but divine?

These are the questions that Italian writer Francesco Paolo De Ceglia asks in his book Vampyr, Storia Naturale Della Resurrezione (Vampyr: A Natural History of Resurrection). The book looks at centuries of meditations on the question of death, consisting of religious and scientific nuances, metaphors, and metonymies. Often, it all adds up to nothing more than pain.

Reading De Ceglia, it becomes clear that when understanding death, the pivotal issue is the separation between the scientific moment of death and the metaphysical question of what comes after. Today, technology can pinpoint the exact instant of death. But the threshold between life and death hasn't always been such a sharply defined one. For centuries and centuries, humans observed how the process breathing ceased and that of decomposition began, both obscuring and exposing the human body. Little wonder that an army of shadowy figures made their way into the decomposing body — the vampire being the most famous of them all.

Keep reading...Show less
Juan David Torres Duarte

Shame On The García Márquez Heirs — Cashing In On The "Scraps" Of A Legend

A decision to publish a sketchy manuscript as a posthumous novel by the late Gabriel García Márquez would have horrified Colombia's Nobel laureate, given his painstaking devotion to the precision of the written word.


BOGOTÁ — When a writer dies, there are several ways of administering the literary estate, depending on the ambitions of the heirs. One is to exercise a millimetric check on any use or edition of the author's works, in the manner of James Joyce's nephew, Stephen, who inherited his literary rights. He refused to let even academic papers quote from Joyce's landmark novel, Ulysses.

Or, you continue to publish the works, making small additions to their corpus, as with Italo Calvino, Samuel Beckett and Clarice Lispector, or none at all, which will probably happen with Milan Kundera and Cormac McCarthy.

Another way is to seek out every scrap of paper the author left and every little word that was jotted down — on a piece of cloth, say — and drip-feed them to publishers every two to three years with great pomp and publicity, to revive the writer's renown.

This has happened with the Argentine Julio Cortázar (who seems to have sold more books dead than alive), the French author Albert Camus (now with 200 volumes of personal and unfinished works) and with the Chilean author Roberto Bolaño. The latter's posthumous oeuvre is so abundant I am starting to wonder if his heirs haven't hired a ghost writer — typing and smoking away in some bedsit in Barcelona — to churn out "newly discovered" works.

Which group, I wonder, will our late, great novelist Gabriel García Márquez fit into?

Watch VideoShow less
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Mykhailo Kriegel

Elves, Orcs, Hobbits And The One Ring: Echoes Of Tolkien In The Ukraine War

Literary scholar and fiction writer Mykhailo Nazarenko discusses the would-be cast of characters of fantasy writer JRR Tolkien in Ukraine’s war against the Russian invaders.

KYIV — On the surface, JRR Tolkien’s meticulously crafted world and stories, typically associated with fantasy, may seem entirely disconnected from the very real and bitter reality of the war in Ukraine. But surprising parallels between Tolkien and the war have emerged.

On Aug. 24, 2015, former President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko likened the concept of “Novorossiya” or “New Russia,” a territory the Kremlin seeks to carve out in Eastern and Southern Ukraine, to Mordor, the realm inhabited by Sauron, the main antagonist of the Lord of the Rings. Additionally, Ukrainians often refer to Russian soldiers as orcs, the creatures who fight in the armies of Mordor.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

But Ukrainians do not solely resort to Tolkien's vocabulary to describe the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. In an interview with the Ukrainian online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda, literary scholar and fiction writer Mykhailo Nazarenko, discusses how Tolkien's stories resonate in the war in Ukraine, and how people turn to mythology to comprehend extraordinary events. Furthermore, Nazarenko explains how Tolkien can uplift the Ukrainians' morale during the war.

Watch VideoShow less
Martin Krause

Jorge Luis Borges, Resurfacing On The Edges Of Libertarianism

The vigorous liberalism of Argentina's literary giant, Jorge Luis Borges, and his disdain for the 20th century's oppressive regimes, may yet make him an icon of today's youthful, if less learned, libertarians.


BUENOS AIRES — More and more young people are drawn today to libertarian ideas, where personal freedoms are valued over state intervention.

The youth of Argentina appear to find this ideology attractive, despite the disdain shown them by our intellectual élites and politicians. Many must wonder why the best trained and most educated members of society would despise the current, or may have felt they were "wrongly" moving against the tide.

But they needn't feel alone, for they have on their side the most important figure in our cultural history: the late novelist Jorge Luis Borges. With uncertainty clouding (until recently) the fate of his estate, and his literary legacy in posterity's hands, his political ideas may be said to be within reach of our youth.

Watch VideoShow less
Radim Kopáč

Identity And Dissolution, A Czech Farewell To Milan Kundera

A week has passed since the passing of the Czech-born author of the novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being Milan Kundera in his Paris apartment. Having emigrated to France in 1975 after being ostracized for criticizing the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, his relationship with his homeland would remain complicated for decades.


PRAGUE — Milan Kundera's lifelong dream has finally been fulfilled. He disappeared behind his literary work, became invisible, and left in his wake only a shelf of beautifully crafted books that serve as the ideal portrait of the author — a portrait reflecting his journey, with Laughable Loves on one side and The Festival of Insignificance on the other.

Through novels like The Joke, Life is Elsewhere, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Immortality, through essays titled The Art of the Novel, Testaments Betrayed, The Curtain, and Encounter, Milan Kundera left behind half a century's worth of authorial work and a legacy unparalleled in modern Czech literature.

He left behind an extensive library, translated in some 50 languages. Perhaps only Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk — the most translated novel of Czech literature — tops this remarkable feat.

Born on April 1, 1929, in the Czech city of Brno, Milan Kundera, a resident of France since the age of 46 and a globally renowned author by the 1980s, possessed a remarkable ability beyond his evident literary talent: the ability to provoke.

Watch VideoShow less
Julio César Londoño

An Atheist's Prayer For Holy Week

Atheists may not have been blessed with faith, but God has graced them with a mischievous wit and a love of the arts that has led to some of the most beautiful depictions of religion.


BOGOTÁ — It's the culmination of Holy Week, the most sacred period in the Christian liturgical calendar. Like a religion, atheism has its sects: there are the pious atheists and radical atheists. The latter are its guerrillas, such as the French novelist Émile Zola, who declared civilization would peak once the last stone of the last church had fallen.

Or the German writer Friedrich Nietzsche, who "rushed" to cleanse himself every time a religious man rubbed against him.

The Greek philosopher Epicurus speculated that if God wanted to but could not prevent evil, He was not omnipotent. And if He could but would not, then He was plainly mean! Where does evil come from, he asked, if God is willing and able to stop it, and why call Him God if He cannot, or will not?

Watch VideoShow less
Juan Cruz

From Arrabal To Me — Chance, Forgetting And The Engines Of Creativity

A bit like the playwright Fernando Arrabal who launched an artistic project of decades after spotting a several disjointed phrases, our columnist reflects on the anodyne coincidences that led him to write these words.


MADRID — In art, everything is fortuitous. And so too in the piece you are reading...

In the 1960s, the Spanish playwright and artist Fernando Arrabal founded the Panic Movement, named after Pan, the Greek god of nature — and pranks. The inspiration for the artistic departure came to Arrabal when he placed two books on a big table and opened them at random. The first phrase to catch his eye was "the future acts," and then in the second book, "through coups de théâtre."

Thus a fortuitous adage, that "the future acts through coups de théâtre" or dramatic turns, became a creative spark and strangely presaged the exuberant "chaos" of the riots of May 1968.

Arrabal wanted at the time to distance himself from Surrealism, a current with which he is associated and which is equally fond of disorder. With the help of the Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky and the cartoonist Roland Topor, he duly turned a post-war period still weighed with conservative torpor, into creative years.

Arrabal, who is 90 and lives in Paris, liked to startle his Catholic compatriots, painting himself in the company of Jesus at the Last Supper. He once scribbled 'I shit on the fatherland' (me cago en la patria) on one of his books.

Watch VideoShow less

The Writing World Turns A New Leaf As Authors Enter The Age Of Authentication

The internet has brought about a Golden Age for authors, making it easier to share their work and connect with others in the writing community. It has also led to the rise of new risks, such as large-scale piracy, theft and plagiarism. For writers, the key to a harmonious future may very well reside in a new generation of secure platforms allowing them to publish through authenticated accounts.

In today's digital age, writers have a multitude of options to showcase their work to a global audience. Websites, blogs and social media provide a platform for writers to publish their work, network with other writers, and build their online presence.

But this online ecosystem can also sometimes feel like a lawless jungle, where a writer’s works can be freely copied, plagiarized and reused in all impunity — and without the author being able to do anything about it. To ensure the integrity of their work and protect their interests, it is becoming increasingly essential for writers to turn to authenticated accounts.

Watch VideoShow less
Reinaldo Spitaletta

Kafka And Dostoevsky: Was 'The Trial' A Hidden Rewriting Of 'Crime And Punishment'?

A Colombian student of Franz Kafka insists works by the 20th century Czech author, like The Trial, are so close to Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment as to be versions of it — creating potential trouble for European publishing houses.

BOGOTÁ After years of scrutiny and research, a Colombian mathematician armed with with tables and calculations has made what he says is a shocking literary discovery: The Trial, Franz Kafka's celebrated 1915 depiction of a nonsensical trial for an unspecified crime, is a rewritten version of Fyodor Dostoevsky's classic Crime and Punishment.

A Medellín-born teacher and fan of detective stories, Guillermo Sánchez Trujillo believes he has solved one of the great literary mysteries of modern times, both in identifying the source of The Trial and the order of its chapters, which seemed to have evaded Kafka students for a century.

The Trial, he says, is a palimpsest, or a "hidden rewriting," of Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky's 1866 story of a murder investigation set in late imperial Russia.

This astounding conclusion has earned Sánchez a not small amount of disapproval, and even obstruction, from the literary and publishing realms. In 2005, he published "a critical edition" of The Trial (in Spanish), in the order he believed was intended by its author.

Watch VideoShow less