Tina Brown's Must-Reads: How Places Shape People
Tina Brown, editor of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, checks in again with the recommended-reading feature Morning Edition likes to call Word of Mouth.
This month, Brown selects a book and pair of articles about people shaped by unique places and situations — whether they be uprisings half a world away or police investigations in America's largest city.
'Libya's Revolutionary Road'
Brown's first recommendation is a New York Times Magazine article titled 'On Libya's Revolutionary Road.'
"What was great about it is that it goes in close to these rebels," she says. "In the vignettes that it gives, and in the portrait of Benghazi, you really get a sense of this crazy culture that's been shaped by this lunatic [Libyan leader Moammar] Gadhafi. It's kind of inconceivable to us that this kind of living situation is what people have been dealing with in this town and that we've paid no attention to at all."
She also points out a passage from the story, written by Robert F. Worth, to emphasize the living conditions in Benghazi under Gadhafi's rule:
Residents say he redirected raw sewage into the lagoon by its downtown, so that a foul stench drifts over the plaza nearby.
A passage about a mild-mannered family man named Mahdi Ziu, who loaded gas tanks into his car and drove into a government-controlled gate, similarly gives a sense of people driven to their breaking points.
"He turned himself into a flaming mission of destruction," Brown says. "And you have to admire these people enormously for the kind of desperation they've lived in for so long and then you see it snapping in the most incredible way."
In another passage, Worth recounts how a man named Emad al-Imam was captured and tortured by Libyan soldiers in the Katiba, a military compound in the heart of Benghazi, only to wake up in a hospital after rebels captured the city. He later left the hospital, stumbling home to discover his family holding a wake in his memory.
"He walked literally into his own funeral," Brown says. "These are the kinds of dramas that are taking place every second in Libya that are wonderful to read about up close. It's not what you're getting, obviously, from the TV big picture. This is about getting in at the worm's eye and seeing what they're dealing with."
Power Struggles And Expert Reporting In Yemen
Brown's next choice is an article by The New Yorker's Dexter Filkins, who writes from Yemen and provides portraits of the protests in the country.
The article describes how President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled Yemen since 1978, took over after the former leader, Ahmad al-Ghashmi, was killed by an exploding briefcase.
"This is that kind of stuff they take for granted here," she says. "That an exploding briefcase can get rid of the president."
Saleh's long tenure as Yemen's ruler, the article argues, is partially due to his lack of ties to any true ideology.
"He's really all about just staying in power," Brown explains.
Filkins' strength, she adds, is his ability to get colorful quotes from people.
"He has a great eye for a quote," she says, referencing a passage where a Western official who tells Filkins that "[Saleh's] character is entirely situational. Generally speaking, he's more interested in transmitting than in receiving."
Filkins builds a robust cast of characters, including an Islamist with questionable allegiances to the official Yemeni opposition group and a Yemeni advisors who fears that the country will fracture without Saleh.
"[T]here are many characters, which is what's so great about Dexter's piece," Brown says. "There are these people now who are completely cynical and expedient who are just simply sitting on the sidelines waiting for where the power goes."
A New York City Cop Dives Into Fiction In 'Red On Red'
Bringing her selections stateside, Brown's last choice is Red On Red, a novel set in New York City and written by former NYPD officer Edward Conlon.
"[Y]ou're reading about another kind of New York City from the ones that inhabit the daily news columns," she says. "This is the undercurrent that works through the sort of subculture of crime and poverty in New York City."
The novel, which focuses on a detective and his partner as they investigate an corruption among their fellow officers, an alleged suicide, and gang-on-gang violence, makes use of Conlon's "great sense of the sleazy world of pushers and rapists." In one passage, he describes the NYPD's office of central booking:
It had its own brand of air, sometimes strong, sometimes milder, but always with the same blend of resentment and despair and day's old underwear funk.
Despite Brown's praise for Red On Red, however, she explains that the real-world stories of revolution trump any fiction.
"I was totally gripped for five hours on an airplane by this book — it's a different kind of hell," she says. "But, I don't think anything right now is quite as gripping as these foreign stories from these Arab countries."
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