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October 2012


This month we explore the role of oil in the international landscape. Oil transforms nations, links disparate political and social ideologies, breeds conflict, and drives governmental and corporate policy; our writers show how this force, both blessing and curse, shapes lives and literature around the world. We begin with an essay by political scientist Michael L. Ross connecting oil wealth and national development. Russian Booker nominee and award-winning short-story writer Alexander Snegiryov presents the (show) business of oil in Russia. In two graphic pieces, Lebanon's Mazen Kerbaj mourns what's left of his pillaged country, and Italy's Davide Reviati grows up in the shadow of Ravenna's ominous petrochemical plant. Translator Peter Theroux shows how Abdelrahman Munif's great Cities of Salt runs on oil. Afrikaans star Etienne van Heerden's solitary South African experiences hydrofracking firsthand, while science fiction writer Andreas Eschbach's stolid loner taps a sixth sense for oil. In two tales of oil workers, Argentina's María Sonia Cristoff and Germany's Anja Kampmann explore solitude, madness, and other occupational hazards. And poet Stephen E. Kekeghe protests the draining of Nigeria. 

In our second feature, Maaza Mengiste, author of Beneath the Lion's Gaze, introduces three pieces connecting Ethiopia and Italy. Italo-Ethiopian novelist Gabriella Ghermandi returns to her homeland to honor her father, graphic novelist Paolo Castaldi tracks a tragic emigration, and poet Surafel Wondimu curses the gods.

Abdelrahman Munif and the Uses of Oil
By Peter Theroux
“The most fabulous geological event since the explosion of Krakatoa surely was the discovery of oceans of petroleum beneath the dark and backward Muslim realms of the Persian Gulf.” …
The Beginning and End of the Oil Curse?
By Michael L. Ross
Why does oil wealth so often become a curse for developing states?  In the developing world, oil-producing states are fifty percent more likely to be ruled by autocrats, and more than twice as likely…
Petroleum Venus
By Alexander Snegiryov
“Vanya, why are you sitting in the dark?”“I’m looking at the picture,” came the imperturbable reply.“What picture?” What new fantasy had come into his mind? I walked up behind him and put a hand on his…
Translated from Russian by Arch Tait
from “Poison Karoo”
By Etienne van Heerden
Author’s Note: Poison Karoo is a work of fiction, written out of concern and dismay at the proposals for hydraulic fracking in the Karoo. Ludo is an old man, gray now and with eyes that grow bluer…
Translated from Afrikaans by Isobel Dixon
By Andreas Eschbach
Karl Walter Block was the only son of Irmgard Block (née Mucek) and Heinrich Maria Block. Heinrich had been a captain during the war and worked in an important secret office in Berlin until, for…
Translated from German by Anne Posten
State of Hypnosis
By María Sonia Cristoff
María Sonia Cristoff returned to her native Patagonia to investigate parts of the region, once flush with profits from the oil industry, that have become, either from dirty politics or global commerce,…
Translated from Spanish by Sarah Ann Wells
I Remember
By Gabriella Ghermandi
I remember the summer storms during the rainy season when the wind flung open the windows and lifted the contents of the rooms in a swirling dance. Streaks of lightening lit up the gray sky and the thunder…
Translated from Italian by Victoria Offredi Poletto & Giovanna Bellesia-Contuzzi
Pulse beyond the Horizon
By Anja Kampmann
After the water, there was nothing. And if you looked long enough at the horizon, you could make out a stillness that transformed when the waves crashed against the rig's legs and the rusted steel…
Translated from German by Annie Janusch
The World Between: Writing from Ethiopia and Italy
By Maaza Mengiste
Ethiopia has historically been a closed country, shielded by difficult geography and fiercely protective leaders who mistrusted the ever-invasive, ever-greedy foreigners that did manage to come in. In…
When Can We Be Sane?
By Stephen E. Kekeghe
We reel shamelessly in joyful shrillness For the gloomy glimmer of blinking lights Nursing our failing consciences In the cold slab of childish ego   I remember Coleridge’s sea  Without…
Translated from Urhobo by Stephen E. Kekeghe
By Surafel Wondimu
Hallelujah for Demos, Hurray for the glory of Kratos! The barren relic of Old Athena A figment from the famed city of yore.   A toast for Demokratia The monument to the triumph of self-rule For the…
Translated from Amharic by Fasil Yitbarek