Wednesday, October 5, 2016
October 3, 2016, Issue
Notes on this week’s issue:
1. Jon Lee Anderson’s “The Cuba Play” is one of 2016’s most absorbing reporting pieces. It tells the story of Obama’s Cuba project, beginning with a remarkable scene – Obama on stage at La Cerveceria, on Havana Harbor, speaking directly to the Cuban people about entrepreneurship – then cutting to Anderson’s interview with Obama (“A few weeks later, in the Oval Office, I asked Obama about the reaction”), then moving into a remarkable reconstruction of the string of events leading to the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations, including the famous handshake between Obama and Raúl Castro at Nelson Mendela’s funeral (“Castro wore an expression of flustered delight”), secret negotiations in Ottawa, the transfer of a vial of sperm of a Cuban spy, and a covert letter from Pope Francis to Obama. Anderson has discussed some of these events before in his “News Desk” posts on newyorker.com. But in “The Cuba Play,” he masterfully draws it all together, combining it with fascinating quotations from his personal interviews with Obama and other key players. If you consider the opening with Cuba one of Obama's major accomplishments, as I do, you’ll surely appreciate Anderson’s great “The Cuba Play.”
2. I relish descriptions of scent. There are two dandies in this week’s issue: Jiayang Fan’s “Just then, the chocolate fondue arrived, halting the conversation with its exhalation of cinnamon and coconut” (“Tables For Two: Ladybird”), and Ian Frazier’s “He ordered a decaf espresso and asked the waiter to top it off with Sambuca. A smell of licorice rose” (“Don’t Tread On Me”).
3. I’m not crazy about pop music, but Hua Hsu’s “Word of Mouth,” on Bon Iver’s digitally manipulated sound, impinged my consciousness with this inspired line: “Speech synthesizers often make a song sound as though someone were running a leaky fluorescent highlighter across its lyrics.”