But lately the sacred job of protecting France from “brainless Globish” and the “deadly snobbery of Anglo-American,” as a member spat out in a speech last month, has rarely been more difficult to attain.
Four vacancies — lifelong tenures — have opened since December 2016, and the members cannot even fill the first one. Three times they have voted, most recently in late January, and three times they have failed to achieve a majority.
The deadlock, some academy members say, reflects France’s own — between the proud, timeless France determined to preserve itself at all costs, and the France struggling to adapt to a 21st century defined by globalization, migration and social upheaval, witnessed in the “Yellow Vest” revolt.
N/naka has often been miscategorized as a sushi restaurant, the style of Japanese dining establishment most familiar to Americans. But sushi and kaiseki are in many ways opposites. Sushi is as much a culinary performance as it is a category of food. The itamae (head chef), usually wearing a kimono and a headband, prepares your maki and nigiri right in front of you. There’s theatre in slicing the fish, brushing on the sauces, shaping the rice between agile fingers; there’s banter with the customers, and macho jockeying with other chefs behind the bar. In a sushi tasting menu, or omakase, the chef is free to improvise the meal as he goes along, choosing whatever fish looks best. (The word “omakase” means “I trust you.”) Kaiseki, by contrast, has a predetermined flow, its interrelated courses incorporating dozens—if not hundreds—of ingredients and techniques to form a single narrative arc. Even the most exorbitant sushi omakase can be over with in forty-five minutes; a kaiseki meal takes hours to unfold. Junko Sakai, a Japanese writer, has likened a sushi chef’s approach to that of an essayist, and a kaiseki chef’s to that of a novelist.
And yet kaiseki does not broadcast its own cleverness. There is no futuristic culinary chemistry or flamboyant tableside showmanship. Its practitioners talk about it almost as a form of service, a subordination of the self. When I met Nakayama, she told me that, in kaiseki, “the ingredients are more important than you, the cooking is more important than you. Everything about the food is more important than you, and you have to respect that.” She added, “There’s a part of it that’s really prideful and ambitious, and yet it tries to hold itself back.”
When my father was a child, the estate was 42 acres, but when his parents divorced, he returned to the mainland with his mother and didn’t go back, or see his father, for 25 years. When he did return, in July 1973, he had a Ph.D., a wife and a baby daughter, and the estate had been subdivided. My grandfather had managed to keep the original house, the Great House and two acres. We went back the following summer, when I was 3, and that is the last time any of us saw Mafolie.
My father is a university professor, a scientist skeptical of what he calls my “humanist love of place.” And yet he was the one who kept a framed pair of maps of St. Thomas, the biggest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, on the wall behind his dining room chair all the years I was growing up. He is the one who said the view from Mafolie had been described as the “eighth wonder of the world,” and told me about my grandfather playing horseshoes in the evening, his cocktail in a glass the shape of a bud vase so it could be slipped into his shirt pocket. I share my father’s deep love of his second landscape, the Connecticut River valley, but this first, tropical place was a mystery to me.
The last thing Morgan Stickney remembers from before her lower leg was amputated is lying on a hospital gurney waiting for the anesthesia to take hold. With a debilitating fear racing through her mind, she asked her surgeon to hold her hand. They talked about swimming until she passed out.
“It’s the last moment I had with two legs,” she said. “I was in the pool, the most happy place for me.”
The book is not perfect: it gets silly at times, and there are often excessive sentences or stray clunkers. It’s an early novel, and the author is no longer around to make it better. But it also has achingly beautiful passages, and its lessons about the reach of American policy resonate to this day. A superbly talented young man wrote it, in 1984, believing that truth reached through art was the only means to revolution. In this sense, it reads like a dispatch from beyond the grave. “The soul of the dead author” is present in the novel, Bolaño wrote, “along with the other ghosts.”
But taken all together, in its entirety — taken as a full, sweeping, fictionalized tale rooted and grounded in very real tragedy — The Border becomes a book for our times. Like Shakespeare, it makes a three-act drama of our modern moment. Like Shakespeare's plays, it shows us a world that is our own, a history that is our own, a burden that is our own, rendered out into the rhythm of scenes and arcs, chapters and parts.
Not WB Yeats, then, as Tony Wilson always claimed of Ryder (Wilson chose Happy Mondays’ Bob’s Yer Uncle, a song about dirty sex, to be played at his funeral). But not captions either. Unique, hilarious, vicious, oddly logical, Ryder’s lyrics are all his own.
Lasdun doesn’t put a foot wrong in either story: both are suspenseful and truthful, familiar in their subject matter but audacious in their conclusions. If future scholars want to know what the hell was going on with sex and power at this moment in history, Victory won’t be a bad place to start.
More than 30 years on, Adam Higginbotham tells the story of the disaster and its gruesome aftermath with thriller-like flair. Midnight in Chernobyl is wonderful and chilling. It is a tale of hubris and doomed ambition, featuring Communist party bosses and hapless engineers, victims and villains, confusion and cover-up.
has a roundness like an apple,
and that even an apple is made
of planes, minute horizontals
and verticals, ruby and russet
and freckled and spackled
and black. And that silence