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Surviving Westgate

THE NEW YORKER

September 27, 2013

By James Verini

westgate-attacks-recalled Adam arrived at Westgate a few minutes after noon last Saturday. She parked on an upper terrace in the building’s rear. Nearby, around some tents, a crowd of children and their parents were assembled for a junior-chef cooking contest. One of the mothers invited Adam over. She said that she would come back after her salon appointment. She walked into the mall, whose interior is shaped like a “d,” with stores and restaurants surrounding a central atrium. She went into the Safaricom store.

“Then I heard the sound,” she said. “PAH! There were three shots.” See Full Story


Terror At The Westgate Mall

THE NEW YORKER

September 22, 2013

By James Verini

KENYA-UNREST-ATTACK Ambulances were lining up outside Nairobi’s Westgate Shopping Mall, and helicopters circled overhead. When I arrived Saturday afternoon in the mall’s parking lot, policemen, AK-47s and pistols drawn, were running around, speaking into walkie-talkies. The crowd of journalists and onlookers was growing.

People were reporting that a dozen or more assailants, armed with automatic rifles and grenades, had stormed the mall around lunchtime. After a series of explosions, they had shot, it seemed, whomever they could—men, women, children, the elderly. Estimates of fatalities kept climbing; the siege would last through the night, and by Sunday the Kenyan government would claim fifty-nine dead, a hundred and seventy-five wounded, and dozens missing. Among them, according to news reports, were not just Kenyans, but Americans, Europeans and Canadians. See Full Story


Debate Night in Kenya

THE NEW YORKER

February 20, 2013

By James Verini

Uhuru Kenyatta, Peter Kenneth, Musalia Mudavadi, Martha Karua, Raila OdingaNext month, Kenya will elect a new President, only its fourth since it gained independence from the United Kingdom fifty years ago. And so, last week, the country held its first-ever Presidential debate. Kenyan candidates for office are usually referred to in the British manner, as aspirants, but they study American campaigns, so despite the inexperience it was a slick production. There was an hour’s worth of pre-game commentary, with cutaways to the candidates emerging from chauffeured cars at the auditorium in Nairobi. On the stage, they stood at specially designed curvy, metallic podiums, in front of ceiling-high images of the State House, Kenya’s equivalent of the White House. The moderator interrogated them through a wisp of a headset mic. The debate was broadcast on forty-two television and radio stations and livestreamed on the Internet. See Full Story


Christopher Nolan’s Games

THE NEW YORKER

July 19, 2012

By James Verini

For over a decade now, Christopher Nolan, whose “The Dark Knight Rises” opens this Friday, has been awing and taunting us with his restless blockbusters. Nolan has directed “Inception,” “The Dark Knight,” “The Prestige,” “Batman Begins,” “Insomnia,” and the independent “Memento,” which established his reputation in the summer of 2000. That film delighted everyone from university faculty to teen-agers with customized bongs. Since “Memento,” however, Nolan, though more critically praised than many directors and more commercially successful than most (“The Dark Knight” is the twelfth-highest grossing film of all time, and its sequel promises to crack the top ten), has been dismissed by many cineastes as slick and quasi-intellectual. See Full Story


The Talking Heads Song That Explains Talking Heads

THE NEW YORKER

June 14, 2012

By James Verini

In Jonathan Lethem’s new book, “Fear of Music,” a study of the Talking Heads album by the same name and a riff on his emotional history with the band, Lethem refers to an earlier essay of his on the subject: “At the peak, in 1980 or 81, my identification was so complete that I might have wished to wear the album Fear of Music in place of my head so as to be more clearly seen by those around me.” But no sooner has he quoted himself than Lethem applies the eraser of time, deciding “Like everything I’ve ever said about Talking Heads, or about any other thing I’ve loved with such dreadful longing—there’s only a few—this looks to me completely inadequate, even in the extremeness of its claims, or especially for the extremeness of its claims.” See Full Story


A Terrible Act of Reason

THE NEW YORKER

May 17, 2012

By James Verini

Suddenly, self-immolation is everywhere. Yesterday, in Oslo, a man set himself on fire outside the Anders Breivik trial. He follows at least forty Tibetans who have set themselves aflame to protest Chinese rule in the past year. There have also been a series of self-immolations in the Middle East and North Africa. In January, five young Moroccan men auto-cremated (the more accurate term; “self-immolation” technically means any form of self-destruction) following a fifty-two-year-old pensioner in Jordan and an elderly woman in Bahrain. The young men belonged to a group called Unemployed Graduates that had been occupying the Ministry of Higher Education building. They followed upon the action of Mohammed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor, whose self-immolation—inspired by the chronic poverty and corruption of his country—helped incite the Arab Spring. See Full Story