Afsoon, Shah and His Three Queens from the series Fairytale Icons, 2009, chromogenic prints, 16 5/8 × 23 1/4 in. each, collection of Leila Taghinia-Milani Heller, New York, © Afsoon, photo courtesy Leila Heller Gallery, New York
Los Angeles Review of Books: This Week


“2005 Iraq is a byproduct of several utopias gone awry: Saddam Hussein’s anti-imperialism and Arab nationalism provided great inspiration within Iraq and throughout the Middle East before proving to be disastrous, and the United States’s ‘democracy-building’ inflamed existing problems and created entirely new ones in the process. Frankenstein in Baghdad may not be speculative, but its reality portrays the aftermath of these utopic pursuits and, in doing so, offers science fiction a blueprint for how to address less speculative dystopias.” Sam Metz praises Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad, translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright, and speculates about the state of dystopian fiction in dystopian times.
“Apocalyptic visions are in vogue, it seems: Mounk’s book on contemporary threats to liberal democracy, subtitled Why Our Freedom Is in Danger & How to Save It, might easily be sold as part of a millenarian package deal with Steven Levitsky’s and Daniel Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die, Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny, and Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West.” Jonny Thakkar and Benjamin Cunningham offer two balanced takes on Yascha Mounk’s “spirited call to arms,” The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom is in Danger and How to Save It.
“For all the affinities between Nixonian and Trumpian cultural power, the most consequential difference may be that, despite the various kinds of social turmoil in 1968, Nixon presided over a nation of comparatively prosperous economic stability. In the absence of such stability today, the metastases of Trumpian cultural power are likely to lead to greater and greater malignancy.” Carl Freedman examines the cultural power dynamics that link Nixon and Trump.
On BLARBJulian Smith-Newman argues that rent control keeps prices down for everyone.


Alexander C. Kafka admires James Wood’s Upstate, an “unassuming, carefully crafted story about devotion and quiet commitment.”
Nathan Scott McNamara marvels at the “mad performances” in Helen DeWitt’s Some Trick: Thirteen Stories.
Kieran Setiya gives serious thought to Jennifer Summit and Blakey Vermeule’s “engaging new book,” Action versus Contemplation: Why an Ancient Debate Still Matters.


Basma Abdel Aziz writes of the “drying up of dissent” in Egypt, translated from the Arabic by Henry Peck.
Jeremiah Jenne tells the story of Tian Han, who wrote the Chinese national anthem and was purged during the Cultural Revolution.
Marcel Krueger reviews Ben Myers’s Under the Rock: The Poetry of a Place.
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The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents In the Fields of Empty Days: The Intersection of Past and Present in Iranian Art, a groundbreaking exhibition of both historical and contemporary Iranian works that highlight ways in which artists have used and continue to use the past as a metaphor for the present day. This notion is revealed in art and literature in which ancient kings and heroes are used in later contexts as examples of virtue or as objects of derision, while long-gone Shi‘ite saints are evoked as champions of the poor and the oppressed. Particularly timely to American audiences is the exhibition’s exploration of how Iranian artists negotiate the politically charged issues of governance and faith in creating objects both novel and relevant. The featured image in this week’s newsletter is by Afsoon, Shah and His Three Queens  from the series Fairytale Icons, 2009, chromogenic prints, 16 5/8 × 23 1/4 in. each, collection of Leila Taghinia-Milani Heller, New York, © Afsoon, photo courtesy Leila Heller Gallery, New York.
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