The Paris Review

Staff Picks: Trick Mirrors, Summer Beers, and Bedazzled Pianos

Photo: M. Sharkey

All of the essays in Alexander Chee’s marvelous collection  are striking, but I found the shortest essay, simply titled “1989,” the most arresting. In four pages, he describes his participation in an protest in San Francisco—his first protest. As the procession moves into an intersection, the protesters block traffic; they are immediately surrounded by riot police, who begin to brutally drive them off. Chee climbs atop a newspaper box, with a view to the scene, and describes the rise and fall of batons with dispassionate shock, eventually climbing down from his perch to rescue a beaten friend. “This is the country I live in,” he realizes in, atop a knoll, observing the horrors of the Battle of Borodino. In shock and fear, he plunges down the slope and thinks, “Now they will be horrified at what they have done!” They aren’t, of course, and this seems to be the same conclusion Chee comes to: the feeling of incredulousness that violence and death are served up so openly—in a field, in a street—before so many watching eyes. Chee’s essay takes place during an protest but with other details it could easily be about the Holocaust, the Syrian war, or the United States, ca. 2018.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

Related Interests

More from The Paris Review

The Paris Review6 min read
Poetry Rx: Then the Letting Go
In our column Poetry Rx, readers write in with a specific emotion, and our resident poets—Sarah Kay, Kaveh Akbar, and Claire Schwartz—take turns prescribing the perfect poems to match. This column has run weekly for over a year, and now, our dear and
The Paris Review12 min read
Taking on Edward Abbey: An Interview with Amy Irvine
Amy Irvine (Courtesy Torrey House Press) Amy Irvine is a writer and a mother, a competitive rock climber, an activist, a caregiver, and a truth teller. (She is also a friend.) Her latest book, Desert Cabal, is a fiercely tender and provocative respon
The Paris Review4 min read
Something Always Remains
Some people collect rocks. Others collect stamps. Peter Merlin, a former NASA archivist who’s become a leading expert on military aircraft and Area 51, collects the physical remnants of government secrets. As he explains in the artist Trevor Paglen’s