Sunday 31 January 2021

'Finally some justice': court rules Shell Nigeria must pay for oil damage

Nigerian farmers win claim for compensation in The Hague after 13-year battle

A Dutch court has ordered Shell Nigeria to compensate farmers for major oil spills they say caused widespread pollution.

On Friday an appeals court in The Hague rejected Shell’s argument that the spills were the result of sabotage, saying not enough evidence had been provided.

The court ordered Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary to compensate the farmers for the losses caused by the oil spills in the two villages of Goi and Oruma in 2004 and 2005. The amount of compensation had not yet been decided.

It also ruled the parent company, Royal Dutch Shell, and its subsidiary must install warning equipment on its Oruma pipelines to limit the environmental damage in case of another spill.

Eric Barizah, chief of Nigeria’s Goi community in Rivers State, shows oil pollution from leaks in the Niger delta. Photograph: EPA

The court said Shell Nigeria had not done enough to clean the soil around the sites of the spills.

The farmers claiming compensation argued the damage was caused by oil leaking from the pipeline, which could have been prevented if Shell had installed the correct detection systems.

“Finally, there is some justice for the Nigerian people suffering the consequences of Shell’s oil,” said Eric Dooh, one of the Nigerian plaintiffs, in a statement released by Friends of the Earth Netherlands, which supported the case. “This verdict brings hope for the future of the people in the Niger delta.”

Dooh’s father was one of two complainants who died during the case, which has gone on for 13 years.

The Hague appeals court ruled in 2015 that Dutch courts had jurisdiction in the case, seven years after the four farmers first sued, and after debate over whether Shell’s parent company should be held liable for the Nigerian subsidiary’s actions.

“This is fantastic news for the environment and people living in developing countries,” said Friends of the Earth’s Netherlands head, Donald Pols.

“It means people in developing countries can take on the multinationals who do them harm.”

Shell Nigeria said in a statement it still believed the spills were caused by sabotage and was disappointed by the ruling. “Sabotage, crude oil theft and illegal refining are a major challenge in the Niger delta,” it said.

“Like all Shell-operated ventures globally, we are committed to operating safely and protecting the local environment.”

The court also ruled Shell had proved sabotage was the cause of a third spill, at an oilwell in the village of Ikot Ada Udo, but it had not decided whether Shell was liable for the damage.

(Source: The Guardian)

Covid linked to risk of mental illness and brain disorder, study suggests

 One in eight people who get coronavirus also have first psychiatric or neurological illness within six months, research finds

One in eight people who have had Covid-19 are diagnosed with their first psychiatric or neurological illness within six months of testing positive for the virus, a new analysis suggests, adding heft to an emerging body of evidence that stresses the toll of the virus on mental health and brain disorders cannot be ignored.

The analysis – which is still to be peer-reviewed – also found that those figures rose to one in three when patients with a previous history of psychiatric or neurological illnesses were included.

It found that one in nine patients were also diagnosed with things such as depression or stroke despite not having gone to hospital when they had Covid-19, which was surprising, said the lead author, Dr Max Taquet of the department of psychiatry at the University of Oxford.

Research that suggests the virus can have an impact on the brain and the central nervous system is emerging. Photograph: MachineHeadz/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The researchers used electronic health records to evaluate 236,379 hospitalised and non-hospitalised US patients with a confirmed diagnosis of Covid-19 who survived the disease, comparing them with a group diagnosed with influenza, and a cohort diagnosed with respiratory tract infections between 20 January and 13 December 2020.

The analysis, which accounted for known risk factors such as age, sex, race, underlying physical and mental conditions and socio-economic deprivation, found that the incidence of neurological or psychiatric conditions post-Covid within six months was 33.6%. Nearly 13% received their first such diagnosis.

The data adds to prior research by Taquet and others that showed nearly one in five people who have had Covid-19 are diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder within three months of testing positive for the virus.

In the latest analysis, the researchers found that most diagnoses were more common after Covid-19, than after influenza or other respiratory infections – including stroke, acute bleeding inside the skull or brain, dementia, and psychotic disorders.

Overall, Covid-19 was associated with increased risk of these diagnoses, but the incidence was greater in patients who required hospital treatment, and markedly so in those who developed brain disease.

The question was how long these conditions might persist after diagnosis, said Taquet. “I don’t think we have an answer to that question yet.”

He added: “For diagnoses like a stroke or an intracranial bleed, the risk does tend to decrease quite dramatically within six months … but for a few neurological and psychiatric diagnoses we don’t have the answer about when it’s going to stop.”

The likelihood that a proportion of patients who were given psychiatric or neurological diagnosis after Covid-19 had underlying illness that just hadn’t been diagnosed previously, could not be entirely ruled out – but the analysis indicated that this was not the case, he suggested.

Patients with influenza and other respiratory infections saw their doctor more often than patients with Covid-19, he said, adding that diagnoses such as an intracranial bleed or stroke could not be hidden for long and were usually diagnosed in emergency rooms.

Although the study does not prove that Covid-19 is directly behind these psychiatric and neurological conditions, research that suggests the virus can have an impact on the brain and the central nervous system is emerging.

The analysis should also be also interpreted with caution, given it is possible that the first entry of a diagnosis into the electronic database might not represent the first occurrence of the condition. Such records are also typically lacking in other relevant information such as housing density, family size, employment and immigration status.

Dr Tim Nicholson, a psychiatrist and clinical lecturer at King’s College hospital who was not involved in the analysis, said the findings would help steer researchers in the direction of which neurological and psychiatric complications required further careful study.

“I think particularly this raises a few disorders up the list of interests, particularly dementia and psychosis … and pushes a few a bit further down the list of potential importance, including Guillain-Barré syndrome.”

(Source: The Guardian)

Saturday 30 January 2021

Why Malayalam breakout film ‘The Great Indian Kitchen’ is ‘the story of most Indian women’

 Director Jeo Baby discussed the making of his acclaimed new movie, which was released on Neestream on January 15.

In 2017, Malayalam filmmaker Jeo Baby, his wife Beena and their newborn found themselves spending more time than usual in their kitchen. The “frustration” at having to constantly cook and clean inspired a movie that has received rave reviews across the board, especially from women.

Nimisha Sajayan in The Great Indian Kitchen (2021) | Mankind Cinemas/Symmetry Cinemas/Cinema Cooks

The Great Indian Kitchen, which is available on the streaming platform Neestream, examines the drudgery of housework through the experiences of an unnamed recently married woman (Nimisha Sajayan). The wife’s physical and emotional labour is invisible to her family, especially her insensitive husband (Suraj Venjaramoodu).

Baby’s screenplay is layered with details about typically Indian male entitlement. For instance, the husband, a lecturer in sociology, keeps ignoring his wife’s complaints about a leaking pipe in the kitchen. Her father-in-law (T Suresh Babu) spends all day sleeping and eating and forces her into time-consuming chores. He insists that she does not use a cooker for boiling rice and wash clothes only by hand.

Some of the scenes are directly inspired by Baby’s days and nights in the kitchen. “There’s a scene where Nimisha smells her fingers and just cannot get rid of the kitchen smell,” Baby said. “That was my experience. You use as much soap or handwash, but the smell of cooking, mopping the house, cleaning the washbasin won’t go. Hiring a househelp was a luxury even then and it is still a luxury.”

Baby, who has directed three films previously, worked on the screenplay of The Great Indian Kitchen for three years. The movie was made over a 27-day schedule in 2020. According to Baby, producer Jomon Jacob approached several streamers before opting for Neestream, a service aimed at Malayalam movie fans.

“Traditional producers, in Kerala at least, would never touch a movie like this,” Baby pointed out. “That’s why we produced the film ourselves along with our friends on a roughly two-crore budget.”

Among Baby’s bold choices was to use the songs by Sooraj S Kurup and Mathews Pulickan in the credits. The movie also eschews a background score “since the sound of the kitchen and everything else was enough”, Baby explained.

“In the 100-minute film, there are 200 scenes, and each and every shot was in the script itself,” Baby added. The dialogue was improvised during the shoot along with Sajayan and Venjaramoodu.

Among the few named characters is the domestic worker Usha (Kabani), who navigates the patriarchy with humour and common sense. While the heroine is forced to isolate herself during her menstrual cycle, Usha goes about her business by hiding the dates of her monthly period from her employers.

“Usha earns a living for what she does,” Baby said. “Usha’s politics is the politics of the movie.”

Jeo Baby

Baby has been heartened by the warmth shown towards The Great Indian Kitchen, especially on social media. “It has touched women’s hearts while men are claiming that it’s been an eye-opener, although I am not sure if their eyes have actually opened,” he added.

What’s next for the filmmaker? “We did not expect such a positive response nationally,” he said. “We have to thank women for this. We are currently deciding on what to work on.”

(Source: Scroll)

Friday 29 January 2021

We didn’t have a chance to say goodbye

 “I can’t find my plague doctor.” “Your what?” says my mother. “My plague doctor.” “I don’t know what that is,” says my mother. I text her a photo of my plague doctor in his ruffled blouse and beak mask sitting on my bookcase a few months before he disappeared. “I still don’t know what that is,” says my mother. “Forget it,” I say.

“If you want to find it then look for it.” “I am looking for it.” “Then look harder.” “I am looking harder.”

“It’s the strangest thing,” I keep saying. But I know it isn’t the strangest thing.

I tell everyone who will listen that I’ve lost my plague doctor. Nine months ago I wrote about seeing the small porcelain doll in a shop in Barcelona, and wanting him immediately. If he had been real his beak mask would’ve been filled with juniper berries, and rose petals, and mint, and myrrh to keep away a plague I thought belonged only to the past. This was ten years ago. My husband and I were on our honeymoon, and I thought I only wanted the plague doctor. I didn’t know I’d eventually need him, too. “You can’t be serious,” says my brother. “Who loses a plague doctor during a plague?” “I guess I do,” I say.

“We’ll find him,” says my husband. But we never do.

The only explanation is that he fell into a donation bag when I was cleaning out closets, and I accidentally dropped him off at Project Safe. “That is not the real name of the thrift store,” says my brother. But it really is the real name: Project Safe. I imagine my plague doctor at the bottom of a bag of old shoes calling for me. 


The news keeps breaking. The number of dead keeps rising. I go on Project Safe’s Facebook page. I offer a reward. I will pay whoever bought him five times what they paid. I will donate to the charity of their choice. I will sail across the sea in a paper boat with my pockets full of dried rose petals and fresh air and ancient coins to lure him home.

The manager of Project Safe puts a photo of my plague doctor up by the register. She understands, she tells me, what it feels like to lose something. I feel grateful and ridiculous. The news keeps breaking. The number of dead keeps rising.

I even looked behind the curtains. I even looked in the piano.

The plague doctor is not the only thing I’ve lost since the pandemic began. The longer I am in my house, it seems, the more things I lose. As if there’s a correlation between the hours I inhabit my house and its contents disappearing. “I could’ve sworn I put my copy of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves right here.” “Haven’t seen it,” says my husband. “I’ll help you look,” he says. I look over at our sons. Their rosy cheeks seem to have been replaced by the color of the living room. Is this the year they were supposed to learn all the major rivers? Or is it the year they were supposed to learn how to find the hypotenuse of a triangle? I could spend months going around this entire house picking up everything that’s now lost. I tell my neighbor, the scientist, I’ve lost my plague doctor. But I don’t think he hears me. We’re standing too far apart.

My husband leaves the book he is reading, Journeys out of the Body, open on our bed. “That’s all we need,” I mutter to nobody. I imagine the plague doctor and my husband holding hands on the back of a milk carton. I imagine a toll-free number underneath them in numbers printed so small it could easily be mistaken for pinpricks in the carton, the milk leaking out so slowly it’s barely noticeable until it’s gone.

I tell our mail carrier I’ve lost my plague doctor. “Of course you have, dear,” she says. “Everyone loses their plague doctor.” Her hands are small and covered in plastic gloves or fog. She gives me my mail. Nothing is addressed to me.

Sometimes I hear my husband’s footsteps coming up the stairs and I think he’s about to knock on my office door with the plague doctor safe in his arms.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m mourning something nameless that has vanished into thin air, and I’m calling it my plague doctor. 

What I’m trying to say is that we didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye. We should’ve at least had the chance to say goodbye. Goodbye, plague doctor! Goodbye, old world! The plague doctor is what I’m holding so I can hold what I’m grieving. Or rather, what I’ll never hold again.

I tell Bruno Bettelheim I’ve lost my plague doctor. “A child,” he says, “needs to understand what is going on within his conscious self so that he can also cope with that which goes on in his unconscious. He can achieve this understanding, and with it the ability to cope, not through rational comprehension of the nature and content of his unconscious but by becoming familiar with it through spinning out daydreams—ruminating, rearranging, and fantasizing about suitable story elements in response to unconscious pressure…” 

“Excuse me, Bettelheim, for interrupting you but what do you think I’m trying to do here?” Bettelheim looks around. “You lost your plague doctor,” he says. “Vanished into thin air,” I say. A sadness, like a mask, falls over his mouth. His mouth is so beautiful. “I miss mouths,” I say. “I miss my plague doctor,” I say. “I miss stupidly believing history was lived mostly in the past. I miss not being afraid … Bettelheim?” “Yes?” “When will my sons be able to return to their childhoods?” Bettelheim looks at his wrist where a watch should be. “I could’ve sworn I was wearing a watch,” says Bettelheim. The news is breaking. The number of dead keeps rising.

“The child,” says Bettelheim, “fits unconscious content into conscious fantasies, which then enable him to deal with that content.” “Like storing my grief inside a figurine?” I ask. “Yes,” says Bettelheim. “It is here that fairy tales have unequaled value because they offer new dimensions to the child’s imagination … the form and structure of fairy tales suggest images to the child by which he can structure his daydreams and with them give better direction to his life.”

“Which direction are you walking Bettelheim? I’ll walk with you.” We walk slowly down empty street after empty street. Bettelheim stops at a trash can and looks inside. “You never know,” he says.

Other than this fairy tale that is not a fairy tale but the true story of my missing plague doctor, I can’t find a fairy tale in which an object vanishes with no explanation. Even the girl with no hands grows back her hands. Cinderella’s glass slipper is never really missing, and when the prince disappears we know the whole time we can find him inside the beast. Even the darning needle, which breaks and falls down the drain and floats away with the dirty gutter water and is found in the street by schoolboys and is stuck in an eggshell and is run over by a wagon, is never out of our sight. Everything in a fairy tale has already been lost. The fairy tale is where we go to find it again.

I never find my copy of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, but if I had I would’ve copied this down: “I need silence, and to be alone and to go out, and to save one hour to consider what has happened to my world, what death has done to my world.” I want a lost and found in my living room manned daily by Woolf. A small booth with a sliding window. Tap, tap. Woolf slides the window open. “State your missing.” And I state my missing. Obviously she never returns anything. But just hearing her sort through the missing is a comfort.

My husband buys me a new plague doctor who is twice the size of my missing plague doctor. Big enough for my missing plague doctor to possibly be hiding inside. Around the new plague doctor’s waist is a crescent moon, and from it hangs a lantern, and keys, and an empty birdcage. He is so black and slender and beautiful he could easily be mistaken for my plague doctor’s shadow. He is like the grandmother who comforted me when my grandmother died.

“We wanted to hold,” writes Heather McHugh, “what we had.”

“I left you a surprise,” says Eli, my seven-year-old. On my desk is a plague doctor made out of clay with a note: “Plage Dok.” On its chest is a bright pink heart. Now there are two doctors. One made of shadows, and one made of clay. What we lose is also what we gain.  I turn on the faucet and out gush more plage doks. I fill up my glass and I drink and I drink. In the glass the plage dok’s letters rearrange themselves like cells: gold lake, pale opal, old page, aged god. I pull each word from the glass, and carefully dry them before they fade. “What’s that?” asks Eli. “Another story?” “I hope,” I say. “What’s it about,” asks Eli. “I think it’s about saying goodbye.”

(Source: The Paris Review)

Thursday 28 January 2021

Why Hollywood doesn’t tell more stories for — and about — girls

 It has partly to do with a dearth of women behind the scenes, changing audience tastes, and an evolving industry.

My two best friends and I were three lonely children growing up in the ’90s without siblings for playmates. We eventually found each other, but we also found comfort and adventure in a spate of intelligent films about girls like us—heroines of non-franchised stories set in the real world rather than a computer-generated one. There was Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden, Sara Crewe of A Little Princess, Fiona in The Secret of Roan Inish, and the protagonists of Matilda, Harriet the Spy, Fly Away Home, The Parent Trap, and Ponette. These girls were too young for love triangles or battling dystopian forces. Their stories and conflicts varied, but they served to eventually reveal certain qualities: resilience, imagination, audacity, and compassion.

Another thing these films have in common is that they came out decades ago. Today’s audiences rarely see movies like The Secret Garden and Matilda—live-action works for and about younger girls that celebrate the ambition and resourcefulness of their protagonists. For studios, big-budget sequels and reboots and remakes dominate the day. Kids’ movies as a whole are usually animated and/or feature protagonists who are a bit older (or four-legged). Combine that with other systemic problems like outdated ideas about gender and marketing, as well as a dearth of female writers and directors, and the result is a cinematic landscape for girls that’s in some ways less rich today than it was 20 years ago.

Though modern films with boy protagonists are also increasingly animated (Big Hero 6, Sanjay’s Super Team), there are still a few live-action options with young heroes who use ingenuity and courage to solve problems (Pan, The Jungle Book). But within the broader context of storytelling, toys, and costumes for children, boys have traditionally been permitted to fill a wide range of exciting roles (pirates, superheroes, ninjas, astronauts). Girls, meanwhile, tend to be slotted into a narrower range of character types (princesses chief among them), making it that much more valuable when films present alternatives young female viewers can relate to. The problem is even worse for young girls of color, who historically haven’t seen many images of themselves on screen, animated or otherwise (though films like the upcoming Moana seem to offer some hope that might change for the better).


Nineties films like The Secret Garden or Matilda—many of which were, incidentally, adaptations of books—offered alternatives at the time. Their protagonists healed people and places, primarily through hard work and compassion, not magic. Even Matilda, who could move objects with her mind, was more interested in pursuing an education than in strengthening her powers. Fiona of Roan Inish, Sara of A Little Princess (not about an actual princess), and Mary of The Secret Garden didn’t happen upon adventure accidentally: They practically curated the adventures themselves. 

These films also exposed their viewers to more grown-up themes and ideas, such as grief and loneliness, and even classism, racism, and war—acknowledging the emotional capacity and maturity of their young viewers, rather than infantilizing them.

Since the ’90s, Hollywood has made small strides when it comes to better depicting women and including them behind the scenes, and yet there are fewer high-quality movies for girls being made today. “The industry is still overwhelmingly male,” said Kathy Merlock Jackson, a communications professor at Virginia Wesleyan College. And men, she added, “write stories that resonate with them, about their experiences growing up.” Pixar creates some of the best children’s films today, but since most of the people who work there are men, the studio produces more movies about boys’ lives, Jackson said.

Almost no Pixar movies feature female protagonists, with one notable exception: 2015’s wonderful Inside Out, which revolved entirely around the anthropomorphic emotions in an 11-year-old girl’s head. But even that film didn’t have a female director, and there don’t seem to be many attached to the movies on Pixar’s horizon. The problem is bigger than a single studio: The federal government is investigating the entertainment industry for gender discrimination after the ACLU argued that women are routinely excluded from directing jobs.

Though female authors such as J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins are behind Hollywood’s most popular young-adult material, the directors who adapt those stories are usually men. (This was also the case with many of the great ’90s films mentioned earlier.) An international study conducted by Dr. Stacy L. Smith at USC Annenberg and funded in part by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that fewer than one-third of all speaking characters in films are female, although “films with a female director or female writer attached had significantly more girls and women on-screen.” It stands to reason that getting more women, especially women of color, behind the scenes of children’s movies would lead to an increase in characters who better reflect the makeup of their young audiences.

Another challenge in creating more girl-centric films is the assumption that “girls will go to boys’ films, but boys will not go to girls’ films,” said Jackson, who pointed to the example of Disney picking the name Tangled over Rapunzel (it also used Frozen instead of The Snow Queen). Gender doesn’t strictly matter as a point of identification; kids can relate to anything if given the chance, even inanimate objects. Still, it’s important for young girls to see images of themselves onscreen—to realize their personal stories can have universal relevance, and that they needn’t exist merely as extensions of male characters. 

Films like Frozen, Twilight, and The Hunger Games exemplify how kids movies with female stars tend to feature young women more than girls. “The marketing philosophy in Hollywood is that younger [female] audiences are ‘aspirational’ and will watch older girls, but that older girls won’t ‘watch down,’” said Susan Cartsonis, the producer of What Women Want and Where the Heart Is. The result is that movies for younger viewers can feature more sexualized female protagonists (consider how the figure and appearance of Ariel in Disney’s Little Mermaid titillated male film critics at the time).

Even outside of movies, girls are exposed to pop-culture messages that sexualize them from a young age, which can lead to unhealthy attitudes about self-image. Having younger female characters star in their own films helps to counteract that pattern. “The truth is that themes for girls are also themes women carry with them through their teen years, young-adult years, middle age, and old age,” said Cartsonis. “Friendship, and the discovery of powers or identity they didn’t know about or underestimated—these themes work at every age.”

Professor Ian Wojcik-Andrews of Eastern Michigan University highlights another roadblock for filmmakers: the lack of a tried-and-true genre for the pre-pubescent girl. “There is no mythological framework for the 11- or 12-year-old child, particularly the girl,” said Wojcik-Andrews. He explained that while movies for older children like The Hunger Games regularly draw on tropes from Ancient Rome and King Arthur, there’s no popular narrative archetype for younger children, especially girls, that Hollywood studios are eager to market.

All of these gender-specific challenges to making films for girls are playing out against a backdrop where live-action films for children have largely disappeared, or rather, been “decimated,” as Melissa Silverstein, the founder and editor of the blog Women and Hollywood, put it. “A lot of [actors] have migrated to TV,” Silverstein said. “That’s where the good roles are.” There are far fewer child actors in the central roles of kids’ movies today, and many have been replaced by older characters or cartoons.*

Indeed, kids’ viewing habits have changed significantly in the last decade or so. “What children are engaged with now is not as much film as it is television, Netflix, or Amazon,” said Lynne McVeigh, an associate professor of television and children’s media at New York University. She said it makes little sense for studios to bother with expensive movies for the younger demographic, since teens are more likely to go to the movies. “I don’t think it’s a bad or good thing—it’s just changed,” she said, pointing to shows like Doc McStuffins (about an African American girl who plays doctor to her toys), Peg + Cat (an educational math program), and Angelina Ballerina as standout examples on TV.

There’s a silver lining to all this: With more alternative forms of film and TV release available, there are myriad options to showcase independent work. To compete in the children’s movie market, big studios may need an action-adventure spectacle with merchandise; but HBO and Netflix could do for children’s programming what they’ve already done for grown-up shows—expand the limits of a genre by giving producers more creative freedom and placing a higher premium on quality over ratings. This could mean more writers and directors taking risks telling stories with young girl protagonists, including those of color.

In a 1995 review of A Little Princess, Roger Ebert wrote:

Movies like A Little Princess and The Secret Garden contain a sense of wonder, and a message: The world is a vast and challenging place, through which a child can find its way with pluck and intelligence. It is about a girl who finds it more useful to speak French than to fire a ray gun. I know there are more kids this season who want to see Judge Dredd, Die Hard With a Vengeance, and the new Batman movie than kids who want to see A Little Princess, and I feel sorry for them. 

Ebert was right to be concerned; the people we meet, experiences we have, and movies we watch in childhood can resonate for a lifetime. Little girls deserve worthy, thoughtful films aimed at them, as much as anyone—and the rapidly changing home-entertainment landscape should give families reason to hope that the industry will eventually deliver.  

(Source: The Atlantic)

Wednesday 27 January 2021

Doha ranked second safest city in world

 The State of Qatar has again retained its global distinction in safety as Doha, the capital of Qatar, has been declared as the second safest city in the world.

In 431 cities covered in the report, Doha has been placed at number 2 in terms of safety and low crime rate. Doha secured 87.96 in safety index while its crime index is just 12.04, according to Numbeo’s Crime Index by City 2021.

Numbeo, the world’s largest database of user contributed data about cities and countries worldwide, provides current and timely information on world living conditions including cost of living, housing indicators, health care, traffic, crime and pollution.

According to the classification rules of the report, cities have been ranked in reverse order that the city that occupies 431st place is the city with the lowest crime rate and ranks first in terms of safety and security. 

Doha scored a total of 12.04 points in crime index, being the second lowest scorer of the points starting from zero to hundred points. According to this classification, Doha becomes the second safest city (at 430 position) out of 431 cities covered in the report with a score of 87.96 points in safety index.

Abu Dhabi, Capital of UAE, topped the list and the top 10 safest cities include Taipei, Taiwan; Quebec City, Canada; Zurich, Switzerland; Sharjah, UAE; Dubai, UAE; Eskisehir, Turkey; Munich, Germany; and Trieste, Italy.

Qatar had also retained its position as the ‘Safest Country’ globally as per the 2020 mid-year Crime Index by Numbeo released in July last year.

The Numbeo database publishes its annual reports since 2009, based on the measurement of the crime rate in the countries of the world. The index of crimes in countries is measured according to the laws of those countries as it considers that there are acts that constitute crimes in some countries dissimilar to other countries, which gives a real measure of the rate of crime in countries in accordance with applicable laws.

The placing of Doha at top of safest cities in the world reflects overall security and safety situation in Qatar thanks to the continuous efforts of the Ministry of Interior in its vision of achieving maximum security and stability in society and protecting people's lives and property.

(Source: The Peninsula)

What writers and editors do

 The work of the literary editor is conducted in a kind of shadow, cast by the name of the author. A few editors have stepped out of that shadow, becoming perhaps more infamous than famous, for the labels “editor” and “famous” seem like a contradiction in terms, essentially incompatible. An example is Gordon Lish, who became known in the literary world as “Captain Fiction” and whose authors included Raymond Carver. Another is Maxwell Perkins, editor of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, whose epithet was the “Editor of Genius.” One of the most celebrated editing jobs ever done was carried out by Ezra Pound, not in any formal capacity, but as a friend, his ruthless hand paring down an early version of T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” into the form in which we know it today. Gordon Lish’s editing was quite as unconstrained and uncompromising, the style we think of as Carver’s being in fact Lish’s work. Carver himself was rather ambivalent about it, though it unquestionably established his name as a writer. This became apparent when Carver’s own manuscript was published after his death, his stories there being quite differently ample and expansive, barely recognizable. There is little doubt that the editor’s Carver was better than Carver’s Carver, and how must that have made the author feel as he stood in the spotlight to receive his accolades, hailed as the great new name of American literature? The example is interesting, for the job of the editor is to exert influence, not for his own good, nor necessarily for the author’s, but for that of the book, and if we can suggest that Lish went too far, we must also ask in relation to what? After all, the book was certainly the better for it. Were the wounded feelings of its author more important? Without Lish, Carver’s books would have been poorer and he would have been a reasonably good writer rather than a brilliant one. This raises the question of what a writer is, and where the boundaries run between the author, the book, and the surrounding world.

America has a tradition of strong editors, though the issue is not specifically American. I know of Norwegian editors who to all intents and purposes move their author’s feet, so to speak, in the dance of their literary endeavors, who basically instruct them: left foot here, right foot there, left foot here, right foot there. And I know, too, of Norwegian writers at the exact opposite pole, who deliver print-ready manuscripts to their editors and would change publishers promptly at the suggestion of reworking anything.

Lish’s job on Carver is perhaps too extreme to serve as an example of the role of the editor, but what any kind of boundary breaking always does is to draw attention to the boundary itself—in this case between editor and writer, who together with the text form a kind of Bermuda Triangle within whose force field everything said and done disappears without trace. Had Lish not gone as far as he did, everything in Carver’s texts would have been attributed unequivocally to Carver, the way all novels, short stories, and poetry collections are attributed unequivocally to the writer. To understand what goes on in this shadowland, we could ask ourselves: What would the books have been like without their editors? In my own case, the answer is simple: there would have been no books. I would not have been a writer. This is not to say that my editor writes my books for me, but that his thoughts, input, and insights are imperative to their being written. These thoughts, this input, and these insights are particular to me and my writing process; when he is editing the work of other authors, what he gives them is something particular to their work. The job of editor is therefore ideally undefined and open, dependent on each individual writer’s needs, expectations, talent, and integrity, and it is first and foremost based on trust, hinging much more on personal qualities and human understanding than on formal literary competence.

I remember a time in my late twenties when I was working for a literary magazine, we had commissioned a contribution from an established poet, and I was given the job of taking care of it. I read the poem and responded with a few comments, some suggestions as to minor changes, and a tentative inquiry as to whether the poem might be developed a bit further in the same direction. The reply that came back can be summed up in a single question: “Who are you?” In fact, there may well have been an undertone in that reply warranting an even more forceful wording: “Who the hell are you?” I was vexed by this, my comments had been cautious and, as far as I could see, justified. It was how I was used to commenting on the works-in-progress of my writer friends. Surely a poet of such experience and standing could relate more professionally to their own writing?

But the reaction wasn’t about the poem. It was about a faceless editor wanting to change the poem, which I guessed was being construed as an attack. As if there was something wrong with the poem and this faceless young male academic thought he knew what was needed to fix it. Objectively, I think my comments were on the right track, but when it comes to writing there is no such thing as objective, it’s all about the person writing and the person reading. If I had met this poet a few times, if we had been able to gain an impression of each other, perhaps get an idea as to each other’s literary preferences, I think my comments might have been taken differently, perhaps even prompted changes to the work, though not necessarily in the way I had envisaged.


The situations in which creative writing takes place are often complicated, to put it mildly—anyone even slightly familiar with the writing profession, as we so grandly refer to it, knows that it is one great big entanglement of neuroses, hang-ups, blockages, frailties, idiosyncrasies, alcoholism, narcissism, depression, psychosis, hyperactivity, mania, inflated egos, low self-esteem, compulsion, obligation, impulsive ideas, clutter, and procrastination—and working with writing in that kind of context means that a concept such as quality is a poor standard indeed, at least if we think of quality as an objective norm. In literary editing, quality is a dynamic entity, more a process than a grade, and one that will vary according to the individual writer and editor.

That the books that come out of this are treated in almost exactly the opposite way in literary criticism, which is very much about weights and measures and comparisons to other books, can often throw an author into shock and is something one never quite gets used to. It feels almost as if there are different books, one belonging to the editor, another to the critic, and for the author this can be difficult; should he or she listen to his or her editor, who will invariably say that critics don’t know what they’re talking about, that they are insensitive and stupid, driven by their own agendas, and so on, or to the judgement of the critics?

Erlend Loe exploits the comedy that lies in the difference between the work of editors and critics in his most recent novel, Vareopptelling (Stocktaking), which opens with an editor phoning an aging poet and telling her how great the reviews of her latest collection have been, everything he says being more or less veiled with the intention of shielding her from the reality of the matter, after which she embarks on a personal crusade to erase the discrepancy between her own perception of the book and that of the critics. It’s funny because it’s recognizable, the editor’s attempts to deal with poor reviews, as well as the thoughts of vengeance they can give rise to in the mind of the author, it strikes a chord. Even a writer like Stieg Larsson, who made a name for himself with his very first book and was canonized in his own lifetime, lets the poorer reviews get to him, he can’t let go of them, including in his collection of poems Natta de mina (Goodnight My Dear Ones), a grotesque fantasy in which a named critic is mutilated. And Paul Auster, a world-renowned author one would think to have been so acclaimed in his time that poor reviews would be like water off a duck’s back, expends a great deal of emotional energy in his recently published correspondence with J. M. Coetzee reacting to James Wood’s critiques of his books in The New Yorker, not with arguments, but with descriptions of what it feels like—which is like being mugged in broad daylight.

This is so because writing and publishing a book is to lay some part of oneself bare, in such a way as to be utterly defenseless, and allow oneself to be judged by someone with nothing at risk. An editor who also works as a critic, which is to say interpreting and passing judgments on quality—and yes, they exist—serves literature poorly, since interpretation and judgment wrap up a work as if for good, whereas what they should be doing is keeping it open as long as possible. For literature is always something that is becoming, in the making, whereas the forms in which it appears are something that is, they exist already. And since the art is to force oneself beyond what is and into what is becoming—which is alive and essentially unknown to us until we get there—then only those who don’t know how to write can write, only those who can’t write a novel can write a novel. From this it follows that the role of the editor can’t be about knowing either, for in these processes knowledge is sabotage.

Now we are far from the classic editor, the fifty-six-year-old man in tweed, bent over the manuscript, pencil in hand, and are approaching my own editor, whose pencil never appears before a date has been set for publication and the services of a proofreader engaged to go through the final manuscript. What his work until then involves I can’t say with any certainty, other than that we talk quite a lot. These discussions take place during all stages of the writing, from before a single word has been put to paper and only a vague idea exists as to what area of reality the novel is to explore, until the book has been published and the various ways in which it has been received call for endless and occasionally crisis-bound conferences with a person who knows how much has been invested in it and has invested so much in it himself.

Although this has been going on for seventeen years, during which time we have published a total of eight novels and sat for countless hours talking on the phone or in conference rooms and offices, and have gone through thousands of manuscript pages, I am still unable to say “this is what he does,” “this is how he works,” “this is how he thinks.” Of course, this has to do with me never being able to really see others, the fact that I’m so involved in myself that I never quite manage to get beyond that, but that’s not the only reason. It has to do with his way of working, too, which is not about remoteness, the famous view from without, but about nearness, the view from within, which is more difficult to see and define. What we stand above is easy to see, what we stand below is easy to see, and what we stand beside is easy to see, but what we stand in the middle of is not.

When I was writing my autobiographical novel My Struggle there were three people in particular to whom I found it difficult to give shape, difficult to give voice. It didn’t matter how hard I tried, I could neither hear nor see them. I knew who they were to me, but it was almost impossible to give that awareness form. One of these people was my mother, one was my wife, one was my editor. What could these three very different people have in common that meant they were stuck in the shadows of my writer’s mind? In a way, the people they were went without saying, they didn’t need me to speak for them, they spoke for themselves. For an author, this is interesting: writing is about giving form to something, constructing something, familiar or unfamiliar, by means of language. Usually, this is easier the more unfamiliar the object: a cow wandering through a poor street in India is easy to depict, whereas a man watching TV in his apartment is not. Nearly all literature is about conflicts, which have their root in differences, the unlike breaking out of the like and only then allowing itself to be captured. Sameness residing in sameness, which is to say harmony, is almost impossible to make into anything. And this is where my mother, my wife, and my editor come in, for what roles do they play in my life? They give, demanding nothing, or very little, in return. To see such a person, who gives without making demands, is hard indeed. Demands have outline, but the absence of demands? Such absence is nothing, it is without shape, yet at the same time significant, and quite fundamental in everything that is human.

We see and talk about everything that works loose and tears itself away, never about what comes to us. This is true in the greater perspective and true in the smaller perspective. My father took something from me, I competed with my brother, this is easy for me to see and write about, but my mother gave me something, and this is difficult for me to see and write about. What did she give me? I’m not sure exactly. My editor, what does he give me? Suggestions as to books I should read? Yes, but many other people do that as well. An understanding of what I’m doing? Yes, but I have that myself, and if it isn’t complete, there are many other people I know who could fill in the gaps. Inspiration? Certainly, but I get that opening almost any book about art.

All this is important, but it isn’t what is significant. What is significant is a feeling, something vague and elusive, perhaps best captured in the word trust. I have absolute trust in him. With absolutely everything I write, even the smallest newspaper article, he has to read it before I can publish it anywhere. This is something on which I’m totally reliant and at the same time take for granted. It’s not a function, it’s not something anyone else can do, because it’s not about the role of editor, it’s about him, the person he is. And that’s what the role of editor is for me.


There are many conceptions about writing. One of the most common is that it’s a lonely business, something writers do on their own. I can’t see myself in that. On the contrary, in all the years I’ve been making my living as a writer I’ve been dependent on the help of others in order to write. When I was writing My Struggle, I read every word of it out loud to a friend, Geir Angell Øygarden, I called him on the phone every single day and read him what I had written, some five thousand pages in total. Why? Because someone had to tell me it was good enough, that was one thing, but also what it actually was that I was doing, and, importantly, what it might become, in what directions I could proceed. I needed his thoughts, they came together with mine but from a completely different place, and this was essential; because I was writing about myself I desperately needed that view from outside, which in this case was not simply a view but a whole outlook, which I made my own in the novel. Those conversations formed a space, and I think all books exist within such a space, either very obviously (as in my case) or less so, for instance when what surrounds them is the literature an author reads during the writing process, or has read before it starts. Even though I knew nothing about this when I began to write at the age of eighteen, I still set up those kinds of spaces; it was as if the need itself made it happen. The actual act of writing still took place in solitude, but everything that surrounded it, which after all was what was important, had to do with other people. When I was nineteen, for instance, studying literature at the university in Bergen, I met Espen Stueland. He was writing, I was writing, we became friends, and he shared with me everything he could think and read, everything he had thought and read. He introduced me to books by Ole Robert Sunde, Tor Ulven, Claude Simon, Gunnar Ekelöf, Osip Mandelstam, Samuel Beckett, to pick out just a few of the many names that swirled in the air at that time. We read each other’s texts, and his critiques, as sincere as they were severe, encouraged me to rewrite or toss. But even when I tossed what I had written, I was stirred, because through Espen I had suddenly come to a place where literature mattered, and was perhaps what mattered most of all, a place where it was impossible to bluff, impossible to cheat, impossible to be half-hearted in anything we read or wrote: it was all or nothing. Espen soon debuted with the poetry collection Sakte dans ut av brennende hus (Serene Dance Out of a Burning House) and uprooted to Oslo, got involved with Vagant, and shared that with me, too, introducing me to the writers and critics he met in that connection. I stayed behind in Bergen, and there I met another student who wrote, his name was Tore Renberg, we, too, became friends, and he shared with me everything he could think and read, everything he had thought and read. Tore’s literary preferences were different from Espen’s, but included many of the same authors: Tor Ulven was impossible to ignore for any student of literature in the early nineties, Ole Robert Sunde likewise, and Samuel Beckett was everywhere. But the writers Tore was most immersed in at that time were Eldrid Lunden (whose work I had never read), Tarjei Vesaas, and Sigbjørn Obstfelder. We, too, read each other’s texts, and in a very short space of time he wrote a collection of short prose pieces that got accepted for publication, the title was Sovende flokke (Sleeping Tangle), and, like Espen, he, too, uprooted to Oslo, debuted, and soon after became involved with Vagant.

When all of this was going on, when I was sitting around in cafés with Tore or Espen, talking about literature or music or football, the three of us having in common the fact that we wrote and wanted to be writers, it was nothing. None of us knew how things were going to pan out, we barely knew what we were doing. Were we doing anything at all? Weren’t we just idling away our time, doing nothing other than following our own inclinations? It was all without shape, as yet undefined, and if reading Tor Ulven, for instance, pointed forward in time to a future Tor Ulven influence in our generation’s literature, which is now incontestable, we were oblivious to it then, for we were no generation, we represented nothing, and what we were doing stayed between us and had no audience, the very thought was absurd. It was as local as you can get, the coffee was lukewarm, the rain came down outside, and if I needed a piss I could wait out of politeness. But writing this now I sense it transforming from nothing into something, an era is committed to writing, a milieu emerges, a history unfolds. And yes, seen from where we are now, Espen forty-two years old and a father of two, Tore forty-one and a father of two, I myself forty-four and a father of three, middle-aged men the three of us, authors of a sizable number of books, essays, and articles, a straight line seems to go from all our get-togethers and discussions back then to where we are now, authors of our generation.

As such, history always lies, it turns what was inconsistent, all over the place, perhaps even meaningless, into something consistent, systematic, and meaningful. The situations and events that occurred, the people who were there, and the discussions between them were of course real, it is not the case that writing about something is the same as lying or distorting, but the moment that reality is written down it is given a form that is basically abiding and unalterable, which pins it down in a certain way, whereas what was significant about it was that it was all over the place and could not be pinned down at all. To write about a situation is to take out part of its potential, at the same time as its remaining potential disappears into the shadows of the unsaid, the unthought, and the unwritten, in the valley of opportunities lost.

But anyway, there I was in Bergen, twenty-six years old. My two best (and only) friends had achieved the only thing I really wanted to do in life, they had made their literary debuts and moved to Oslo, to the very center of Norwegian literary life. It felt like they had abandoned me, and if they were unaware of exactly how jealous I was, they must surely have had an inkling, or at least should have had, the three of us had shared the same lives, young aspiring writers, shared the same ambition, to become authors, we had shared all our reading experiences, everything we learned, and they had succeeded—Tore spectacularly so, receiving that year’s Best New Writer Award—whereas I had failed and was left behind in Bergen, with what amounted to nothing, because unlike Espen and Tore I couldn’t write, in the sense that nothing came out when I sat down at the computer, not a sentence, not a word, I was completely empty. I told myself the ambition of writing, or the belief that I actually could do it, was self-delusion, a deception. Tore had it in him, Espen had it in him, I didn’t. What I did then was go back to studying. Within a year, I did a subsidiary course in art history and began majoring in literature. I was going to write about literature instead. But then something totally unexpected happened. An editor called me up asking if I could come in for a chat, he had read a short story of mine and wanted to discuss it with me.

Nowadays, this is a fairly normal way of going about things. Back then, in the early nineties, it wasn’t. For anyone harboring ambitions of becoming an author in the late eighties and early nineties the way to do it was this: you wrote a book and submitted it to a publishing house, after which you waited a month or two before receiving a reply in the post, very likely a rejection, which could fall into one of several categories; it could be a standard rejection, which was a bad sign, it meant the manuscript came across so weak it hadn’t been worth the effort to give it an individual assessment. If, on the other hand, it was accompanied by a reader’s assessment, then it was a notch up, even if that assessment happened to be negative, since it meant someone at least had seen enough merit in the work to commission an external reader to read it and make an appraisal. That appraisal might conclude with something to the effect that the author showed promise, but that the present manuscript could not be recommended for publication, or—oh, joy!—that they would like to read it again in revised form. But because that revision had to be done by the author alone, with at best a couple of vague suggestions to go by, it, too, normally ended up in a rejection. Only very, very seldom did it happen that a manuscript was accepted as it stood—I remember hearing at the time that it was one in a hundred.

Because of the distance between author and publisher, so great it amounted to an abyss, a lot depended on capturing the attention of this mysterious and unapproachable reader from the outset. A strong title, in an eye-catching font (if memory serves me right, you could buy sheets of lettering back then, before we got word processors, in Gothic style, for instance, and stick them on), without typos or scribblings-out, a meticulously worded accompanying letter. I remember a piece of advice to us from Øystein Lønn when I was at the Writing Academy: Put your best parts first, no matter how little it says about the text overall, put the best parts first. It was all about getting read, about making sure whoever was charged with sifting through new manuscripts at the publishing house didn’t just toss yours aside, but was intrigued enough to read on.

The first novel I submitted as a manuscript, it must have been in 1989, drew a standard rejection of no more than a few lines, the publishers had read the manuscript with interest, which was good, but they wouldn’t be publishing it. Still, this was nothing compared to Tore, who not without pride had told me he’d been turned down eighteen times. He was nineteen years old. But when he debuted, it happened in a different way altogether. He had not submitted a manuscript to a publishing house, the way generations of budding Norwegian authors all the way back to Hamsun had done before him, no, in his case the publishing house had called him. He had written some reviews in Morgenbladet and Vinduet, and one morning the phone rang and it was a man presenting himself as an editor at the Tiden publishing house, wondering if Tore would like to be a reader for him. Tore accepted gladly, though not without mentioning that he was a writer himself. The editor, who had suspected as much, duly offered to have a look at his work.

That was how Tore was taken on by Tiden and became an author. The year after, he was asked by them to edit an anthology of so-called new voices in Norwegian literature and asked me if I happened to have anything he could use. I did. Tucked away in an attempt at a novel about a slave ship that was basically lifted in its entirety from an existing nonfiction book I’d found was a story I sent to Tore and which, perhaps because my envy, which he must surely have sensed, made him feel sorry for me, he published. It wasn’t a very good story, but it did mean that I, too, received a phone call from the same editor, and a few weeks later was seated in his office in Oslo’s Operapassasjen, casting stolen glances at the piles of manuscripts there in case they might reveal something significant to me while he was out getting us coffee. When he came back, we talked a bit, or he did mostly, and then I was back in the street again. It was hardly anything to speak of, but it was enough, for when I left there it was with the feeling of having been seen.

Oh, how fragile these things are. It’s hard to describe that this vague feeling of having been seen, of someone showing faith, was enough for me to start work on a new novel, one in which I went much further than I had before. Was it because of him, that editor? Let me put it like this: had he not asked me to come and see him, I would never have started writing again, at least not in the same way. When I sent him the first beginnings of this new novel, I was ashamed and felt like a dog. Now surely I had let him down, abused his trust, ruined everything. One part in particular felt shaming: at one point, my main character goes into a phone booth on the Torgallmenningen in Bergen, from where he makes a phone call to his ten-year-old self. It was so stupid!

A few weeks passed and then the editor called me. He liked what he had read, especially the part where the main character phones back to his own childhood, that was really good! And he said something else, too: Henrik keeps repeating a thought, something about in the world, out of the world, in the world, out of the world. That sounds like a title, don’t you think? Out of the world?

These two comments were decisive, and they steered the rest of the writing until the novel was finished. Movement from one time to another, or from one place to another, by means of a metaphor or simile, often something concrete like that phone booth, runs through the entire novel and is its way of thinking, all times and all places held within a single consciousness. And the title he gave me, Out of the World, steered its complex of themes in much the same way.

The next time I met the editor from Tiden, he asked me if I wanted to sign the contract there and then or wait until we were closer to publication. I nearly passed out. Up until that point I had looked on this as a test, something that might lead on to something else. He wanted to publish it! Not until years later did it dawn on me that he hadn’t considered the manuscript to be even remotely good enough at that point, but that his suggestion had been all about instilling in me a sense of confidence and belief, and the feeling that a novel was something that was within my grasp. In other words, he manipulated me. It was like what a magazine editor did with Hunter S. Thompson one time. Thompson had been commissioned to make a trip and write about what he saw, but after he got home he found himself unable to muster a word, he was completely blocked. The editor called him up and asked him to jot down some notes just to give the magazine some sort of idea as to what the piece would be about. Thompson obliged, only for the editor to call him again a few weeks later, letting him know that his notes had gone to press. They were the piece. And that, I think, is often the way we get to what it’s all about. If we strive to go there, we block, for there are so many expectations, so many demands and misconceptions that it’s almost impossible to find a way. But if we don’t know, if we think we’re doing something else instead, as if in preparation for the real thing, then the real thing, which requires a form of unfetteredness, comes into being.


Another conception about writing, at least as common as that of the writer being on his own, is that writing is craft. I can’t see myself in that either, again I find it to be quite the opposite. Writing is about breaking down what you can do and what you’ve learned, something that would be inconceivable to a craftsman, a cabinetmaker for instance, who can’t possibly start from scratch every time. That doesn’t mean a cabinetmaker isn’t creative, can’t work out new solutions to old problems, and I assume, too, that a cabinetmaker is best when he or she isn’t thinking about what they do, but simply doing it, much as a driver is best when the skills he or she has acquired, the craft of driving, are not reflected on, but simply performed. This is how it is with musicians, too; the technique or craft is something so well mastered that the musician’s awareness of it is not a conscious awareness, and the music becomes art only in the flow. A soccer player who has to think about how to control the ball, who asks himself whether it’s best to swerve right or left to get past his opponent, who wonders what to do then if he does get past him, pass the ball left or right, or try a shot, will be a poor one. What the musician, the cabinetmaker, and the soccer player have in common is that they have practiced their techniques for hours and hours on end, until they belong to the body and have become like a reflex, selfless and natural. This same kind of state applies to writing, too, and it is just as coveted—I once read an interview with the British author Ian McEwan in which he spoke about the selfless state into which the act of writing could transport him, and how that selflessness, which occurred only very seldom, felt like the very apex of the writing process. But unlike the other activities just mentioned, there is actually nothing to practice in writing, no techniques to be endlessly repeated until learned—what would they be? A dramatic turning point approached again and again? A certain way of describing a face or personality? No, writing cannot be practiced in that sense, it can never be reduced to exercises, it can only ever be the real thing, what it is in itself, because writing is about getting to the core, something that can be done only once, in that one way, which can never be repeated, because if you repeat it then you are no longer at the core but at something false that merely resembles. So what writing is about, more than anything else, is not practicing, but failing. Failing, not succeeding, not being able to make it work, failing, failing, failing—but not in order to get to the core at some future time, that would be half-hearted, and the half-hearted is the antithesis of writing, no, failing must come from risking everything, in all earnestness, with the utmost of effort. Failing to get the ball properly under control on the football pitch can be annoying, but it doesn’t hurt. Failing in literature hurts, if it doesn’t then it’s an exercise and can lead nowhere. In other words, in order to write you must trick yourself, you must believe that this time I’m onto something, no matter how worthless it might turn out to be. In that process, everything is uncertain, everything is fluid, and even if that shining state of selflessness should occur, it doesn’t have to mean that what you write has any value, possesses any kind of quality—after all, those who most often vanish into the selfless state are children.

Failing on your own is fine for a while, but only up to a point, since failing in literature is no fun, failing there is failing for real, and when you are surrounded by friends and family with jobs to go to or studies to pursue it becomes increasingly hard to defend writing, to keep it up as something meaningful when the results fail to materialize, which in this case means having your work accepted by a publisher. Failing in one’s writing under those conditions is also to fail socially. Everyone knows the type, the guy who cagily says, “I write.” After ten years of that, is there anyone left who still believes in him? After twenty years? Certainly not the writer himself. By then, writing has become a shameful business, a stigma almost. If he’s to go on, he must trick himself, which will become increasingly difficult, until eventually he realizes that it’s true, he has failed.

A published writer has a different social aspect entirely. But the writing is the same. For a while it will be quite as unsuccessful. This is where the editor comes in. The job is to support the author, which in many instances means tricking the author, telling him or her that this is really good, keep going. Recently, I spoke to a Swedish editor who said this was perhaps the hardest part of the job, because the author often suspects that what he or she is doing probably isn’t that good, at the same time as he or she needs to hear how good it is. The author needs that lie and must overcome the suspicion of it being just that, a lie, must deceive himself or herself into believing it. That same Swedish editor always instructs his writers to note down what he says as they go through the manuscript. If they don’t, all they remember are the negative points. He can heap praise on a text and go into detail about how good it is in this or another passage, and even then the only thing that sticks in the mind of the author are his suggestions as to changes. And why do things have to be changed? Because they aren’t good enough, the text is a failure, a mistake.

This is where it hangs in the balance, where everything is at stake. For what is “good” exactly? In the literary world, much is about originality, finding an individual voice, uncovering what until now has been unseen—these are the ideals. Against this stands the concept of quality, the basis of all appraisal, and of any canonization. For when originality, individual voice, and the unseen come together there is nothing with which it can be compared. There is no unequivocal way of saying that something is “good.” When the book is there, with the publisher’s logo on the cover, that in itself is a stamp of quality: a large number of people with fine literary credentials, working in a well-reputed institution, have declared that this is literature, that this book is of value. To give a book that stamp of quality is a risky business. That is, if it’s similar to another book already recognized as good, then the risk is small, but if it’s not, if it’s something apart, then publishing the work and thereby declaring it to be a work of quality takes guts. There’s often a lack of intrepidness in the publishing world, there being so much esteem to be lost, an editor who puts out, let’s say, five books one after another, each of which is slaughtered by the critics, each of which moreover fails to sell, will be pushed toward the safe choice, toward what is acknowledged to be the norm, and will reject that which involves risk. I’m not saying this because I think Norway is teeming with yet undiscovered literary geniuses unable to find outlets for their work, but because whether an editor is good or bad has so much to do with being intrepid. I know of books later canonized that were rejected by one publisher after another as manuscripts, for the simple reason that they resemble very little else, works fully in keeping with the prevailing literary ideal, but which in their fullest consequence required courage to publish. I have worked on manuscripts from first-time writers myself as an adviser and know how difficult it can be to judge quality on one’s own, without the bound book in one’s hand to testify that the criteria have been met. Is it good enough? What is good enough? And if it isn’t good enough, is there anything in it that can become good enough? And if it happens to be very good, then there is nothing to which one can turn for comparison, one is left to one’s own judgment—and is that good enough?

—Translated from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken


Karl Ove Knausgaard was born in Norway in 1968. His debut novel, Out of the World, won the Norwegian Critics Prize in 2004, and his second novel, A Time for Everything, was a finalist for the Nordic Council Prize. For My Struggle: Book One, Knausgaard received the Brage Award in 2009, the 2010 Book of the Year Prize in Morgenbladet, and the P2 Listeners’ Prize. Book One was a New Yorker Book of the Year, and Book Two was listed among the Wall Street Journal’s 2013 Books of the Year.

Martin Aitken is the acclaimed translator of numerous novels from Danish and Norwegian, including works by Karl Ove Knausgaard, Ida Jessen, Peter Høeg, Jussi Adler-Olsen, and Pia Juul. In 2012, he was awarded the American-Scandinavian Foundation’s Nadia Christensen Translation Prize. In 2019. Aitken received the PEN Translation Prize for his translation of Love, by Hanne Ørstavik.

From Karl Ove Knausgaard’s In the Land of the Cyclops, translated from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken, published by Archipelago Books.

(Source: The Paris Review)