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France Is About to Vote in the Craziest Election the World Has Seen Since, Well, November

Mother Jones

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French voters will go to the polls on Sunday to vote for a new president. The election will have profound reverberations around the world. Will France take a nationalist turn to the right? Will it seek to withdraw from the European Union and restrict immigration? Will a young candidate with a pro-Europe, pro-immigration message convince enough of his voters to actually show up? Will the “French Bernie Sanders” upset the establishment and convince voters that his left-wing populism is the way to go?

Voters will choose between 11 candidates, with four clear front-runners: right-wing nationalist Marine Le Pen, independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, center-right conservative François Fillon, and left-wing populist Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Sunday’s election will narrow the field to the top two vote-getters (unless one candidate earns more than 50 percent of the vote), who will then go head to head in a runoff election on May 7.

According to polling from the Financial Times, Macron leads the pack at 24 percent, just 1 point up on Le Pen. But Mélenchon, who had been hovering just above the 10 percent mark for months, has seen a surge in popularity of late, bringing him into a tie for third place with Fillon at 19 percent. The polling backs up the consensus narrative out of France that Le Pen and Macron will face off in the May 7 election, but Mélenchon’s steep rise over the last month could upset that outcome.

When the news starts to come in from Europe this weekend, here are some key points about each of the leading candidates to keep in mind:

Marine Le Pen: The far-right firebrand has been getting a lot of the attention during the race, and polls show she is likely to get through to the second round. The 48-year-old daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the far-right National Front party, Le Pen is riding a wave of anti-immigration and anti-globalization policy that could make her France’s next president. She’s doing well with the youths of France, who face high unemployment and, according to Marion Maréchal-Le Pen—Le Pen’s niece, who is a member of the French Parliament—resent immigrants because of the sense of losing their own, French, identity.

While polls showing Le Pen doing well in Sunday’s free-for-all election, she consistently lags behind both Macron and Fillon in polls of runoff scenarios. While the National Front has historically been associated with anti-immigration zealotry, Le Pen has recently stirred controversy for aligning herself with an outsider: Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under Le Pen’s leadership, National Front took out a $30 million loan from a Russian bank. Le Pen told reporters that she had to do so because French, American, and English banks won’t lend her money. She says her stance toward Russia is more about reducing American and European Union control over the world and elevating other nations to be more on equal footing with the United States. She’s also taken several pro-Russian positions, including supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea, pulling France out of NATO and the European Union, and dropping sanctions against Russian interests.

Emmanuel Macron: A former investment banker, Macron, 39, is the country’s former economy minister. Where Le Pen favors a France-first, populist approach, Macron is pro-European Union and pro-NATO and has supported increasing sanctions against Russia if the country does not follow through on plans to address its actions in the Ukraine. The knock on Macron is that he’s too boring, and his platform is trying to be all things to all people, according to Politico, balancing “the big paradox of French political life. Voters want radical change—but they also want candidates to put forward realistic, bordering on safe, platforms.”

Macron is polling nearly 30 points higher than Le Pen in a two-way race. He’s currently about a point up on Le Pen for Sunday’s race, so it’s likely he’ll make it through to the May 7 final election.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon: The “French Bernie Sanders,” as Mélenchon is often called by the US press, is a comparison that isn’t totally accurate, as pointed out by the Intercept. Mélenchon is running from outside the main political parties, whereas Sanders ran for the Democratic Party nomination in 2016. But that hasn’t seemed to hurt Mélenchon’s chances. The 65-year-old supporter of Hugo Chavez and the Castros in Cuba seems to be riding a growing wave of popularity among “disgruntled, blue collar voters” who, despite their troubles with the status quo in France, “do not want to vote for Le Pen,” according to Foreign Policy.

If he were to edge ahead of Macron, French voters would likely be left to choose between a far-right and a far-left candidate, a prospect that the Wall Street Journal called “a nightmare scenario for investors.” The theory underpinning the investor-worry is that both candidates in that scenario would advocate policies that would scare investors from servicing France’s debt, lower the value of its currency, and stunt economic growth. According to the Financial Times polling data, Mélenchon is polling 18 points ahead of Le Pen if the two were to compete in May.

Still, there are many in France who agree with his message—similar to Sanders’ during the 2016 US presidential election—that wealth in France is concentrated in too few hands at the top of the food chain. Mélenchon has proposed a 32-hour work week, cutting the retirement age from 62 to 60, and a 100 billion euro ($107 billion) stimulus plan. But he also proposes pulling France from NATO, a move that would remove one of the alliance’s strongest members. Mélenchon isn’t as anti-European Union as Le Pen, but he says he wants to reform the European Central Bank to respond more to political interests than economic interests.

François Fillon: As a former prime minister, the conservative 63-year-old was an early favorite to win the race. But his support plummeted after it came to light that he’d gotten his wife and two of his adult children more than $1 million in parliamentary payments for jobs they didn’t really do. Fillon insists he did nothing wrong, but some have called on him to bow out of the race. The New York Times reported in early March that “hundreds of Mr. Fillon’s former backers have distanced themselves from him,” and recent polling has put him at either third or fourth place behind Le Pen, Macron, and, at times, Mélenchon.

As far as policy positions, Fillon has strong support from Catholics and other social conservatives for opposing same-sex marriage. He’s proposed increasing the retirement age, slashing public benefits, getting rid of the 35-hour work week, and cutting 600,000 public-sector jobs. He has also said he’s ready to battle the country’s strong unions. He’s pro-European Union but has advocated better relations with Russia in order to defeat ISIS.

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France Is About to Vote in the Craziest Election the World Has Seen Since, Well, November

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If There’s Going to Be a Wall, Let It Be This Collaboration Between American and Mexican Designers

Mother Jones

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This story was originally published by Fusion and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

When President Trump appealed to the public to submit proposals for his “big, beautiful” border wall, you can be pretty sure that the plan presented by the Mexican American Design and Engineering Collective (MADE) was not what he had in mind.

In response to the president’s mad quest to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, the group of 14 designers, engineers, builders, and architects from the US and Mexico proposed something entirely different—a high-tech “ecotopia” called Otra Nation.

“Otra Nation will be the world’s first shared co-nation open to citizens of both countries and co-maintained by Mexico and the United States of America,” the group says in their proposal. “Besides sharing the same geographical conditions, the continuous exchange of information, knowledge, artistic expression and migration between sides will produce fertile ground to bring forth a hybrid sense of identity.”

Reflecting their ideology, the group is an even mix of US and Mexican professionals, and while they prefer to keep their identities anonymous, MADE spokesman, Memo Cruz, says that members of the group have worked with the last four US presidents and the last two Mexican ones. “We came together as people who wanted to come up with a solution to a broken system,” Memo said. “And sometimes to break a broken system is to make a new one.”

Far from the wall Trump envisions, the MADE collective wants to build a high-speed, electric hyperloop connecting different parts of Otra Nation. According to the group’s proposal, the new co-nation would be six miles wide and span the 1,200 miles from San Diego/Tijuana to the Gulf Coast. The land would be “drill free,” and used for a “regenerative agricultural system that will become a bread basket for the two countries.” To top it off, the whole thing would be powered completely by solar and other renewable energy sources, creating thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in trade.

Courtesy of Otra Nation

Among the 200-plus proposals submitted to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by the April 4th deadline, Otra Nation was definitely one of the more idealistic.

At the other end spectrum were walls made of wire mesh impossible to climb or cut, or constructed with one-way plexiglass panels so that US citizens could look into Mexico, but not the other way around.

Other designs were so whimsical that they could only be interpreted as a mockery of Trump’s ambitions—a wall made of organ pipes or a line of trees with hammocks strung between them.

From comical to xenophobic, the range of ideas submitted to DHS highlighted just how divided the US is when it comes to issues of immigration and border security. But while many of these proposals included green technology like solar panels or windmills, none acknowledged the true environmental consequences of building a wall along the border.

The border wall’s environmental footprint

That may be in part because we don’t really know. The last and only environmental review of US border security policy was conducted by the Immigration and Naturalization Service—the precursor to the DHS—in 2001. Effective for five years, the review has never been updated, and since then the size of the US Border patrol has more than doubled and hundreds of miles of fences and walls have been built.

This is the basis of a legal challenge by Arizona Congressmen Raul M. Grijalva and the Center for Biological Diversity put forth in early April. Citing the the Environmental Policy Act, the lawsuit calls upon federal agencies to conduct an environmental analysis of the proposed wall before any construction takes place.

“American environmental laws are some of the oldest and strongest in the world, and they should apply to the borderlands just as they do everywhere else,” said Rep. Grijalva in a statement. “These laws exist to protect the health and well-being of our people, our wildlife, and the places they live. Trump’s wall—and his fanatical approach to our southern border—will do little more than perpetuate human suffering while irrevocably damaging our public lands and the wildlife that depend on them.”

Even without a review, it’s clear to environmentalists that Trump’s wall would be a disaster. “It would be the end of jaguars and ocelots in North America,” Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate for the Center of Biological Diversity, said, naming only two out of the hundreds of animals whose migratory patterns and natural habitats would be jarringly broken by a 30-foot tall wall.

And, while information on the environmental impact of the US Border wall is scarce, a recent European study on the security fencing dividing countries in Eastern Europe and Asia confirms Serraglio’s fears. The study conducted by Norwegian scientists showed that the 15,000 to 19,000 miles of fence, much of which was erected in response to Europe’s growing refugee crisis, poses a “major threat” to wildlife.

Much more than just a security fence, Trumps wall will cross at least four wildlife refuges, potentially impacting 111 endangered species like jaguars, ocelots, black bears and Mexican grey wolves. Beyond imperiling sensitive animal populations, conservationists also argue that of the wall would cause flooding, erosion, and irreparable damage to countless acres of public lands like Big Bend National Park and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

“We’ve invested millions of dollars in establishing and protecting these areas over the years,” Serraglio said. “It makes absolutely no sense to throw that all away because Donald Trump wants to wall off the border.”

We only need to look at 654 miles of barriers that have already been erected along the border under the Clinton and Bush administrations to see just how bad things can get, said Serraglio. He points to instances like the destruction of the Tijuana Estuary system by erosion, and the 2008 flash flood in Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument that occurred because the border barrier inhibited the natural flow of rain water. The same storm led to two deaths and $8 million dollars of damage on the other side of the barrier in Nogales, Mexico.

There’s got to be a better way

Of all the designs submitted for Trumps wall, Otra Nation may be the only one advocating for a dismantling of the existing fence line. “We actually think that we can remove the physical borders that have already been put up,” said Cruz.

According to the MADE spokesman, Otra Nation would provide better border security than any physical wall could by using a high-tech system of biometric surveillance and universal smart ID cards. “The ID system that we are proposing is the toughest ID system in the world,” Cruz said. “It is far more stringent than anything the US government has right now.”

The idea may have some Orwellian undertones, but for environmentalists Otra Nation’s wall-less border is a welcome alternative to Trump’s vision. Still, many conservationists stress that it’s not just the wall, but the roads, the vehicles, the buildings, the noise, the high-powered lights, and other security installations, all of which will take its toll on the land and its inhabitants.

For now though, Trump’s wall seems about as far from reality as Otra Nation’s vision of a new age “ecotopia.” The administration has yet to figure out who will pay for the project that the DHS now estimates will cost nearly $22 billion dollars, nor has Trump answered how he intends to build the wall when 1,255 miles, or 64% of the border, runs right down the middle of the Rio Grande. Barring the unlikely scenario that Mexico will elect to host the wall on their side of the river, the US will have to effectively cede a large section of the Rio Grande to Mexico, a move which would undoubtedly affect ranchers, landowners, energy companies, and the local communities that rely on the Rio Grande for water.

Despite these inconsistencies, the president seems hellbent on fulfilling his campaign promise to build a “great” wall to keep immigrants out of the United States. His budget already sets aside $1.4 billion for the initial development of the project, and the bid process is moving forward with the DHS expected to announce a shortlist of 20 proposals by the summer. Those chosen will then build 30 ft. prototypes of their design in the Otay Mesa Community outside of San Diego.

“I know we’ve got a million to one chance of getting selected,” said Cruz. Still, he hopes that MADE’s Otra Nation proposal will at least generate conversation between members of the US and Mexican governments about alternative ways of looking at the border that don’t involve a wall. “Even if we’re not selected, to get the two governments to sit down and look at what we’ve done with these solutions, that will be a huge win for us.

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If There’s Going to Be a Wall, Let It Be This Collaboration Between American and Mexican Designers

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Trump Floats Nonsense Idea of Privatizing Airports and Dams

Mother Jones

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Philip Howard attended Tuesday’s infrastructure confab with President Trump. The Guardian reports on what he told them:

Donald Trump is considering privatising America’s airports and dams as part of an infrastructure building programme that could exceed past estimates of a trillion dollars….“America can do much more than it has, and can do what other countries in Europe and Australia have done, by harnessing private capital,” Howard said. “So it could privatise a number of assets such as airports and dams, and get a lot of capital from that, as well as increase the tax base.”

Hundreds of airports around the world have been privatised or partly privatised but, Howard noted, virtually none in America….Last year the Cato Institute, a conservative thinktank, published a paper that endorsed privatising the nation’s more than 500 commercial airports, which are currently owned by state and local governments and rely on the federal government for capital improvements.

Is Trump really thinking about this? Who knows. But I’m a little mystified. The federal government can’t privatize airports that are owned by states and cities. And even if it could, states and cities would get the money. So what’s the point?

I’d say Trump had four big domestic priorities when he took office:

Repeal Obamacare.
Cut taxes for the rich.
Spend $1 trillion fixing roads and bridges.
Build a wall.

The Obamacare effort has already crashed and burned. His tax plan apparently won’t work with Obamacare in place, so now he’s delaying that to take another run at health care. He doesn’t have anywhere near enough support for his infrastructure plan, which is why he’s desperately scanning the horizon for weird ideas to fund it. And the wall hasn’t gone anywhere yet. It may yet make progress, but even Trump admits it won’t cover anything close to the whole border.

On foreign policy, he’s crashed and burned on his immigration plan; reversed himself on Russia; launched a strike on Syria with no apparent follow-up plan; still has no proposal for defeating ISIS; caved in to China on Taiwan; and has gone soft on trade.

So what has he done? He’s signed a few bills reversing some Obama executive orders, but that’s about over since the easy stuff has an early May deadline. He produced a kinda-sorta budget, which was even deader on arrival than most presidential budgets. He managed to pick a name off a list and nominate him to the Supreme Court, something he apparently considers a helluva hard day’s work. Beyond that, he’s tweeted, convened some “listening sessions,” held a couple of rallies, watched uncounted hours of TV, played lots of golf, and generally developed a reputation as the laziest president in anyone’s memory. Is there anything important I’m missing here?

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Trump Floats Nonsense Idea of Privatizing Airports and Dams

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Trump’s New Executive Order Will Worsen Hunger in Africa

Mother Jones

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This story first appeared on National Geographic Voices.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump took his most concrete step thus far to unravel his predecessor’s legacy on climate change, with a wide-ranging executive order that dismantles several Obama-era policies to restrict greenhouse gas pollution. The order outraged environmentalists—Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called it “a declaration of war on American leadership on climate change”—but it wasn’t very surprising: It simply followed through on a threat contained in the budget Trump proposed two weeks ago.

“We’re not spending money on that anymore,” Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget said then, in response to a question about climate change during a press conference. “We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that.”

That stance could be a big problem for the dozens of farmers I’ve met across sub-Saharan Africa as a journalist reporting on climate change impacts to food security.

Christine Wasike is a maize farmer in Bungoma, an agricultural haven in western Kenya. She works half an acre by hand to produce food for her husband and several young children; if she’s lucky, there is enough left over to sell for cash to pay for school fees, clothes, healthcare, farm equipment, and other necessities.

Like all but a handful of wealthy farmers in Kenya who can afford irrigation systems, she relies exclusively on rainfall to water her crops, and last year, which scientists recently confirmed was the hottest ever recorded, the rains came late and light. As a result, Wasike’s harvest was disappointing, and her income for the season was less than $50, a net loss after covering the cost of seeds and other farm expenses.

“When there is drought farmers suffer a lot,” she says. “There is a lot of hunger, especially with children at home.”

Stories like Wasike’s are increasingly commonplace in sub-Saharan Africa. A majority of people on the continent depend directly on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods, and because they rely almost exclusively on rainfall for water and often can’t afford adaptive technologies, they are among the world’s most vulnerable people to climate change. As a result, they are among those with the most to lose from if Trump reverses Obama’s climate change policies.

As America walks away from its commitment to help slow the global warming that it holds the primary responsibility for creating in the first place, Wasike, her children, and millions of her peers will be much more likely to face a future defined by hunger and poverty.

The main target of Trump’s executive order is the Clean Power Plan, a regulation hammered out during Obama’s second term that imposes limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The regulation, which was Obama’s signature achievement on climate change, aims to slash the carbon footprint of the nation’s power sector by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. But to Scott Pruitt, the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, it was never more than a plot to “kill jobs throughout the country,” as he told ABC News on Sunday. As directed by Tuesday’s order, the EPA will now review all policies that “serve as obstacles or impediments to energy production”—including the Clean Power Plan. At the same time, the Justice Department will back down from defending the Plan against legal attacks.

These policy changes will reverberate far beyond the coal-fired power plants they are meant to protect. That’s because the Clean Power Plan is the domestic regulation underpinning the US commitment to the Paris Agreement, the groundbreaking global climate accord reached in December 2015. Although the agreement, signed by Obama shortly before he left office, contains language that would make it difficult for Trump to formally withdraw within the next few years, his order effectively accomplishes the same thing. Without the Clean Power Plan, America’s participation in the agreement becomes meaningless. And without America, the world’s second-biggest climate polluter after China, the whole agreement goes up in smoke.

As a result, the chance that global temperature rise will stay “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the limit agreed to in Paris, will vanish. That kind of warming will produce a variety of life-threatening effects in the US which, contrary to Mulvaney’s assertion, would cost taxpayers far more—in the form of damage to coastal property, lost agricultural production, increased electrical bills, public health threats, and other costs, according to a recent economic analysis lead by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg—than what they will save by slashing climate programs.

Still, the impact to developing countries—where livelihoods are more often linked directly to the land and where the money is scarce to, for example, build a storm surge barrier or develop a drought-resistant seed—will likely be even more severe. Millions of the world’s most vulnerable people will suffer the consequences of industrial pollution they did not produce. In other words, they will be left to clean up America’s mess.

In Africa, the most severe impacts will be to agriculture and food security. Sub-Saharan Africa already has the world’s least-productive farms: Average yields of staple grains per hectare are only one-quarter of those in the US and Europe, according to the World Bank, due mainly to poor soil quality and lack of access to financing and the latest farming techniques and equipment. Low productivity not only leads to hunger—23 percent of Africans, 220 million people, are chronically undernourished, the world’s highest rate—but also impedes economic growth, since agriculture is the main income source for a majority of people.

Rising temperatures (Africa has warmed by about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the last 50 years, and is expected to continue warming faster than the global average rate) and increasingly erratic rainfall are making the situation worse. An analysis for the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report found that prolonged dry spells and high temperatures could reduce yield of staple grains across the continent up to 35 percent by 2050, even as the continent sees its population double.

The consequences will be wide-reaching. Market prices will climb, calorie availability will drop, and national economies will suffer: A recent analysis by the OECD found that reduced agricultural productivity because of climate change could sap up to 4 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP by 2060, the world’s highest rate of loss. Some areas may become unusable for farming or grazing, forcing people to look for new land, which in turn can lead to territorial ethnic conflicts and deforestation. Food and water scarcity can prompt mass migrations, like the one currently underway in the Sahel, and humanitarian crises, like the 20 million people currently in need of emergency food assistance in southern Africa. It can contribute to radicalization and the empowerment of terrorist groups like Boko Haram, which has benefited from destitution caused by the desiccation of Lake Chad.

These impacts will be borne in particular by the rural poor, who often have no “plan B” when the harvest fails, and in particular by women, who typically are responsible for growing crops for food and cash (in addition to other household duties).

Fortunately, in most cases, the solutions needed to make Africa’s farmers and pastoralists more resilient to climate change are nothing very fancy, expensive, or high-tech. People need training on basic techniques to conserve water and improve soil quality; they need access to microloans to afford better seeds, tools, fertilizer, and irrigation; they need secure land rights; they need better roads to take their produce to markets. The fate of programs to promote these solutions now in place at the the US Agency for International Development, now under the purview of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, remains unclear.

What farmers don’t need are unchecked greenhouse gas emissions from the US The specific numbers on projections of crop yields, hunger, poverty, and other factors differ slightly depending on which analysis you read, but one trend is consistent: The hotter the world gets, the worse off Africa’s rural poor will be. And if that doesn’t bother this administration, it should, since economic depression and political instability are ultimately harmful to US business, military, and diplomatic interests in Africa.

Deleting climate change from the EPA’s rulebook and the federal budget won’t make it go away—and it won’t settle our environmental debt to the rest of the world.

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Trump’s New Executive Order Will Worsen Hunger in Africa

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These Elegant Short Stories Are the Perfect Rebuke to Nationalism

Mother Jones

In an era when insular politics have taken hold across the US and parts of Europe, Kanishk Tharoor’s debut short story collection Swimmer Among the Stars: Stories (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is refreshing for its lack of attachment to national borders. Blending together the futuristic and folkloric with contemporary social and political concerns, Tharoor leads readers from a circus-like ethnography of a single woman speaking an endangered language to an eerie Skype call between a coal mine worker and the foreign photojournalist who splashes his image on a magazine.

Much of the collection’s charm probably owes to Tharoor’s own peripatetic adolescence, spent shuttling between Geneva, New York, and Calcutta as the son of Indian statesman Shashi Tharoor. “Even though I’m Indian and I grew up in America, the lineages which my fiction aspires to aren’t just Indian or American,” Tharoor says. “I can find as much pleasure and value reading a Finnish epic.” The result is a style of writing that lifts its references liberally across time and space rather than wrestling with the split of a hyphenated identity: “I was able to grow up in New York City with a sense of myself as an Indian who happened to be living in New York.”

Tharoor is perhaps best known as the presenter of last year’s BBC radio series on the Museum of Lost Objects, which looked at the plunder and destruction of antiquities during the wars in Syria and Iraq. “The past has always felt contemporary and relevant to me,” Tharoor says. His own upbringing sparked a “wider interest in recovering the kinds of connections and moments in history” that are buried. I talked to Tharoor about his upbringing and fiction’s role in the age of nationalist fervor.

Mother Jones: Given the surge of nationalism sweeping through the US and parts of Europe recently, what role do you see for authors in societies seemingly retreating from globalization?

Kanishk Tharoor: I do think it is incumbent upon writers to open their fiction to a wider frame of reference. Americans have always had this luxury of being a “continent of a nation.” A lot of people elsewhere in the world have to be a lot more open to the literature of other places because they’re smaller. America is so big—in every sense—so Americans have always been able to satisfy their cultural needs within the bounds of their own nation. I think what we consider American literature can often be a little bit insular. It would be great if people read more translation, or if American writers took a wider interest in the world beyond the immediate world of their own country’s fiction. At a minimum, we should all be reading more literature from other places: That’s one of the best ways that the walls around us can be knocked down.

MJ: What unites the stories in Swimmer Among the Stars, in your view? Why did you feel they belonged together?

KT: I’m always interested in recovering lost moments that often get suppressed in the larger, dominant narrative. A lot of these stories are about recovering lost objects. Even if one story is set in an apocryphal village in central Asia, and another is set in outer space, there is a thematic interest that links them.

MJ: The “Fall of an Eyelash” looks at refugees. Was the genesis of that story directly linked to the news cycle?

KT: Part of it is actually based on a family friend’s story who fled Iran. When I wrote this story, it was before waves of Syrian refugees entered Europe, and seeing that crisis metastasizing. We live in the greatest era of displacement because of conflict and this short story is certainly interested in the experience of that problem.

MJ: What about the story “Portrait with Coal Fire”?

KT: I was looking at this photo of an Indian miner in deplorable conditions doing horrific work. There’s a great deal of sympathy on the part of the photographer and indeed the readers of the magazine itself. At the same time, it made me think about: Has the man seen this photograph, and what does he think about seeing himself in a magazine like this, if that was even possible? It was almost a thought experiment—to imagine what would it be like to be photographed and try to be represented in a way that you thought was more appropriate.

MJ: With your father Shashi Tharoor publishing more than a dozen books, mostly on the history and politics of India, how much of your own literary journey started at home?

My dad is a writer, but my mom is a professor of English literature as well, so I grew up in a household flooded with books. I’m also a broadcast journalist, which I do alongside my fiction work. Readers of the collection will see there is pretty strong historical interest present. For a while, I considered becoming a historian, but I decided the kind of writing I wanted to do was not academic writing.

MJ: One of your characters is the last speaker of an unnamed language. Are you interested the preservation of rare languages? How many languages do you speak?

KT: I speak maybe six or seven languages imperfectly. I don’t really consider myself much of a polyglot.

The issue of language extinction has always interested me. We live in crazy times in human history in terms of the death of languages. A friend of mine runs the Endangered Language Alliance, Ross Perlin, and he studies languages and endangered languages. He turned me on to the fact that in New York City, where I live, over 800 languages are spoken in the city. There are many languages here, whether they’re from East Africa or southeast Asia or wherever else, which are no longer spoken in the places where they came from, but survive here in dying form amongst immigrant communities. As people who read, write, think, and dream in English, it is incumbent upon us to be aware of the damages or the losses incurred by these languages.

MJ: One of your short stories hints at the danger of climate change. How do you see an author’s duty, if there is one, to engage with political or environmental struggles?

KT: Fiction, I think, can make people think about issues, can spark imaginations, can open doors, can take people out of their own frame of reference. All those things are good. That’s what I would like to do with my fiction. I don’t know how much I would like to serve an advocacy function. If there is a story that touches on climate change, I think the message is embedded in the conceit of the story.


These Elegant Short Stories Are the Perfect Rebuke to Nationalism

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