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from the January 2017 issue

People Behaving Badly

Among the many traditions observed at the New Year—eating Hoppin' John for luck, stocking the larder to assure twelve months of abundance, lurching for the aspirin—making resolutions may be at the top. Many greet the clean slate of a new year by pledging to chalk up only virtue and moderation, vowing to wipe out bad habits across the board. If you're not quite ready to embrace this pious trend, we invite you to welcome January with a sampler of bad behavior, an array of crimes and misdemeanors around the world.

It will come as no surprise that substance abuse plays a role in several of the tales here.  Andrei Krasniashikh depicts an inebriated soccer fan whose drunken confusion over the results of a match turns out to be one of his more benign errors. As one fumble leads to another, we see the losses mount well beyond the playing field.

In another view of alcoholic excess, Brazil's Felipe Franco Munhoz finds a small-town couple at the intersection of literature and liquor. Working their way through books and whisky, they run out of the latter. The ill-advised combination of William Faulkner and Jack Daniels, with an Internet research chaser, proves combustible, demonstrating the risk of GWI (Googling While Intoxicated).

While some of this month’s villains are three sheets to the wind, others’ misbehavior requires the clearest of heads. Polish journalist Hanna Krall trains her sharp eye on a small-time con woman. As she fleeces neighbors and coworkers, dodging creditors and borrowing from Piotr to pay Pawel, she pauses between marks to recite her poetry. Only later does Krall discover her boldest scam.

Some of the worst trangressions are those committed in the most common of settings. Positions of authority often invite abuse, as seen in Amy Yamada's hard look at the balance of power in the classroom. When a former teacher is accused of inappropriate relationships with female students, a young woman flashes back to her own involvement with him. Questions of culpability and intention—"Did he harm me?" she asks, rhetorically but also incredulously—have no easy answers.

Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès looks in as a factory supervisor spies on his workers. He's monitoring not the assembly line but the locker room, looking not to increase their efficiency but to jump-start his own desire; yet his surreptitious exploitation of his employees does not go unnoticed.

Alejandro Saravia's homeless Caribbean immigrant dreams of wealth and fame. When he makes the wrong deal, he ends up where he began on the mean streets of Montreal.

And Guiseppe Berto steps inside one of the most famous betrayals in literature, imagining the Last Supper from the perspective of the treacherous Judas. Guilt, betrayal, faith, and death swirl in this portrayal of a Judas motivated not by evil but by devotion.

Whatever your plans for 2017, we hope you'll find these examples of bad behavior a bracing start to the new year. One of our favorite New Year's traditions is to do something related to one's work, and do it successfully. With this in mind, we'll be reading literature in translation—and hoping you'll be doing the same. We invite you to start with these and other portraits of international behavior, bad and otherwise, found in our pages this month and throughout the year.

© 2017 by Susan Harris. All rights reserved.

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