Image: Per-Anders Pettersson, "Fighting Oil Fires In Kuwait," 1991. Courtesy of the artist and Getty Images.
This month we explore the role of oil in the international landscape. Oil transforms nations, links disparate political and social ideologies, breeds conflict, and drives governmental and corporate policy; our writers show how this force, both blessing and curse, shapes lives and literature around the world. We begin with an essay by political scientist Michael L. Ross connecting oil wealth and national development. Russian Booker nominee and award-winning short-story writer Alexander Snegiryov presents the (show) business of oil in Russia. In two graphic pieces, Lebanon's Mazen Kerbaj mourns what's left of his pillaged country, and Italy's Davide Reviati grows up in the shadow of Ravenna's ominous petrochemical plant. Translator Peter Theroux shows how Abdelrahman Munif's great Cities of Salt runs on oil. Afrikaans star Etienne van Heerden's solitary South African experiences hydrofracking firsthand, while science fiction writer Andreas Eschbach's stolid loner taps a sixth sense for oil. In two tales of oil workers, Argentina's María Sonia Cristoff and Germany's Anja Kampmann explore solitude, madness, and other occupational hazards. And poet Stephen E. Kekeghe protests the draining of Nigeria.
In our second feature, Maaza Mengiste, author of Beneath the Lion's Gaze, introduces three pieces connecting Ethiopia and Italy. Italo-Ethiopian novelist Gabriella Ghermandi returns to her homeland to honor her father, graphic novelist Paolo Castaldi tracks a tragic emigration, and poet Surafel Wondimu curses the gods.
The Beginning and End of the Oil Curse?
For the last thirty years, good geology has led to bad politics.
From the heavens black gold pours down.
We have nations that we don't want.
from “Poison Karoo”
Perhaps I will poison a petrol engineer’s coffee.
Abdelrahman Munif and the Uses of Oil
"Cities of Salt" was no more about oil than "The Godfather" was about olive oil.
No one seriously considered the idea that the world’s oil deposits might be limited.
State of Hypnosis
After a while you reach a dazed state, a stupor in the face of nothing in particular.
from “Morti di Sonno”
If one of those things explodes, the city’ll blow up too.
Pulse beyond the Horizon
For six years Arabian Drilling has clocked my time.
When Can We Be Sane?
A precious oil meadow that churns out /Bent and Sweet Crude
Reviewed by Emma Garman
"Persecution," the title of Alessandro Piperno’s scorchingly ambitious second novel, is not a straightforward label for the catastrophe that befalls the protagonist, Leo Pontecorvo.