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Kathy Smundak

KATHARINA SMUNDAK teaches English and has a newsletter,, which you should sign up for in case you don't have enough tabs open in your browser at any given time.

Of Many Minds

In her memoir American Gypsy, Oksana Marafioti diagnoses herself with “split nationality disorder” in reference to the internal split she feels when choosing between her Romani identity on her father’s side and her Armenian identity on her mother’s.

Twentieth-Century Blues

It is hard to write a review of someone’s diaries without it turning into a review of the diarist himself. The critic, ideally, is not in the business of reviewing the content of the writer’s character. But in the case of diaries, it is precisely the writer’s identity that is on display.

Now the Story of a Wealthy Family Who Lost Everything

Toward the end of The Astor Orphan, as Alexandra Aldrich, a descendant of the Astor, Chanler, and Livingston families (among others), prepares for her boarding school interviews at the age of 14, she describes her life.

The Chase Goes On

Thank You for Your Service, David Finkel’s account of returning Afghanistan and Iraq War vets suffering from PTSD, has a surprisingly literary quality.

Second Life

Peter Steiner’s famous cartoon in which one dog, sitting at a computer, says to another, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog,” addresses the anonymity the Internet affords and the identities one can perform.

Enemy and Promised Land

Andrew Hussey’s The French Intifada is the second book in a row I’ve reviewed that at least partially addresses the Arab Spring. Its subject is France’s current domestic struggles with “its Arabs,” as Hussey terms it, as well as a history of France’s relations with what are now its former Maghreb colonies: Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia—which was ground zero for the Arab Spring.

Matter of Factual

At the very beginning of Father and Son, as writer Marcos Giralt Torrente embarks on his first nonfiction project, he quotes Amos Oz, who writes, “he who seeks the heart of the tale in the space between the work and its author is mistaken: the place to look is not the terrain between text and writer but between text and reader.”

Guilty as Charged

Last fall, I was volunteering for a podcast producing an episode on the state of the world’s oceans. Of course I knew the theme would be depressing. I just never expected to what extent. Several interviews in, I was in a state of mild panic. I vowed never to eat shrimp again and to adhere strictly to the Monterey Aquarium’s guide for sustainable fishing.

A Different Side of Terrorism

I have a friend who has developed some maxims to live by. Among them: 1) Take advantage of free things (phrased as “fo’ free, fo’ me”); 2) Never apologize for good game; and 3) Don’t discuss Israel because you are very likely somewhere from un- to mis- on the informed spectrum.

Straddling Borders

An Israeli tour guide once said to me something to the effect of “Living in Israel is a choice, and it is a choice I make every day.” Even if the comment is an exaggeration, it is nonetheless striking to someone from the US, a country in which everyday life does not entail, as a matter of course, constant evaluation of the nation’s actions and of one’s place within it.

Out of Reach

My great-grandmother on my grandfather’s side was born in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1888. She was twenty-nine when the Russian Revolution toppled the Tsar.

In the Interstices and the Lacunae

Virginia Heffernan gained some notoriety in certain media circles in 2013, when she published an article titled “Why I’m a Creationist” on Yahoo! News.

Lillian Li's Number One Chinese Restaurant

In the “Fried Rice” episode of Ugly Delicious, the show tackles the subject of Chinese-American cuisine, the extent to which it has permeated American culture, and the limitations placed upon it by people’s expectations and prejudice.

Against Fiction

In December of 1956, Rodolfo Walsh was sitting in a cafe in Buenos Aires playing chess with his friends when he learned that a man who had supposedly been executed was, in fact, alive.

A Dorm of One’s Own

When I saw a book titled Growing Up Muslim: Muslim College Students in America Tell Their Life Stories, I thought I would be reading insightful autobiographical essays representative of the range of experiences of growing up Muslim in a society fundamentally ignorant of the breadth of Muslim culture and variety of forms the religion takes.

All the World’s a Stage

Cliburn, a pianist and the subject of Nigel Cliff’s latest biography, Moscow Nights, incarnated this dual role of individual and national symbol in two countries for decades of the Cold War.

World Without End

I work in publishing, so I may pay undue attention to a book’s packaging. Still, it seems a disservice to categorize Shannon Huffman Polson’s North of Hope under Religion/Spiritual Growth.

In a Waters World

Although John Waters only admits that “reality is never as exciting as fiction” toward the end of Carsick, his three-part account of his cross-country hitchhiking journey, the book’s very conceit implies and corroborates the observation. For while Waters only hitchhikes across the country once, he envisions two alternate journeys—the best that can happen, the worst that can happen—before finally chronicling the real thing.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2023

All Issues