7 Books About the War on Terror

Jamil Jan Kochai, author of “99 Nights in Logar,” recommends heartrending literature on America’s war against Islam

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M y novel 99 Nights in Logar — about a small group of young boys searching for a ferocious guard dog in a small village in Logar, Afghanistan — primarily stems from a series of events I recall quite often (and quite nostalgically) from a three-month trip I took to Afghanistan in 2005 when I was twelve years old. Though I’ve lived in the shadow of the “War on Terror” since 2001, this trip to Afghanistan was the first time I really came face to face with the surreal nature of America’s war in Afghanistan.

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I watched the machinations of the “War on Terror” (its surveillance, its checkpoints, its weaponry, its barricaded semi-colonies where foreigners are safely separated from the native population, its behemoth Humvees, its reports, its stories, its legends) in awe and in horror, and in many ways, I wrote my novel 99 Nights in response to this odd sense of being both constantly overwhelmed by joy (joking and running and swimming and laughing and skipping stones) and by fear.

Approximately eighteen years after the US began its “War on Terror”, the world (especially the Islamic world) has only been made more violent and more chaotic as a result. Nonetheless, out of this absurd carnage has appeared some incredible, heartrending, and oftentimes surreal books. Here are just a few:

Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi

In Guantánamo Diary, Mohamedou Ould Slahi gives a harrowing account of the fourteen years he was held without charge or trial at Guantanamo Bay. He wrote his memoir in captivity. Thus, large portions of the text were censored and omitted by the U.S. government in a very Orwellian fashion, giving the text this almost unintentionally (horrifically) postmodern aesthetic. In this way, the book becomes a chilling testament to America’s state of censorship, Islamaphobia, historical erasure, torture, and our very understanding of how, and to whom, violence should be inflicted.

The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq by Hassan Blasim

If you’re tired of reading American perspectives on the War in Iraq, take a look at The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq by Hassan Blasim, an Iraqi-born writer. His collection of short stories The Corpse Exhibition is probably the most soul shattering book on war I’ve read since Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry. Blasim takes on the atrocity of the American War in Iraq with a horrifying (and awe inspiring) sense of absurdism and unflinching realism.

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan

Written from multiple perspectives (bombers and victims and everyone in between), Karan Mahajan’s The Association of Small Bombs weaves an incredible tapestry of stories and lives in the wake of a “small” bombing in Lajpat Nagar, Delhi. Terror, in Mahajan’s novel, never exists in some sort of an ideological vacuum, rather Mahajan demonstrates how violence and terrorism (both of the militant and the state sponsored variety) are produced and reproduced from a complex set of material and political circumstances. As much as The Association should be lauded for its impeccable prose and complex characters (as it has been), the novel should also be recognized for its aversion to a reoccurring simplification of how and why “terror” occurs.

Karan Mahajan on the Inner Lives of Terrorists & Victims in Today’s India

Look by Solmaz Sharif

I read Solmaz Sharif’s poem “Reaching Guantanamo” in my office at UC Davis, around noon, on a sunny day sometime toward the end of spring. I can recall, vividly, almost every detail from the moment of my reading because this poem has left such an indelible mark on my sense of seeing and being seen. Much of Sharif’s work focuses on the violence of language (and the language of war), so it seems fitting that this poem would have such a visceral and devastating effect upon my body (my skin, my heart rate). I shook. I shuddered. I nearly wept. Kafka once said “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” Look is one of these books.

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi

A drunken junk seller collects the abandoned body parts of bombing victims and begins to stitch together a Frankenstein-type-monster in Baghdad, Iraq during the early years of the American occupation. Somehow Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad only gets wilder from there as the Frankenstein creature begins to take vengeance upon the killers of the victims from which he was created. Darkly comic and beautifully written, Saadawi’s Frankenstein becomes a surreal depiction of the monstrosity of the American War in Iraq itself.

Radical Skin, Moderate Masks by Yassir Morsi

A lecturer in politics at La Trobe University, Yassir Morsi draws upon Frantz Fanon’s classic text Black Skin, White Masks to explore questions of how, and if, Muslims are able to represent themselves politically. What does it mean to “de-radicalize”? Or to become “liberal” within the context of the “War on Terror”? Unafraid to delve into experiences from his own life, Morsi writes a brilliantly theorized text, without falling into the pit of Academic jargon. Especially for young Muslim writers, Morsi’s Radical Skin, Moderate Ma

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Mrs. Stoner Speaks: An Interview with Nancy Gardner Williams

Much of my life has been lived in such secrecy. It has never been politic for me to let another know my heart. —John Williams, Augustus

 

Nancy Gardner Williams, John Williams’s widow, lives in a small bungalow in Pueblo, Colorado, close to the desert. This town near the Rocky Mountains was once known for its steel industry. Nancy, a tall woman who holds herself straight, is attentive and observant, friendly yet somewhat reserved. She is not decisively talkative, but you realize immediately that she must have been on equal terms with her husband. “No bluster, no fashion, no pomp,” as Dan Wakefield once remarked about John Williams. That seems to be true for her as well. Nancy studied English literature at the University of Denver. One of her lecturers was John Williams.

 

INTERVIEWER

Ms. Williams, you met John in Denver in 1959. He was your professor. What was he like?

WILLIAMS

He always wore an ascot and was always smoking cigarettes, even while he was lecturing. I don’t think he ever came to teach not wearing his ascot. And he was a good teacher. He fancied his stuff neat and had a neat and tidy demeanor.

INTERVIEWER

He came from a rather poor background.

WILLIAMS

Yes, his family was poor. His mother loved to read true romance magazines. When he was twelve years old, he got a little job at the bookstore in town, and the guy in the bookstore took an interest in him. Sometimes John would find his mother crying, but those were tough times, my God. It’s hard to imagine, the pressure and worry to make enough money to have food on the table. They farmed, so they did have food. John once showed me the farm. It was very small, a small building, small acreage. 

INTERVIEWER

How did he manage to go to university?

WILLIAMS

He wouldn’t have had any chance to go to study. There was no money. But anybody who had served in the armed forces in World War II could go to school. The government would pay for it. Lucky for him—I mean, it was just wonderful.

INTERVIEWER

The first book to bring him recognition as a writer was Butcher’s Crossing. The settings of his novels vary, as do the genres. However, Butcher’s Crossing seems to be very far from the reality of a young professor, as he was at that time. Do you know what made him choose to write a Western?

WILLIAMS

Well, he lived in the West. And all of that mountainous terrain and the rivers and so forth were just around him. When he was writing Butcher’s Crossing, he would just go and camp out in the forests, in the mountains. I think he found that he did not quite agree with Emerson, who talks about how nature is benign. I don’t believe that Butcher’s Crossing is autobiographical, but there is a lot of John’s experience in there—the killing that goes on and on.

INTERVIEWER

An analogy to the war?

WILLIAMS

Yes. I think so.

INTERVIEWER

What did he do during the war?

WILLIAMS

He had a big voice. And when he was in high school, he got a job as a radio announcer. Then he took some further radio training, so when he enlisted in the Army Air Forces, they immediately sent him for more training, and he became a radio operator on a C-45, a trip and surveillance plane. So that’s what he did during the war, in China, Burma, and India. He was shot down. The plane was flying very low and zipped along the top of the trees, and finally, gravity brought it all the way down. And John found himself sitting outside the plane. He didn’t know whether he had taken himself out or been thrown out of the plane, but he and the two other men who had been in the front of the plane survived and the five men in the back died. And that fact haunted him all his life. How come I lived and they died? When I first knew him, he had nightmares, he had recurrences of malaria, and that was fifteen years after the war. The nightmares subsided with time, but he still had occasional ones. It never went away. Two and a half years of killing, killing, and killing. It never went away.

INTERVIEWER

In the first novel, Nothing but the Night, a son, alienated from his father and traumatized by some early-childhood experience, is at the center of the story. I was completely taken by it. It’s a book that hits you with John’s urge to write and his talent. You feel the energy, the power of a person who went through fire. It amazed me, and then I realized he wrote the novel while he was in Burma during the war, when he was only twenty-two.

WILLIAMS

Yes.

INTERVIEWER

Why did he distance himself from it?

WILLIAMS

I don’t know. I wish I had reread it before you came so I would be up on it. Well, he worked on Nothing but the Night while he was recovering from the plane crash. According to the rules, he should have been sent home, but there was no way to do that. But he was relieved of duty. That was the policy—if you’re injured, you don’t have any more duties. God knows where he got the paper. Imagine, he was in a tent, he had a pet mongoose who came to visit a couple times a day, and there was a clearing in the jungle, several other tents—otherwise nothing, no movie, no radio, no library, literally nothing. He was there in the nothing, in a little clearing in the jungle, and he just wrote to keep himself from dying of boredom.

When he felt well enough, when he had recovered, he volunteered to go take the ID tags off a downed pilot from a plane that had crashed. They knew the pilot was dead, but if they had not gone in to get his ID tags, his family would never have known what happened to him. So he and two other guys went through the jungle, chopping their way in, quite an adventure of its own, but he needed something to do, so he wrote the novel, and he went to take the guy’s dog tags.

INTERVIEWER

Did he make you a partner in his writing?

WILLIAMS

No, except once when he came downstairs with the end of Augustus and I knew right away—I said, You have gone on too long. You need to stop sooner. But that was the only thing I ever told him about his writing.

INTERVIEWER

And did he follow your advice?

WILLIAMS

Yes, he did.

INTERVIEWER

Did he write every day?

WILLIAMS

Yes, when he could. But only during summers. Otherwise, he was teaching. He was an extremely methodical writer, he took great pains with his writing, and he outlined very carefully. Because he didn’t want to have to rewrite anything. He started very early in the morning, around seven thirty, eight o’clock, after some coffee perhaps. He wasn’t a breakfast eater. Then he would go upstairs to his studio, and I didn’t see him again until lunchtime, except every once in a while I would see him out in the garden. He would be out with his vegetables, a farmer. He loved that garden, and I thought, Oh well, he got stuck somewhere and needs to relax and after a while he’ll go back up and write. Then he would come down for lunch—we often had lunch together—then maybe he would go to the university to get his mail or talk to somebody. And then in the afternoon he would go back upstairs for maybe two or three hours, planning the next day’s work so that when he went to work, he knew what he wanted to accomplish.

INTERVIEWER

In 1973, he received the National Book Award for Augustus. He had to share it with John Barth, and he also had to share the money, which wasn’t much anyway. And yet he is known to ha

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Valeria Luiselli on Freedom, First Love, and Mayan Ruins

Valeria Luiselli’s novel, Lost Children Archive, is now available from Knopf.

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Who do you most wish would read your book?
Anyone who thinks that “Make America Great Again” is not a fascist slogan.

What do you always want to talk about in interviews but never get to?
I’ve always wanted to ask interviewers how they come up with all their questions, and what makes them most curious about the person they are going to interview, and which questions they wish they could ask but can’t, for whatever reason, and if they would like to be asked similar questions to the ones they do ask, were they the ones being interviewed.

What time of day do you write?
I’ve always written late at night, because that is when my mind is most awake, but not in a neurotic way. The late night is when I feel most free from the noise of everyday concerns. I like the solitude and silence. My body is tired, but the kind of wavelengths in my brain are just the right ones for writing. The problem is that I also love waking up with the sun, and like to go swimming in the early morning. I wish I could be like Immanuel Kant, who apparently slept like half an hour and still wrote rather lucid books.

How do you tackle writers block?
I read.

Which books do you return to again and again?
There are many. Emily Dickinson’s poems, Joseph Brodsky’s essays, Wittgenstein’s everything, Susan Sontag’s and Marina Tsvetaeva’s journals, Borges’s short stories.

Which non-literary piece of culture—film, tv show, painting, song—could you not imagine your life without?
The Mayan ruins of Uxmal, Calakmul and Palenque are perhaps some of the most astonishing human-made spaces that I have seen. The way that sound travels through them, the many shifting appearances of the stones depending on how the sunlight hits them, the magnitude of the constructions and yet the way they converge perfectly and not violently with the landscape. I think I learned to read space differently in those two places, and for the first time had a deeper sense of the presentness of the past.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Someone once told me to protect my freedom at all costs, to never comply to expectations and never attempt to please anyone. I am very thankful for that piece of advice, because it was given to me when I was very young, or at least quite young. Perhaps I would have given up creative freedom for much more banal pursuits, had I not had to consider that simple but also complex idea thoroughly and early enough.

What was the first book you fell in love with?
Hopscotch, by Julio Cortázar. Probably because I was young, and it was the first time I read about love and sex and literature all in the same book. But also, because it is a brilliantly constructed puzzle that you have to learn how to read while you read it. It demands absolute im


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“A Tiger Fighter Is Hard To Find” by Ha Jin

Oxford American recommends a short story about why tigers are not easy co-stars

Photo by Blake Meyer on Unsplash

Issue №353

Jump to story

INTRODUCTION BY SARA A. LEWIS

Ha Jin’s short story “A Tiger Fighter Is Hard to Find” appeared in the Fall 1998 issue of the Oxford American backed by an interview with Jin about his writing life. Jin, perhaps unsurprisingly, cites Flannery O’Connor as an influence. More specifically, he uses her as an example of the gap between the life one has lived and the writing one does: O’Connor was a Southern Catholic often confined to her home, and Jin is a Chinese immigrant raised during the Cultural Revolution. On becoming a writer, Jin states: “It’s a mixture: it’s luck and it’s also misfortune.” This statement rings true to the oft-contradictory themes of O’Connor’s work, and of Jin’s.

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Oxford American is a magazine devoted to publishing the best in Southern writing while also documenting the complexity and vitality of the American South. Jin, who was living in Atlanta at the time this story was published, enters into conversation with the Southern literary tradition of O’Connor’s work in more ways than one. While the title of the story, “A Tiger Fighter Is Hard to Find,” clearly invokes O’Connor, the story itself also conjures her absurdity, that specific quality of humor with a discomfiting edge. The story of an ill-fated Chinese propaganda film crew in search of an a man who can fight a real tiger in real time while the cameras roll reveals universalities of the human condition: the desires for recognition, success, belonging. But it’s Jin’s devotion to writing about a specific, fraught place, as he deconstructs the prevailing cultural ideologies inherent in it, that is familiar in particular to all who have loved and lived in the South.

Kirkus Review said of Jin’s collection Under the Red Flag (winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award in Short Fiction) that Jin “has managed to make an utterly alien world seem as familiar as an old friend.” This familiarity is as present in 2019 as it was in 1998, and, as we all know, good friends are hard to find. Jin’s story is a friend worth keeping.

Sara A. Lewis
Oxford American, Associate Editor

The Swan as Metaphor for Love

“A Tiger Fighter is Hard to Find”

by Ha Jin

We were overwhelmed by a letter from the Provincial Governor’s Office. It praised our T’V series Wu Song Fought the Tiger. The governor was impressed by the hero, who fought the tiger single-handedly and punched it to death. The letter read: “We ought to create more heroic characters of this kind as role models for the revolutionary masses to follow. You, writers and artists, are the engineers of the human soul. You have a noble job in your hands, which is to strengthen peoples’ hearts and instill in them the spirit that fears neither heaven nor earth.” But the last paragraph of the letter pointed out a weakness in the key episode, which was that the tiger looked fake, and didn’t present an authentic challenge to the hero. The governor wondered if we could improve this section, so that our province might send the series to Beijing before the end of the year. That evening we had a meeting and decided to reshoot the tiger-fighting scene. Everybody was excited, because if the series were sent to the capital, it would mean we’d compete for a national prize. We decided to let Huping Wang take the part of the hero again, since the governor had been impressed by him in the first version. He was more than happy to do it. The problem was the tiger. First, a real animal would cost a fortune. Second, how could we shoot a scene with such a dangerous animal?

With the governor’s letter in hand, we obtained a grant from the Municipal Administration without difficulty. Four men were dispatched to Jilin Province to ship back a tiger just caught on Ever White Mountain. By law we were not allowed to acquire a protected animal, but we got papers that said we needed it for our city’s zoo. A week later the four men returned with a gorgeous Siberian tiger.

We all went to see the animal, which had been put in a cage in the backyard of our building. It was a male, weighing more than six hundred pounds. Its eyes glowed with a cold, brown light, and its scarlet tongue seemed wet with blood. What a thick coat it had, golden and glossy! Its stripes would ripple whenever it shook its head or stretched its neck. I was amazed at how small its ears were, not much larger than a dog’s. But it smelled awful, like ammonia.

We were told to feed it ten pounds of mutton a day. This was expensive, but if we wanted to keep the animal in good shape, we had no choice.

Huping Wang seemed a little unnerved by the tiger. Who wouldn’t? But Huping was a grand fellow: tall, muscular, straight-shouldered, and with dreamy eyes that would sparkle when he smiled. I would say he was the most handsome young man in our Muji City, just as his nickname, Prince, suggested. One girl told me that whenever he was nearby, her eyes would turn watery. Another girl said that whenever he spoke to her, her heart would pound and her face would burn with a tickle. I don’t know if that was true.

A few days before the shooting, Director Yu, who used to be a lecturer at a cinema school in Shanghai, gave Huping a small book to read. It was The Old Man and the Sea, by an American author whose name has just escaped me.

The director told Huping, “A man’s not born to be defeated, not by a shark or a tiger.”

“I understand,” said Huping.

That was what I liked most about him. He wasn’t just handsome, not like a flowered pillowcase without solid stuff in it. He studied serious books and was learned, different from most of us, who merely read picture books and comics. If he didn’t like a novel, he would say, “Well, this isn’t literature.” What’s more, he was skilled in kung fu, particularly mantis boxing. One night last winter, he was on his way back to his dorm when four thugs stopped him and demanded he give them his wallet. He gave them a fight instead. He felled them with his bare hands and then dragged the ringleader to a nearby militia headquarters. For that, he got written about in newspapers. Later, he was elected an outstanding actor.

The morning of the shooting was a little windy and overcast. Two trucks took us four miles out of the city to the edge of an oak wood. We unloaded the tiger cage, mounted the camera on the tripod, and set up the scene by placing a few large rocks here and there and pulling out some tall grass to make the flattish ground more visible. A few people gathered around Huping and helped him with his outfit and makeup. Near the cage stood two men, each holding a tranquilizer gun.

Director Yu was pacing back and forth behind the camera. A scene like this couldn’t be repeated; we had to get everything right on the first take.

The medic took out a stout jar of White Flame and poured a full bowl of it. Without a word, Huping raised the liquor with both hands and drank it up in a long swallow. People watched him silently. He looked radiant in the passing sunlight. A black mosquito landed on his jaw, but he didn’t bother to slap at it.

When everything was ready, one of the men shot a tranquilizer dart into the tiger’s rump. Holding his forefinger before Huping’s face, Director Yu said in a high-pitched voice, “Try to get into the character. Remember, once you are in the scene, you are no longer Huping Wang. You are the hero, a tiger fighter, a true killer!”

“I’ll remember that,” Huping said, hitting his left palm with his right fist. He wore high leather boots and a cudgel across his back.

Director Yu’s gaze swept through the crowd, and he asked loudly if everyone was ready. A few people nodded.

“Action!” he cried.

The door of the cage was lifted up. The tiger rushed out, vigorously shaking its body. It opened its mouth and four long canine teeth glinted. It began walking in circles and sniffing at the ground while Huping, with firm steps, began to approach it. The animal roared and pranced, but our hero took the cudgel from his back and went forward resolutely. When he was within ten feet of the tiger, the snarling beast suddenly sprang at him, but with all his might Huping struck it on the head with his cudgel. The blow staggered the tiger a little, but it came back and lunged at him again. Huping leapt aside and hit its flank. This blow sent the animal a few feet away. Huping followed it, striking its back and head. The tiger turned around with a menacing look. Then they were in a real melee.

With a crack, the front half of the cudgel flew away. Huping dropped the remaining half, just as Wu Song does in the story. The beast lunged forward, reached for Huping’s leg, and ripped his pants, then jumped up, snapping at Huping’s throat. Our hero knocked the animal aside with his fist, but its attack threw him off balance — he tottered and almost fell.

“Keep engaging it!” Director Yu shouted at him.

I stood behind a large elm, hugging my ribs.

“Closer, closer!” the director ordered the cameraman.

Huping kicked the tiger in the side. The animal reeled around y and sprang at him again. Huping dodged the attack and punched the tiger’s neck. Now the drug began taking effect; the tiger wobbled a little and fell to its haunches. It lurched to its feet again, but after a few steps collapsed. Our hero jumped on its back, punching its head with all his strength. The tiger, as if dead, no longer reacted to the beating. Still, Huping pulled and pushed its huge head, forcing its lips and teeth to scrape the dirt. The tiger remained motionless, only its tail lashing the grass now and again. “Cut!” Director Yu called, and walked over to Huping as two men helped him up from the unconscious animal, The director said, “I guess we didn’t time it well. The tiger passed out too soon.”

“I killed him! I’m the number-one tiger fighter!” Huping shouted, With his fists balled at his flanks, he began laughing huskily and stamping his feet.

People ran up to him and tried to calm him down. He wouldn’t stop laughing.

“I killed him! I killed him!” he yelled, his eyes ablaze.

The medic poured some boiled water into a bowl and took out a sedative tablet. He made Huping take the medicine.

“Good wine, good wine!” Huping said after drinking the water. He wiped his lips with his forearm.

Then, to our astonishment, he burst out singing like a hero in a revolutionary opera:

My spirit rushing toward the Milky Way

With my determination and bravery

I shall eradicate every vermin from earth… .

A young woman snickered. Two men clutched Huping’s arms and dragged him away while he was babbling about plucking out the tiger’s heart, liver, and lungs. They put him into the back of a truck.

“He’s punch-drunk,” said our Party Secretary, Shanlong Feng. “Tough job — I don’t blame him.”

The tiger was lifted back into the cage. Director Yu wasn’t happy about the botched scene. According to the classic story, which our audience would know well, the hero is supposed to ride the tiger for a while, bring it down, and punch its head hundreds of times until it breathes its last. The scene we had just shot missed the final struggle, so we would have to try again.

But Huping was in no condition to work. For the rest of the day he laughed or giggled at random. Whenever he saw someone coming into sight he’d shout, “Hey, I killed the tiger!” We worried about him, so we called in a pedicab and sent him to the hospital for a checkup.

The diagnosis was mild schizophrenia, and the doctor insisted that Huping be hospitalized.

What should we do about the fight scene? Get another tiger fighter? Not so easy. Where on earth could we find a fellow as handsome and strapping as our Prince? We looked through a pile of movie and TV magazines in the hopes of finding someone who resembled him, but most young actors were pale-faced boys; few had the stature and spirit of a hero.

Somehow the prefecture’s Propaganda Department heard about the governor’s interest in our TV series. Its deputy director phoned, saying we should complete the revision as early as possible. Ir was already mid-September, and trees were dropping leaves. Soon, frost and snow would change the color of the landscape and make it impossible to duplicate the setting.

Because it was unlikely we would find a substitute for Huping, some people suggested using him again. Quite a few of us opposed this idea; those who supported it didn’t seem to care about a man’s life. In private, some of us — clerks, assistants, actors — complained about the classic novel that contains the tiger-fighting episode. Why did the author write such a difficult scene? It’s impossible for any man to ride a tiger and then beat it to death bare-handed. The story is a pure fabrication that has misled readers for hundreds of years. It may have been easy for the writer to describe it on paper, but in reality, how could we create such a hero?

Full of anxiety, Director Yu suffered from inflamed eyes, which turned into curved slits between red, doughy lids. He’d wear sunglasses whenever he went out of the office building. He told us, “We must finish the scene! It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!”

One night he even dreamed he himself wrestled the tiger to the ground, and his elbow inflicted a bruise on his wife’s chest.

We were worried, too. Our company couldn’t afford to feed the tiger for long; besides, we had no place to shelter it for the coming winter.

The next week Secretary Feng held a staff meeting with us. We discussed the predicament at some length. Gradually it became clear that if we couldn’t find a substitute, we would have to use Huping again. The proponents of this idea argued logically and convinced us, its opponents, that this was the only way to get the job done.

At the end of the meeting, Director Yu stressed that this time everything had to be accurately designed and calculated. The tranquilizer dart should carry a smaller dose so that the tiger would remain on its feet long enough for our hero to ride it awhile. Also, we would have to be more careful not to let the beast hurt him.

To our relief, when the leaders broached the decision with Huping, he eagerly agreed to fight the tiger again. He said that he’d live up to their expectations and that he felt fine now, ready for work. “I’m a tiger fighter,” he declared. His voice was quite hoarse, and his eyes glittered.

“Yes, you are,” agreed Secretary Feng. “All the provincial leaders are watching you, Huping. Try to do a good job this time.”

“I shall.”

So we trucked the tiger to the site the next morning. The weather happened to be similar to that of the previous time: a little overcast, the sun peeking through the gray clouds now and then. I identified the elm and the spot where the fight had taken place before. Huping sat on a boulder, with a cudgel across his naked back, while the medic massaged his shoulders. After a tranquilizer dart was shot into the tiger’s thigh, Huping rose to his feet and downed a bowl of White Flame in two gulps.

Director Yu went over to give him instructions, saying, “Don’t lose your head. When I shout, ‘On the tiger!’ you get on its back, ride it for a while, then bring it down. Before it stops moving, keep punching its head.”

“All right,” Huping nodded, his gaze fixed on the caged animal.

In the distance, on the hill slope, a few cows were grazing, and occasionally the west wind blew their voices to us.

The tiger was let out. It pranced around, bursting with life. It opened its mouth threateningly. It began eyeing the distant cows.

“Roll the camera!” shouted Director Yu.

As Huping approached the tiger, it growled and rushed toward him. Our hero seemed stunned. He stopped and raised the cudgel, but the beast pounced on him and pawed at his shoulder. With a heartrending cry, Huping dropped his weapon and ran toward us. The tiger followed, but having been caged for weeks it couldn’t run fast. We scattered in every direction, and even the camera crew deserted their equipment. Huping jumped, caught a limb of the elm, and climbed up the tree. The animal leaped and ripped off Huping’s left boot. Instantly, a patch of blood appeared on his white sock. “Save my life!” he yelled, climbing higher. The beast was pacing below the tree, snarling and roaring.

“Give it another shot!” Director Yu cried.

Another dart hit the tiger’s shoulder. In no time it started tottering, moving zigzag under the elm. We watched fearfully while Huping continued yelling for help. He was so piteous.

The tiger fell. Director Yu was outraged and couldn’t help calling Huping names. Two men quietly carried the cage toward the motionless animal.

“Idiot!” Director Yu cursed.

The medic wiggled his fingers at Huping. “Come down now, let me dress your foot.”

“No.”

“The tiger’s gone,” a woman said to him.

“Help me!” he yelled.

No matter how many sweet words we used, he wouldn’t come down from the tree. He squatted up there, weeping like a small boy. The crotch of his pants was wet.

We couldn’t wait for him like this forever, so Secretary Feng, his face puffy and glum, said to a man, “Give him a shot, not too strong.”

From a range of five feet a dart was fired at Huping’s right buttock.

“Ow!” he cried.

A few men went under the elm to catch him, but he didn’t fall. As the drug began affecting him, he turned to embrace the tree trunk and began descending slowly. A moment later the men grabbed his arms and legs and carried him away. One of them said, “He’s so hot. Must be running a fever.” “Phew! Smelly!” said another.

Now that our hero was gone, what could we do? At last it began to sink in that the tiger was too fierce for any man to tackle. Somebody suggested having the beast gelded so as to bring the animal closer to the human level. We gave a thought to that and even talked to a pig castrator who didn’t trust tranquilizers and wouldn’t do the job unless the tiger was tied up. Somehow, Choice Herb Store heard ab

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Important: 50 Literary Cameos in 90s Movies

I don’t know about you, but whenever I see a character on screen reading a book, I squint and peer and rewind and pause and google until I have figured out what book, exactly, they are reading. Sure, it’s probably not important to the plot (though sometimes it is), but I can’t help it: I want to know. I’m nosy like that.

So, what do people read in movies? Lots of things, of course. To narrow it down for this list, I decided to look at only a small segment of the fictional reading public: those reading their books in 90s movies. After all, as you well know, the best category of movie is the 90s movie. Don’t @ me. Just enjoy the stroll down literary and cinematic memory lane below. (My thanks to Cinematic Literature, People Reading in Movies, Fictional Characters Reading Books, who have already done a lot of the legwork on the internet, and also to the freakish, encyclopedic mind of Dan Sheehan, who suggested most of these.) [Ed. note: Dan is an actual genius at this one very specific thing.]

mermaids peyton place

Cher (aka Mrs. Flax) reading Grace Metalious’s Peyton Place in all-time classic Mermaids (Richard Benjamin, 1990). Charlotte also reads Lives of the Saints, for what it’s worth.

My favorite 90s film and yours is obviously 10 Things I Hate About You (Gil Junger, 1999), which features Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar . . . 

. . . and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, which, who knew, is a highly effective flirting tool. And that’s even besides all the Shakespearean rapping.

A well-read copy of The Bell Jar can also be found in Natural Born Killers (Oliver Stone, 1994).

Witness John Heard, who plays the father in Home Alone (Chris Columbus, 1990), reading Thomas McGuane’s Nobody’s Angel on the plane to Paris. Fun fact: John Heard and Thomas McGuane were both once married to actress Margot Kidder (though in Heard’s case, it was only for six days.)

Gloria reads the World Almanac in White Men Can’t Jump (Ron Shelton, 1992)—the only proven way to win on Jeopardy!

paul rudd clueless

Paul Rudd as Josh reading some Friedrich Nietzsche by the pool in Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995). You know, as you do.

Also in Clueless: Christian Stovitz ready William S. Burroughs’s Junky. Hint, hint, Cher.

Why yes, that is Lauryn Hill reading Rilke in Sister Act 2 (Bill Duke, 1993). And it comes complete with some pretty damn good advice from Whoopi: “Rainer Maria Rilke. He’s a fabulous writer. A fellow used to write to him and say, ‘I want to be a writer. Please read my stuff.’ And Rilke says to this guy: ‘Don’t ask me about being a writer. If when you wake up in the morning you can think of nothing but writing . . . then you’re a writer.’”

vincent vega reading

Vincent Vega reading Modesty Blaise on the toilet in Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994), right before the end.



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