Saturday, January 16, 2010

Review: Geist magazine Fall 2009

I bought the Fall issue of Geist magazine a short while ago, forgot about it, then picked it up to read on the bus the other day. I am very impressed. In short, it's a brilliant collection of news, features, interesting tidbits, and short fiction, not unlike Harper's. Alberto Manguel has a good piece on Dante and torture, Robert Everett-Green of the Globe tries to transpose Iraqi deaths to Toronto, there's some excellent travel stories, and a look at Western Sahara that kind of blew my mind.

Did you know that there is a 2700km rock and sand wall that runs the length of Western Sahara, separating Saharawis from Moroccan occupiers? Here's a map to help you out:
That squiggly line is the wall, labeled "Berm" in this drawing.
The dotted lines are international boundaries.

Morocco invaded in 1975, and has occupied parts of Western Sahara since. The UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991, and peacekeepers are still there. Marcello di Cintio's Wall of Shame (for some reason there's no link on the Geist site) is a truly wonderful piece of journalism. My friend Rob also wrote about the situation in this unfortunately titled but otherwise excellent article for the Angus Reid Global Monitor, Thinking Outside the Box in Western Sahara.

Also included in this issue is a compelling and informative photo-essay on the history of the Fraser Valley, Memory and the Valley. It's always interesting to read about where you live from a new perspective, and this piece does it brilliantly:
In the mem­ory of those whose fam­i­lies have lived here through the ensu­ing 350 gen­er­a­tions, the story that begins with Simon Fraser is one of loss: first there was small­pox, then the land was taken and their chil­dren seized. For the mil­lions of us who moved here after Fraser, the story is one of gain: trees the cir­cum­fer­ence of ten men, rich black soil, ocean views. Throughout the val­ley, these oppos­ing nar­ra­tives are writ­ten in the rocks and flow­ing in the river.
Stave Lake, reaching north into the Coast Mountains from the Fraser just west
Mission, was logged then dammed in 1911.

Finally, there's an opinion piece by Stephen Henighan (also no link on the Geist site) calling on Canadians to not support our troops in Afghanistan because politicians have squelched debate by using the Support Our Troops slogan. This sloganeering is a symptom of a larger issue, the general lack of reasoned debate in this country. It's an interesting and valuable position that the author undermines by asserting that we shouldn't be in Afghanistan anyway, as any rational, informed person would conclude.

Just to be clear: We need more debate about Afghanistan, but any debate is a foregone conclusion? Well done. The author goes on to make the case (or fails to, rather), that without debate, we should resort to counter-slogans. So, the debate is closed and let's chant slogans? That's an odd place to end up at given the original position of the author.

So it's not all brilliant and insightful, but for the most part, Geist has me hooked. I paid for a year's subscription (a mere four issues, unfortunately), and I'm eagerly anticipating the next issue. It's a local magazine, published right here in Vancouver, and I'm proud to support our Canadian magazines, thank you very much.


Marcello Di Cintio said...

Thanks for the kind words about my "Wall of Shame" story. It is a part of a book length project about communities in the world that live the shadows of wall, fences and other hard barriers.

There is a very short excerpt from my Palestine chapter - called "A Nakba of Olives" posted both on my blog,, and on Maisonneuve magazine's blog.

And the Geist story - and the whole issue - can be found online here:

Thanks again,

Brenton said...

That looks like a very interesting project; I look forward to its fruition.

I particularly liked the point about the irony of Soviet and Yugoslav mines: weapons from countries that broke up due to independence movements continuing to kill people in a country striving to gain independence.

Is there any reason that the story isn't on the Geist site? I looked at it on issuu, but the reading format just isn't that friendly.

Marcello Di Cintio said...

I liked that landmine irony, too. It seems that all the walled places I visited are rich with little ironies. They are nuggets of gold for a writer.

And no one is more looking forward to this project's fruition than I am. It is going to take a long time.

I don't know why "Wall of Shame" is not on the website. You'd have to ask the Geist folks.