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A Glimpse Inside Patrick Modiano's Dora Bruder

Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano’s haunting and lyrical book, Dora Bruder, is one of few works in English by the author, and was recently cited in the Wall Street Journal as “one of the author’s most beloved books.”

As with the deepest journeys of discovery, the historical collides with the personal in this layered and nuanced investigation. Modiano’s search to uncover Dora Bruder’s past becomes entangled with his own life’s enigmas, which, like Dora’s, remain unspoken and unresolved.

The below excerpt conveys this intimate connection, his own memories wrapped together with those of his real, yet imagined, character. Join Modiano—and thousands of readers—on a journey through the streets of today’s Paris and yesterday’s, where we confront these ghosts, memories, and mysteries.

Dora Bruder with her mother and father.

Dora Bruder with her mother and father

Dora Bruder with her mother

Dora Bruder with her mother

Dora Bruder with her mother and grandmother

Dora Bruder with her mother and grandmother

 

Excerpt from Dora Bruder

I remember the intensity of my feelings while I was on the run
in January 1960—an intensity such as I have seldom known.
It was the intoxication of cutting all ties at a stroke: the clean
break, deliberately made, from enforced rules, boarding
school, teachers, classmates; you have nothing to do with these
people from now on; the break from your parents, who have
never understood you, and from whom, you tell yourself, it’s
useless to expect any help; feelings of rebellion and solitude
carried to flash point, taking your breath away and leaving you
in a state of weightlessness. It was probably one of the few
times in my life when I was truly myself and following my own
bent.

This ecstasy cannot last. It has no future. You are swiftly
brought down to earth.

Running away—it seems—is a call for help and occasionally
a form of suicide. At least you experience a moment of
eternity. You have broken your ties not only with the world
but also with time. And one fine morning you find that the
sky is a pale blue and that nothing now weighs you down. In
the Tuileries garden, the hands on the clock have stopped for
good. An ant is transfixed in its journey across a patch of sunlight.

I think of Dora Bruder. I remind myself that, for her, running
away was not as easy as it was for me, twenty years later, in a
world that had once more been made safe. To her, everything
in that city of December 1941, its curfews, its soldiers, its police,
was hostile, intent on her destruction. At sixteen years old,
without knowing why, she had the entire world against her.

Photo by by Frankie Fouganthin [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Patrick Modiano was awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature and is one of the most celebrated French novelists of his generation. Dora Bruder has been translated worldwide in 20 languages.

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Director’s Cut: 12 X 12

12 Months, 12 Significant Books from UC Press

Alison Mudditt

This year I’m pleased to inaugurate an annual year-end wrap-up bringing to your attention 12 books I’ve personally selected as standing out—a difficult task among the approximately 200 titles we publish each year.

Whether from topicality, painstaking scholarship, or the ability to strike a chord of resonance in the academy and far beyond, these volumes represent the core of the mission of the University of California Press—to drive progressive change by seeking out and cultivating the brightest minds and giving them voice, reach, and impact.

We remain grateful to all who produce, read, and engage with some of the most necessary and thought-provoking scholarship created within—and outside of—the academy. Our global dialogue is richer for it.

CULTURE / LITERATURE

We’re very pleased that Patrick Modiano’s work has just been acknowledged with this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature—the Stockholm festivities were just last week—but we knew years ago that his writing was extraordinary.

As Executive Editor, Naomi  Schneider, has noted of her 1999 acquisition of Dora Bruder:

Modiano has done something transformative: used investigative sleuthing to fictionally explore identity, survival, and, most of all, memory.

Preserving the legacy of one of the 20th century’s most influential advocates for peace and justice, The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., is described by one historian as being the “equivalent to a conversation” with King.

Volume VII, To Save the Soul of America, covers the early 1960s, offering readers details of King’s early relationship with President John F. Kennedy, and how King addressed an increasingly militant movement.

UC Press continues to be as honored by the responsibility of producing this 14-volume edition as we were on the day Coretta Scott King visited our offices in Berkeley to confirm our association with her husband’s legacy.

CURRENT EVENTS

Cut Adrift: Families in Insecure Times continues our ongoing exploration of topics of national—and often international—scope.

Situated within the “new normal of global economic insecurity,” Marianne Cooper delves into American financial anxiety—from the surprising anxieties of the rich to the critical role of women in keeping struggling families afloat.

Her case studies integrate issues of family fracture, social class, and the dynamics of financial angst, and expose the strategies affluent, middle-class, and poor families rely on to survive the maelstrom.

Father and son Joel and Eric Best lay bare a troubling financial story in The Student Loan Mess, which describes the student loan crisis in detail. TLS has called the book, “Probably the best and clearest book on the United States’ complex student debt problem.”

Can higher education remain a central part of the American dream? What are the prospects for debt-burdened young adults in this already-beleaguered economy? The future of American education presents a crisis we must address now.

Not just an engaging behind-the-scenes history of a complicated topic—the ramifications of which touch the millions who navigate the world each day—Ethan N. Elkind’s Railtown details how economics and politics inevitably intertwine.

Other car-dependent cities can learn invaluable lessons from car-centered Los Angeles’s embrace of rail.

 

Peter Hecht’s Weed Land is a book with California origins but national scope.

California’s Proposition 215, the nation’s first medical marijuana law, was passed in 1996.  Now, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana in some way, and changing statutes continue to make headlines.

What are the political, legal, economic, social, and medical dynamics that have resulted in so much change in just a generation? If “as goes California, so goes the nation” remains true, what will California’s pioneering stance mean for the US as a whole? Independent investigative journalist Hecht’s lively exploration offers fascinating answers.

NEW SCHOLARSHIP

Anthony Barnosky’s Dodging Extinction: Power, Food, Money, and the Future of Life on Earth is nothing less than a guidebook for saving the planet—a guidebook informed by Barnosky’s serious and far-reaching scholarship about the looming Sixth Mass Extinction.

You may have seen the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary, Mass Extinction: Life at the Brink, which aired November 30. You can follow paleo-biologist Barnosky’s evidence-based narrative via this book—and ponder his strategies for avoiding what short-sighted energy, agricultural, and financial policies may mean . . . unless we act now.

Even as we debate and act upon such time-sensitive issues as planetary health, our dedication to supporting vital scholarship in the humanities continues. The genesis of Mary Beard’s Laughter in Ancient Rome: On Joking, Tickling, and Cracking Up was a lecture series at UC Berkeley, and it represents the best of the scholarly tradition: illuminating highly specific materials from ever-new angles—and frankly acknowledging what remains puzzling about a culture across the chasm of time from ours.

As Gregory Hays’s review in the New York Review of Books notes, Mary Beard is “as close to a public intellectual as the field of Roman studies currently has.” Beard is a professor in classics at Cambridge. Her Times Literary Supplement blog, A Don’s Life, tackles a range of topics: from not unexpected musings on the Elgin Marbles to such decidedly trans-disciplinary matters as David Cameron’s tweets.

How did Romans make sense of laughter? And, of course, how does our humor mirror or depart from theirs? Anyone who ponders the notion of what is culturally determined and what is universal will appreciate this book.

With scholarship as erudite, but on a much more sobering topic, S. Lochlann Jain’s Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us continues to win honors (among them the Victor Turner and Diana Forsythe prizes); every few weeks it seems we hear of another.

The startling statistic that makes Jain’s book so significant? Nearly half of all Americans will be diagnosed with an invasive cancer.

Anthropologist Jain harnesses history, oncology, law, economics, and literature to explain why cancer continues to stagger physicians, researchers, patients, caretakers, and policy-makers. Part memoir and part cultural analysis, Malignant offers compelling if difficult reading.

On a related note, what does it mean to be the nation’s doctor? Though this is a journalistic rather than scholarly volume, it seems right to mention Surgeon General’s Warning: How Politics Crippled the Nation’s Doctor here, given that journalist Mike Stobbe explores the federal government’s ability—or lack thereof—to influence public health. (And especially given that the cancer warnings on cigarette packs may be the most salient connection to the office in the public’s mind.)

By tracing stories of how surgeons general such as Luther Terry, C. Everett Koop, and Joycelyn Elders created policies and confronted controversy in response to such issues as smoking, AIDS, and masturbation, Stobbe highlights how this office’s decline is harming our national well-being.

THE ARTS

How often does grand opera make the news?

In 2014, often.

Between the labor unrest and the Death of Klinghoffer protests, a new history of the Met is timely, and Grand Opera: The Story of the Met, by Charles and Mirella Jonas Affron, is full of examples of previous moments of labor unrest—zeitgeist-y social issues à la Klinghoffer stretching back more than a century.

But this volume encompasses much more: the authors had access to unpublished documents from the Met’s archives and drew upon interviews and recordings to trace the history of this now globally important cultural institution. From its 1883 roots to recent innovations in live HD simulcasting, this treatment will interest even putative non-opera fans.

I’ll end with Robert Cozzolino’s work, David Lynch: The Unified Field, though perhaps this is not the first you’ve heard of this title. Because Lynch is so well known as a filmmaker, this catalogue for his first major US museum exhibition at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is getting a lot of publicity, but may still surprise some who aren’t familiar with Lynch’s full artistic oeuvre.

Lynch has worked as a visual artist since the late 60s, and Cozzolino coordinated closely with him to showcase this collection of almost 100 drawings, paintings, and prints.

Even if you cannot attend the show, we hope you will enjoy this, our latest exhibition catalogue.

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Weekend Armchair

In “Weekend Armchair” UC Press staff share “un-put-down-able” titles. This week, 2 out of 3 staffers (separately) recommended Tana French—and many more titles for any spare December “down time.”

 

Just finished In the Woods by Tana French. As a crime and mystery addict, I push my eyes over a lot of words just to find out whodunit, so it was a perverse pleasure to read a mystery that doesn’t resolve the most compelling questions it raises. Three stories unfold concurrently: the murders in the past, the murder in the present, and the crashing personal failures of the protagonist. French spends a lot of time on descriptive passages, which I like (especially since they are visual but not photographic), but her characters speak in shorthand, which makes an interesting rhythm: fast, slow, fast, slow, paralleling the protagonist’s state of mind, which is what I think the book is ultimately “about.” Would be interested to read something by French that didn’t hang its story on the mystery formula.

And for something completely different, do read The History of the Siege of Lisbon by José Saramago, which is a reader’s read.

—Claudia Smelser
Graphic Designer

__________________

I just finished the fifth book in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, The Secret Place. I lived in Dublin so especially appreciate her capturing of cultural and linquistic Irishisms and familiar-to-me scenery, and all of her books will keep you tensely turning pages into the wee hours.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller is post-apocalyptic fiction at its contradictory best; bleak and heart-wrenching and evocative and life-affirming, all at once. I loved the immersive personal detail of the main character’s work of survival: hunting, fishing, talking to his dog.

If you’re a short story fan, Vampires in the Lemon Grove: And Other Stories from Karen Russell, the author of Swamplandia!, are fantastic, escapist, wonderful fun. (She had me at vampires sucking on lemons…)

I’ve also always got my nose in a stack of cookbooks, and current picks include Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s OttolenghiVibrant Food: Celebrating the Ingredients, Recipes, and Colors of Each Season by Kimberley Hasselbrink, and Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume Cuisine of the Eastern Mediterraneane, amazing Turkish cuisine recommended by a UCP colleague.

—Aimée Goggins
Senior Marketing Manager

__________________

Roxane Gay tackles some very heavy topics—issues of racism, sexism, reproductive rights, violence—but throughout Bad Feminst she makes you feel as though you are having a conversation with your incredibly smart and funny friend. Her angry and honest observations about society and politics can challenge your way of thinking, but in the same space you will find yourself laughing as she ridicules Fifty Shades of Grey and argues the importance of Sweet Valley High. Entertaining, inspiring and passionate, we need more people like Roxane Gay. Plus, she is a lot of fun to follow on Twitter (@rgay).

—Leslie Davisson
Marketing Manager

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UC Press Takes Home 7 Awards at AAA

The AAA Annual Meeting, which took place in Washington, D.C. this year, was quite a whirlwind for UC Press. Seven different awards for six books. Non-stop meetings. Dinners, parties, and die-ins.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • We threw a dinner for Seth Holmes, who won the prestigious Margaret Mead Award. Executive Editor Naomi Schneider reports the dinner was attended by a wide array of senior anthropologists—Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Philippe Bourgois, Charles Briggs—who reconfirmed their commitment to social justice and human rights as guiding principles of their intellectual work.
  • We held a book party for Eduardo Kohn‘s How Forests Think, as well as a dinner to celebrate Joseph Hankin‘s new book, Working Skin.
  • There was a “die-in” in which primarily African-American anthropologists expressed their rage about the recent non-indictments in Ferguson and New York.
  • Issues surrounding the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement against Israel were a predominant theme of the meeting and AAA members rejected a proposed resolution opposing the academic boycott of Israel. 
Seth Holmes' acceptance speech for the Margaret Mead Award

Seth Holmes’ acceptance speech for the Margaret Mead Award

Congratulations to this year’s award winners:

These wonderful authors stopped by to say hello:

Tine Gammeltoft, author of Haunting Images

Sarah Besky, author of The Darjeeling Distinction

Sarah Besky, author of The Darjeeling Distinction

Cheryl Mattingly, author of Moral Laboratories

Cheryl Mattingly, author of Moral Laboratories

Jarrett Zigon, author of "HIV is God's Blessing"

Jarrett Zigon, author of “HIV is God’s Blessing”

Ruben Andersson, author of Illegality, Inc.

Ruben Andersson, author of Illegality, Inc.

For more research and insights on this year’s AAA theme, “Producing Anthropology,” be sure to check out our author blog series (and use hashtag #AAA2014 when sharing). Thanks to everyone for a great meeting; we can’t wait to do it again next year!

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2014 UC Press Literary Thumbprint

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Faculty Land

University of California Press books are gifts that recipients truly treasure!

Click the image for more…and save 30% on these titles by entering the code “15W4357″ at checkout.

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Studying Them, Studying Us, Studying Up: What Role for an Engaged Anthropology?

by Ruben Andersson

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington DC. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme “Producing Anthropology.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and December 5th

It was at the end of a volunteering shift in a migrant holding centre that the question I had expected finally came, voiced in eloquent French. “Ah, so you are studying us?”

The speaker was a Malian man in his fifties, undocumented like everyone else in “the camp”, as migrants called their precarious home in Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in North Africa. During research on irregular migration for my book Illegality, Inc., I often heard such retorts. “What can you offer us?” deportees asked me in Senegal, “and what do you want?” Their questions seemed the wrong way round, but for a good reason: they had seen too many visitors already.

At Europe’s southern fringes, migrants find themselves at the crosshairs of a powerful border apparatus – and they know it. “Human trading” was how one migrant stranded in Ceuta glossed his predicament. “They have work thanks to us,” said another, referencing not just camp workers and police but also the reporters, researchers and do-gooders waiting outside the facility’s fences. As one embittered Senegalese deportee summed it up, “there’s lots of money in illegal migration.”

As anthropologists strive to fill what Joel Robbins calls the “suffering slot,” focusing on marginalised people, we have entered “field sites” that are busy places indeed. How to frame and justify our studies here, amid the stampede of NGOs, reporters, officials and undercover police? These dilemmas became clear to me as I sat in sand-swept Dakar courtyards parrying questions from angry deportees. Yet as our discussions deepened, I glimpsed a way out. The deportees’ insistent question started guiding my research: “Who gains from ‘illegal migration’, and how?”

As I shifted focus from migrants to those working on migration, I entered another busy field beset by similar problems. Studying “up” and “sideways” have become ethnographic buzzwords – yet how do we retain our epistemic convictions, our anthropological sensibility, as we mingle with policy officers and political scientists, “quants” and criminologists, police and reporters? At times, it seems as if our distinctive ethnographic approach, relational and subjectively anchored, inhibits our ability to contribute to broader debates on pressing political problems.

I believe that we can take the lead in such debates thanks to, rather than in spite of, our convictions. But to do so we need to be able to speak beyond our discipline, as anthropological work on debt, conflict or humanitarianism has shown is eminently possible. We also need more methodological “promiscuity,” poaching tools and partnering up – just like my new border worker “informants” were doing as they built networks connecting humanitarians, border agents and journalists. Here we can tap into the knowledge of “marginalised” participants, too, who may serve as co-analysts of these very networks. And as we move between the small-scale and the systemic, between the “phenomenal” and the political, we may also gain an audience. Our ethnography puts flesh on the bare bones of academic abstraction.

True, these justifications may not satisfy my Malian questioner. However, we cannot shirk away from addressing large political problems, not least since we already inhabit a political arena that frames or funds our research – an arena, moreover, in which our work can easily be appropriated by powerful groups regardless of our intentions. Stepping fully into this field, anthropology can play an insurgent role in moving between disciplines and pushing beyond their stale confines, in a manner not too dissimilar to that of a clandestine migrant crossing fences and borders.

Ruben Andersson is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of International Development, London School of Economics and Political Science, and an associated researcher at the Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University.

 

Please use hashtag #AAA2014 when sharing on Twitter or Facebook.

 

 

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ASC 2014 Recap

by Maura Roessner

Thanks to all who visited the UC Press exhibit at the recent American Society of Criminology annual meeting here in San Francisco! Whether you came by to browse new titles, fill us in on your research, or simply happened to wander in due to our convenient location next to the ice cream station, we always love the opportunity to talk to our readers and authors in person.

Jack Young, editorial assistant

Jack Young, editorial assistant

We are thrilled to announce the winner of our iPad giveaway: Bonnie R. Miller at Eastern Michigan University! If you subscribed to our eNews to enter the drawing, keep an eye out for discounts, announcements, and exam copy offers.

A big ASC highlight was the release of Kitty Calavita and Valerie Jenness’s Appealing to Justice, copies of which arrived at the booth directly from the printer. By turns hilarious, poignant, and gruesome, it’s a riveting book that offers an unprecedented window into contemporary life in prison, and it nicely expresses the conference theme, Criminology at the Intersections of Oppression. While celebrating over lunch, these authors demonstrated how good-natured they were about the breakneck production schedule by telling the first publishing joke I’ve ever heard: How many editors does it take to change a light bulb? (Scroll for answer)

From left to right: Kim Robinson, editorial director; Valerie Jenness, author; Leslie Davisson, marketing manager; Kitty Calavita, author; Maura Roessner, senior editor

From left to right: Kim Robinson, editorial director; Valerie Jenness, co-author of Appealing to Justice; Leslie Davisson, marketing manager; Kitty Calavita, co-author of Appealing to Justice;
Maura Roessner, senior editor

Hadar Aviram’s Cheap on Crime is heading to the printer now, and already generated quite a bit of buzz. It’s one of the first analyses of how the discourse on criminal justice reform has shifted from a focus on human rights to fiscal prudence in the wake of the recession, and what that shift signals for long-term policy changes. For those of you in the Bay Area, join us at Book Passage in the Ferry Building on February 25 to hear Professor Aviram talk about humonetarianism in action, from the passage of Prop 47 to the California Attorney General’s argument that court-ordered early release programs deprive prisons of a valuable source of cheap labor.

From left to right: Maura Roessner, senior editor; Hadar Aviram, author of Cheap on Crime; Jack Young, editorial assistant; Leslie Davisson, marketing manager

From left to right: Maura Roessner, senior editor; Hadar Aviram, author of Cheap on Crime;
Jack Young, editorial assistant; Leslie Davisson, marketing manager

We ran into Marjorie Zatz as she took a break from reviewing copyedits for Dreams and Nightmares in her hotel room. Professor Zatz and her coauthor Nancy Rodriguez have been updating the manuscript in real time as immigration policies and practices shape and shift in the absence of comprehensive reform. This photo was taken just hours before President Obama announced a series of executive actions that will shield five million people from deportation, allowing them to work legally and live without fear of being detained by local enforcement for minor offenses.

From left to right: Leslie Davisson, marketing manager; Maura Roessner, senior editor; Marjorie Zatz, author of Dreams and Nightmares

From left to right: Leslie Davisson, marketing manager; Maura Roessner, senior editor;
Marjorie Zatz, author of Dreams and Nightmares

It’s always inspiring to spend time with people doing such important, transformational research, and to work together to make sure it has the broadest possible impact. This marks my third ASC conference in as many years at the Press, and I’m tremendously grateful to be a part of such vibrant community.

Maura Roessner is Senior Editor, Criminology, Criminal Justice, Law & Society for UC Press.

 

**Three. One to change the light bulb and two to hold the author down.

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Producing Dead Mosquitoes

by Alex M. Nading

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington DC. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme “Producing Anthropology.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and December 5th

Whenever the epidemiology office in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua learned of a case of dengue fever, standard procedure was to first kill mosquitoes. It is, after all, a mosquito that transmits the dengue fever virus among humans. In Ciudad Sandino, responsibility for producing dead mosquitoes fell to Don Nacho and Don Noë, the city’s two “entomological technicians.”

As I describe in my book, Mosquito Trails, in order to kill mosquitoes, forms had to be signed, verbal arrangements had to be made with ambulance drivers, and gasoline expenditures had to be approved by health center directors. The commissioning of a gasoline-powered vehicle was particularly important, and particularly disruptive. In the course of my fieldwork, an order for dead mosquitoes led to the suspension of several other vehicle-dependent activities, such as water quality testing, quarterly rabies vaccination campaigns for dogs, and even routine house-to-house mosquito control visits.

You could tell when Don Nacho or Don Noë had come to your neighborhood by the distinctive sound of their main piece of equipment, the motomochila, echoing off of the concrete walls and metal roofs. The motomochila looked like a heavy-duty leaf blower and was essentially a small two-stroke engine mounted to a backpack frame. The engine powered a fogging machine that released a vaporized, diluted solution of an aerial insecticide, a neurotoxin that was calibrated at Managua’s central vector-borne disease headquarters to kill adult mosquitoes on contact.

Not all mosquitoes will die in a given fogging. Some will resist the poison, and eventually their offspring will dominate the population. Thus, levels of insecticide in the motomochila’s dilution had to be high enough to kill a significant number of mosquitoes but low enough to make the evolutionary march to mosquito population resistance as slow as possible. A massive dose of high-powered insecticide would be effective in the short-term but render the chemical useless in the long term.

The head entomologist for the Department of Managua was responsible for keeping track of organized mosquito deaths. Each year, they tested various insecticides at various strengths on control colonies bred in a mosquito nursery. They delivered their findings about mosquito death rates to their supervisor, who selected a poison and determined an official yearly dilution level for the district. Since the resources for insecticide were limited, the decision about an acceptable death rate was part science, and part economics. Even though the number of dengue cases fluctuated over the course of the year, the Nicaraguan health ministry’s budget for mosquito killing was constant, set just once a year.

In our interviews, the head entomologist told me that a series of right-wing governments in the 1990s and early 2000s had denigrated the skills of those tasked with killing mosquitoes. They were more interested in saving money than in understanding mosquitoes. Last-ditch slaughters, organized after reported dengue cases, did little to change the overall rate of infection. And dengue case numbers in Nicaragua had been rising steadily over that same period.

“Mosquitoes,” the entomologist told me, “are animals of custom like us.” They adapted to control regimes, so it was up to trained “field workers” to adapt to them through seasonal experimentation. The term “field workers” seems significant. Like anthropologists, health workers in Nicaragua were both learning about the world around them and learning in the world around them. Their skills were incorporated, both in the sense that they emerged from a bodily interaction with mosquitoes and in the sense that they became essential to the Ministry of Health’s ability to produce both healthy humans and dead mosquitos.

Alex M. Nading is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Franklin & Marshall College.

 

Please use hashtag #AAA2014 when sharing on Twitter or Facebook.

 

 

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TLS on the "Sad Tale" of Student Loan Debt

The Times Literary Supplement says Joel and Eric Best, the father-son team behind The Student Loan Mess: How Good Intentions Created a Trillion-Dollar Problem, have “produced what is probably the best and clearest book on the United States’ complex student debt problem.” Student debt, which now exceeds $1 trillion and is predicted to reach $2 trillion by 2020, threatens to become the sequel to the mortgage meltdown, the authors argue in their new book. The review (only available to TLS subscribers), describes the Bests’ project to reveal the severity of America’s student debt crisis and explain how we arrived here:

Expanded student loan programmes boosted the demand for college, which made college more expensive, which in turn increased the need for student loans. Along the way, the federal government was classifying student loans as an asset on its books and so it received few serious warning signals that a major problem was building up. State governments saw that the loans were maintaining the demand for college and so they cut back on direct aid to the institutions, which further hurt affordability.

TLS isn’t sanguine about where we go from here, but concludes that The Student Loan Mess is a must-read for understanding the scope of the problem. Ultimately, the author writes, there “will be a very painful restructuring for what has traditionally been one of America’s strongest sectors – maybe its strongest – by global standards. If this does end up being a century of American decline, the student debt debacle will have played a modest but not minor role.”

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