The Paris Review

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All of the essays in Alexander Chee’s marvelous collection  are striking, but I found the shortest essay, simply titled “1989,” the most arresting. In four pages, he describes his participation in an protest in San Francisco—his first protest. As the procession moves into an intersection, the protesters block traffic; they are immediately surrounded by riot police, who begin to brutally drive them off. Chee climbs atop a newspaper box, with a view to the scene, and describes the rise and fall of batons with dispassionate shock, eventually climbing down from his perch to rescue a beaten friend. “This is the country I live in,” he realizes in, atop a knoll, observing the horrors of the Battle of Borodino. In shock and fear, he plunges down the slope and thinks, “Now they will be horrified at what they have done!” They aren’t, of course, and this seems to be the same conclusion Chee comes to: the feeling of incredulousness that violence and death are served up so openly—in a field, in a street—before so many watching eyes. Chee’s essay takes place during an protest but with other details it could easily be about the Holocaust, the Syrian war, or the United States, ca. 2018.

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