cover image Theater of Cruelty: Art, Film, and the Shadows of War

Theater of Cruelty: Art, Film, and the Shadows of War

Ian Buruma. ew York Review Books, $29.95 (440p) ISBN 978-1-59017-777-8

This collection presents 28 articles—reviews of films, books, and art exhibits as well as some travelogues, originally published in the New York Review of Books—by Dutch critic Buruma. As the title suggests, the theme of art and war apply to most selections and WWII looms large. Buruma is happily eclectic in his interests yet, as he notes, also preoccupied with the moral character of individuals under extreme circumstances and (from a secular point of view) the problem of evil. This emphasis leads to some provocative arguments. A prominent one, flagged in the opening chapter’s exploration of the “joys and perils of victimhood” and in a later chapter’s review of Anne Frank and her various biographers, lambastes identity politics as “our modern form of sentimentalism.” Throughout, Buruma’s liberal and cosmopolitan worldview colors his curiosity about figures, mainly artists—Leni Riefenstahl, R. Crumb, Werner Herzog, George Grosz, Mishima Yukio, and David Bowie, among others—whose work and lives give shape to the times, by their opposition, complicity, or both. Some essays feel perfunctory, but the scope of the collection has a force of its own. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, Wylie Agency. (Oct.)