In August 2013, Esmail Ali Taqi Heydari and Hadi Baghbani were preparing to defend a base in Syria held by forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad. A rebel detachment was approaching to take the base, which was close to a strategic hill that, if captured, would allow the rebels to control southern Aleppo. Most of the pro-Assad side was made up of Syrian militiamen, but Heydari and Baghbani were members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC.
After a rebel ambush, both men were killed and returned to their hometown in Iran to be buried with full honors. State media covered the funeral, and Heydari and Baghbani “were hailed as martyrs who died ‘defending the holy shrine of Sayyida Zaynab’ in Damascus,” a revered site in Shia Islam.
In the middle of the eighteenth century, residents of Ulster, the northeast region of Ireland, set sail across the Atlantic. Many were actually from Scotland, having originally immigrated across the Irish Sea to Ireland at the insistence of Britain’s King James I, who wanted to plant a contingent of loyal Protestant followers in the traditionally Catholic country. These migrants were known as “Scotch-Irish” when they reached the shores of America.
Traveling south from the New England port cities, the Scotch-Irish found a landscape in the southern United States that was not too different from their old home.
The baby boomers are the children of the World War II generation. They are generally defined as Americans born between 1946 and 1964, so they are now in their fifties and sixties; the oldest among them are entering their seventies.
They are a generation that has always stood out, first and foremost, for its sheer size: about 75 million Americans were born in those years, an era when the constraints of depression and then war gave way to an unprecedented economic expansion, and with it a sharp increase in rates of marriage and childbearing.
With Secondhand Time, Svetlana Alexievich has written an astonishing book, as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. This is only the fifth work (third to be translated into English) by the 68-year-old Belarusian author who won the Nobel Prize for literature last year. And, like all her books, Secondhand Time is a narrative of interviews—in this case, the interviews she performed over the course of a decade, asking Russians what they remembered of life as Soviet rule began to crumble 25 years ago.
The answers those ordinary people gave her are so eloquent and tragic—so poetic and profound—that I found myself unable to believe a word of it.