The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from George Chidi, Chantha Nguon and Kim Green, Poppy Sebag-Montefiore, Stephanie Hayes, and Brianne Garrett.

Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

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1. “Judge, Lawyer, Help, Case Dismissed”

George Chidi | The Intercept | October 31, 2021 | 8,064 words

This is a story of political indifference and a system woefully unequipped to truly help unhoused people with mental illness. It is also the story of Harmony, a woman living on the streets of Atlanta, Georgia in her own filth, in a state that ranks 51st in the U.S. for investment in mental health spending. “Harmony is unique,” writes George Chidi, “And yet there are at least 100 Harmonys on the streets of Atlanta. The county knows each of them by name. There’s a list.” Harmony does not want to be in hospital or incarcerated; she does want her story told. As Chidi grapples with Harmony’s living conditions, he unravels who might be able to help and who should be held accountable. And while various entities and government departments play “hot potato” with her life and liberty, Harmony’s wishes go mostly ignored. She would very much like to be left alone. “And yet despite millions in resources, much of which the state cannot figure out how to spend, Harmony remained unhoused at the foot of the iconic Coca-Cola sign above the Walgreens at Five Points — in the heart of Atlanta — as she has on and off for years, in a state of abject human degradation, with all of this misery taking place less than 100 yards from the very steps of Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities headquarters.” —KS

2. The Gradual Extinction of Softness

Chantha Nguon and Kim Green | Hippocampus Magazine | November 8, 2021 | 3,946 words

Kim Green and Chantha Nguon have been working together to write Nguon’s memoir; they’ve talked and cooked together over the past several years. This co-written collaboration in Hippocampus Magazine is a stunning, lyrical essay about Nguon’s experiences as a child in Battambang before fleeing to Vietnam, surviving the Cambodian genocide, and remembering her mother, Mae. The Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot murdered 2 million Cambodians, erasing nearly one-fourth of the population, leaving nothing but death and a devastated country with “no idea of tomorrow.” Through evocative writing, Nguon carries her family’s history forward, “borne on the smoke” from the charcoal fire of her mother’s open-air kitchen. Her memories are aromatic and vivid; she remembers flavors of happiness like Mae’s pâté de foie, and the wind in her wide-open mouth as she zoomed around Phnom Penh with her older brother on his Vespa. The recipes weaved into the piece are unexpected and poignant, as you can sample from these ingredients and steps: “Take a well-fed nine-year-old with a big family and a fancy French-Catholic-school education. Fold in 2 revolutions, 2 civil wars, and 1 wholesale extermination,” she writes. “Slowly subtract small luxuries, life savings, and family members until all are gone.” It’s one of the most moving essays I’ve read this year, and a piece I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. —CLR

3. How two BBC Journalists Risked their Jobs to Reveal the Truth About Jimmy Savile

Poppy Sebag-Montefiore | The Guardian | November 2, 2021 | 6,380 word

This is a detailed examination of what happened behind the scenes during a BBC Newsnight investigation into abuse committed by Jimmy Savile. It was a difficult topic to investigate — Savile had recently died and had been a beloved BBC celebrity — but rumors about Savile being a sexual predator were rife, and two journalists were determined to find the truth. The author of this piece, Poppy Sebag-Montefiore, was a friend of one of the journalists — the late Liz MacKean. Sebag-Montefiore’s affection is apparent as she documents MacKean fighting for her piece, desperate to have the voices of the women who spoke to her heard. It was a battle MacKean ultimately lost, when Newsnight editor Peter Rippon killed the story. In the end, MacKean and producer Meirion Jones, “gave all their research on Savile to the BBC’s rival, the commercial channel ITV,” and the Savile story broke. A 2012 inquiry into the BBC’s conduct over the Newsnight investigation found Rippon’s decision “seriously flawed.” In refusing to drop this story, MacKean and Jones “helped to change the culture about the way past sexual abuse is talked about, and survivors listened to.” When Sebag-Montefiore searched for an account of what they had done she couldn’t find one: “So here it is.” —CW

4. Where Is the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay?

Stephanie Hayes | The Tampa Bay Times | November 9 | 4,500 words

My favorite genre of viral story is Animals on the Run. The zebras in Maryland, the red panda in Washington, D.C., the llamas in Arizona — in my time, I’ve loved them all. So yes, I am the target audience for this feature about a creature who went on the lam: Cornelius the rhesus macaque, who outwitted would-be captors in Florida for years (years!). But Stephanie Hayes tells a Where Are They Now story for everyone, not just the animal-obsessed like me. It’s tragi-comic, expertly written, and thoroughly engrossing. What shines most is the respect — no, the awe — that Hayes has for her elusive subject. Cornelius, it turns out, is a mystery in more ways than one. And maybe that’s how it should be. —SD

5. Award-Winning Writer Mayukh Sen Shines A Light On Food’s Hidden Figures

Brianne Garrett | Sweet July | October 26, 2021 | 1,674 words

Mayukh Sen talks about his path to food writing in this interview about his new book Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America. Sen set out to look beyond white culinary luminaries like James Beard and Julia Child to highlight lesser-known people of color and how they’ve influenced American food. There’s plenty to appreciate in this interview; how Sen describes the way his book project evolved over time from its original intent into something larger and more nuanced and how a critical part of his focus was on honoring his subjects’ hands-on work in addition to their culinary ideas. “I wanted to tell the stories of these immigrants and really honor their labor with as much care as possible. I do hope that readers understand that for America to become this glorious, so-called melting pot of diverse cuisine, there’s a lot of struggle involved. You can see a lot of that struggle in the stories of each of these women.” —KS