The hard truths of war, child trafficking in India, a deeply personal search for a lost climber, the high personal toll veterinarians must pay in offering the final kindness to old and sick pets, and a call to look beyond common ethnic food tropes.

Important trigger warning: Please note that stories three and four reference suicide. Both pieces are difficult, but we hope that you’ll agree that they’re important reads.

1. The Hunt for Russian Collaborators in Ukraine

Joshua Yaffa | The New Yorker | January 30, 2023 | 9,078 words

“About all anyone can trust in war is that everybody lies.” As I read Joshua Yaffa’s piece about accusations of betrayal among residents of a Ukrainian city liberated from Russian occupation, I kept thinking about this sentence. It comes not from Yaffa’s piece, but from a story about the treatment of ISIS fighters after Iraqi forces retook the city of Mosul, which I had the honor of editing six years ago. So often in conflict coverage, the media are quick to draw blunt distinctions: Ukraine good, Russia evil; military righteous, ISIS monstrous. It’s easier, I suppose, than acknowledging that war is a hideous enterprise from which virtually nothing and no one will emerge clean. In the aftermath of violence, it can be hard to discern the truth from what people wish it to be, and administering justice, while an essential moral endeavor, is also a deeply fraught one. In his haunting feature, Yaffa doesn’t seek to untangle facts so much as he listens to the stories people are telling. They are talking to him, of course, but you get the sense that they are telling stories to themselves as well: They are remembering, processing, contextualizing, rationalizing, and in some cases rewriting. What do these stories and their contradictions reveal? The picture is messy, which is to say, it’s true. —SD

2. Storm Cycle

Ritwika Mitra | Fifty Two | February 3, 2023 | 4,900 words

Muddles of light and noise overlay my memories of India; it is a place that envelops you in a blanket of color, energy, and smells, with life and dirt pulsating from every inch. It is also a complicated country, so I am fascinated by this publication, Fifty Two, which publishes weekly essays on aspects of Indian history, politics, and culture. This week I read a powerful piece by Ritwika Mitra, reporting on child trafficking in the Sundarbans, an area plagued by natural disasters and poverty. Mitra focuses on the story of one mother, Ayesha, and the child she has after her family sold her to “Oi Bihari” (the old man). Her case is not unique, and Mitra first meets Ayesha while interviewing other women at Goranbose Gram Bikash Kendra (GGBK), a community-led organization working on gender-based violence. Mitra narrows in on Ayesha, talking to her and her daughter over several months. This time allows her to dig deep, and she does not sugarcoat their tempestuous relationship and strong characters, an honesty that lets the reader into the lives of this family and the pain of their past.  —CW

3. What We Search For

Jason Nark | Alpinist | January 30, 2023 | 6,174 words

“I had no special power, they said, to keep him alive.” Sometimes a piece on grief will kick you square in the gut, whisking you back, back to that place where you are indeed powerless. In this moving essay at Alpinist, Jason Nark comes to terms with the suicide of a dear friend as he investigates the disappearance of Matthew Greene, a climber who went missing in California in 2013. “Grief counselors said I couldn’t have done anything to save Anthony. Even now, nine years after his death, some part of me thinks they’re wrong. We hugged when we parted that afternoon, making plans to meet up, and he held that embrace a second longer than usual. I still feel him, pressing on me, like a mountain.” —KS

4. Our Business Is Killing

Andrew Bullis | Slate | February 5, 2023 | 3,220 words

Unless you have a long-lived bird, you’re generally going to outlive your pet and be faced with that final visit to the vet. If you’ve had to euthanize a very sick or very old pet, you know that sharp, stabbing pain of loss that lessens only a tiny bit each day. But, have you ever stopped to think about the toll that euthanizing animals takes on the vets who provide this necessary kindness? At Slate, veterinarian Andrew Bullis helps us understand the ongoing personal cost that’s so high it can drive some vets to suicide. “You see, our business is healing, yes. But you all know there’s only so much we can do. In the end, euthanasia is an option. I want to make this abundantly clear: If there’s one thing you must do flawlessly in your career, it’s killing.” —KS

5. When Food is the Only Narrative We Consume

Angie Kang | Catapult | February 8, 2023 | 2,146 words

Food is an essential part of culture, and an accessible way into understanding it. (Exhibits A and B: See the Pixar animated short film Bao, or nearly any account of an Asian American child’s embarrassing “lunchbox moment” at school.) But Angie Kang urges storytellers to create more varied and nuanced stories about Chinese culture and the wider Asian American experience — like Fresh Off the Boat and Everything Everywhere All At Once — that reach beyond food. “We don’t stop living in between meals,” she writes. Kang’s resonant words and fantastic artwork combine in a delightful illustrated essay about narrative and representation. “I’m just hungry for something new,” she writes. I am as well, and with this fresh, inspired piece, she delivers. —CLR

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