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7 deadly reads

Sitdown Sunday: The mysterious death of a teenager living a double life in London's criminal underworld

Settle down in a comfy chair with some of the week’s best longreads.

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked some of the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. What happened to Zac Brettler?

london-city-skyline-at-night-from-the-air London. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

In 2019, teenager Zac Brettler fell to his death from a fifth-floor apartment in London. His grieving parents later discovered that he had been posing as the son of a Russian oligarch, and had gotten involved with a gangster.

An excellent piece of journalism on deception, aspiration, wealth, police incompetence and London’s criminal underworld that will grip you from start to finish.

(The New Yorker, approx 65 mins reading time)

The morning Zac’s body was identified, the private investigator the Brettlers had hired, Clive Strong, visited Sharma at Riverwalk. Sharma, who was short, sharp-featured, and physically fit, liked to box, and told Strong that he’d just returned from a sparring session. According to Strong’s notes, Sharma said that Zac had presented himself as someone whose “father was an oligarch,” and had claimed that he’d clashed so much with his mother—who lived in Dubai, along with four of his siblings—that she’d barred him from their various luxury properties in London. He was therefore homeless, despite being fantastically rich. “I felt sorry for the young man,” Sharma told Strong. “I said that he could stay in my flat”—the Riverwalk apartment.

Sharma, the last person to see Zac alive, told much the same story as Shamji: the previous Thursday evening, Zac and Shamji had come to Riverwalk; Sharma’s daughter, Dominique, joined them; after a few hours, Shamji and Dominique left; Sharma fell asleep, and when he awoke, at 8 a.m., Zac had vanished. In Sharma’s opinion, Zac had been a troubled kid who was “becoming suicidal.” Sharma noted that he was happy to talk to Strong, because he was a private investigator, but he preferred not to speak with the police, as he’d had some “bad experiences in the past.”

2. Operation Iron Swords

Tom Stevenson assesses the devastation in Gaza.

(The London Review of Books, approx 18 mins reading time)

Palestinian men and boys between the ages of 12 and 70 are stripped, cuffed, blindfolded and then loaded onto the backs of trucks to be taken for interrogation. Some have numbers written on their arms. Hundreds detained in Gaza have been transported to the desert prison of Ketziot, near the border with Egypt. Others have probably been taken to nearby military bases. Some men who were taken prisoner in Beit Lahiya were stripped and transported to fenced-off camps where for days they were tied up, beaten and tortured. Others have disappeared. The IDF has subsequently said that between 85 and 90 per cent of these detainees were civilians. Israeli forces have repeatedly raided UN schools and detained any men found inside. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights documented an incident on 19 December when the Israeli army surrounded and then entered a building in the Remal neighbourhood of Gaza City. “The IDF allegedly separated the men from the women and children, and then shot and killed at least eleven of the men, mostly aged in their late twenties and early thirties, in front of their family members.”

3. Diamonds 

hands-holding-diamond-ring-with-gem-in-tweezers Diamond ring. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The lab-grown kind are becoming more and more popular, with good reason: they have the exact same qualities as mined diamonds, but they’re a lot more affordable. Does this pose a threat to the traditional diamond industry? Not quite, according to Amanda Mull.

(The Atlantic, approx 14 mins reading time)

A one-carat round mined diamond—the kind that anchors a huge proportion of American engagement rings—currently costs anywhere from $50 to $1,000 to produce in its rough form, depending on where it’s mined, according to Golan. In a lab setting, that same diamond now costs $15 to $20 to manufacture. At retail, a lab-grown diamond will generally sell to a consumer for less (and sometimes much less) than half of what a mined stone with near-identical characteristics sells for. Even the Gemological Institute of America, or GIA—a highly influential industry organization that provides, among other things, widely accepted standards of diamond grading that help determine a stone’s worth—has stopped referring to lab-grown diamonds as synthetic. They’re real. No caveats.

4. Lost in the Amazon

The emotional story of the race to find four children who survived a plane crash deep in the Colombian Amazon last year.

(The Guardian, approx 29 mins reading time)

After nine days and hundreds of miles of walking, the only thing the CCOES commandos had found was an abandoned camp that once belonged to members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, the notorious rebel group. Privately, Capt Ender Montiel, the leader of Dragon4, wondered whether HK2803 had sunk in the river. “Every day we would ask ourselves a lot of questions,” he said.

Then, early on the morning of 15 May, Dragon4 was searching its latest quadrant when Sgt Wilmar Miranda, Montiel’s deputy, spotted something pink amid the foliage. It was a baby bottle. The soldiers took a photograph and sent it to Sánchez, who forwarded it to Valencia. She recognised the bottle right away. It belonged to Cristin. A few hours later, Miranda spotted some wild fruit with fresh bite marks on it, human ones. “It was happiness and joy to see that,” Miranda said. “There was life.” He looked around for signs of trails, spots where human feet might have left prints in the soil. But the forest’s unrelenting rain meant that everything was washed clean.

5. Lily Gladstone

usa-lily-gladstone-in-the-cparamount-pictures-new-film-killers-of-the-flower-moon-2023-plot-members-of-the-osage-tribe-in-the-united-states-are-murdered-under-mysterious-circumstances-in-the Lily Gladstone in Killers of the Flower Moon (2023). Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The star became the first Native American woman to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Killers of the Flower Moon. Here, she speaks about her historic nomination, her passion for language revitalisation – and how to curse in Blackfoot.

(The New Yorker, approx 24 mins reading time)

I keep saying it’s overdue. We’re in the ninety-sixth year of the Academy Awards, and we’re on Native American land. Natives are natural storytellers. A big part of our understanding of ourselves, since time immemorial, is our stories. So it’s just odd that, in the United States, it’s taken almost a hundred years for a Native American to reach this milestone in a major acting category. We’ve had Indigenous representation. We’ve had Yalitza Aparicio, Graham Greene [“Dances with Wolves”] in supporting, Chief Dan George [“Little Big Man”] in supporting. We’ve had global Indigenous recognition. But, like you said, it’s sprinkled.

I’m friends with Sterlin Harjo, the co-creator of “Reservation Dogs.” We’re both in the circuit right now, and we happened to find ourselves in the same hotel the week before last. He put it really well. He said, “We’re in a position where we’re kicking the door in. When you kick the door in, you should just put your foot in the door and stand there.” Kicking the door in and running through it means it’s going to shut behind you. While I’m the first specifically Native American Indigenous woman, I stand on the shoulders of a lot of performers. It’s all circumstantial that I have this moniker of the first, and I’m certainly not going to be the last. If I’ve kicked the door in, I’m just trying to stand here and leave it open for everybody else.

6. Time for bed

A short history of the search for a good night’s sleep.

(BBC Future, approx 8 mins reading time)

Humans have been making beds for hundreds of thousands of years. In the book What we did in bed: a horizontal history, the University of California, Santa Barbara anthropologist Brian Fagan and archaeologist Nadia Durrani chart their development from the very beginning. For most of our species’ existence, it’s thought that sleeping spaces consisted of deep piles of carefully layered foliage topped with soft, pest-resistant leaves. Then the first bed frames began to appear. The sandstone beds at Skara Brae are among the oldest ever found, along with a series of impressions left in the soil at the settlement of Durrington Walls near Stonehenge – the spectral outlines of long-vanished wooden bed boxes, where the builders of that monument may have once slept.


joni-mitchell-performs-both-sides-now-during-the-66th-annual-grammy-awards-on-sunday-feb-4-2024-in-los-angeles-ap-photochris-pizzello Joni Mitchell performs Both Sides Now during the 66th annual Grammy Awards. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

This week, Joni Mitchell took to the Grammys stage at the age of 80 to perform her classic song ‘Both Sides, Now’. It was her first time to perform at the awards ceremony. 

This article from 2017 explores her career and looks at how she was often marginalised due to sexism. 

(The Ringer, approx 26 mins reading time)

Why is Joni Mitchell the token female musician that even the most macho rock guys are comfortable calling “great”? (Jimmy Page has gone on record saying that her music makes him weep; Jimi Hendrix, in his journals, called Mitchell “a fantastic girl with heaven words.”) Is the very idea of a canon—or “greatness,” or even “genius”—inherently male, and if so, should women chuck all those words and ideas out the window and look for new ways to talk about and value the art they make?

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