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Dublin: 1°C Saturday 23 January 2021

Sitdown Sunday: Inside the secret Russian nuclear city

Grab a comfy chair and sit back 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 the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. Zadie Smith’s Brexit diary 

Britain Young Authors Zadie Smith Source: AP/Press Association Images

The writer Zadie Smith returns to North West London after years away, and looks at the changes that have occurred since she left. She tackles Brexit, and the shock she felt when she heard the referendum result.

(New York Review of Books, approx 23 mins reading time)

Some of the reasoning was almost comically removed from the binary question posed. A friend whose mother still lives in the neighborhood describes a conversation over the garden fence, between her mother and a fellow North London leftist, who explained to my friend’s mother that she herself had voted Leave in order “to get rid of that bloody health secretary!” Ah, like so many people across this great nation I also long to be free of the almost perfectly named Jeremy Hunt, but a referendum turns out to be a very ineffective hammer for a thousand crooked nails.

2. Starring John Cho

Star Trek actor John Cho is profiled in this interesting article on Vulture, where he talks about his character Sulu, what it’s like being an Asian actor, and the #starringjohncho hashtag.

(Vulture, approx 27 mins reading time)

When I told my dad I wanted to try this acting thing, he said, “Are you sure you don’t just want to be a television news reporter?” Because it did seem like a better road for Asians. He said, “Well, if you do, then maybe one day you can tell the history of Korean-Americans in the U.S.” And I was like, Oh shit. More burden. And I just couldn’t help myself. And that’s probably why early on I didn’t want to take stereotypical roles. I’ve always had a sense of responsibility.

3.  Meet Leslie Jones

People-Leslie Jones Leslie Jones Source: AP/Press Association Images

This January 2016 profile of Leslie Jones – star of Ghostbusters – gives a great insight into the 25 years it took for her to get to where she is today. Outspoken, ballsy and never afraid of saying what she thinks, she’s a fascinating subject to profile.

(The New Yorker, approx 36 mins reading time)

After the “S.N.L.” audition, Jones flew back to L.A. and waited. A week later, she heard the news: the job had gone to Sasheer Zamata, a twenty-seven-year-old improviser and sketch performer at U.C.B., who is Disney-princess pretty. Jones said, “I understood why they gave it to her—she’d been doing sketch for a long time, she’s a natural fit—but at the same time I was fucking pissed.” The next day, she got a call from Michaels, who asked if she would take a job as a writer. “I went, ‘You know I have no fucking idea how to do that, right?’ ” Still, she accepted the offer and moved to Harlem.

4. The world’s most dangerous jungle

The Darién Gap is on the border of Colombia – the kind of place where you’ll find human skulls on sticks as a warning to visitors. But one journalist went on a trek through the jungle – which is home to deadly snakes and guerillas – and lived to tell the tale. You won’t be rushing to visit after reading this.

(Outside Online, approx 49 mins reading time)

This tourist charade soon falls apart. A pudgy Bangladeshi man named Momir, his face ghoulishly pale from fever, rejects the coyote’s order to get out of the boat when it runs aground. Arafat shows us a large gash on the bottom of his foot and refuses to walk any farther. The men are weak from days of traveling in muggy, 90-degree temperatures, subsisting on crackers and gulping river water. And they are scared. For all they know, we’re Colombian authorities about to arrest them, or bush thugs ready to strip them of their remaining cash, stitched inside the lining of their pants.

5. The accidental movie star 

Source: China Icons/YouTube

At home in the US, Jonathan Kos-Read is known as, well, Jonathan… but in China, he’s called Cao Cao. He’s the leading foreign actor in the country, and has been working there for 17 years. Here’s the story of how it all happened.

(New York Times, approx 20 mins reading time)

He rarely played bad guys, because there are very few American villains in Chinese movies (those roles tend to go to the woeful cohort of Japanese actors working in China). Instead, Kos-Read was often typecast as a “dumb guy,” he says. Most frequently, he was an arrogant foreign businessman who falls for a local beauty, only to be spurned as she inevitably makes the virtuous choice to stay with her Chinese suitor.

6. Inside Russia’s secret City 40

Source: HotDocsFest/YouTube

A new documentary called City 40 looks at the city that was the birthplace of the Soviet nuclear weapons programme. People still live and work there, despite the fact it is one of the most contaminated places in the planet.

(The Guardian, approx 7 mins reading time)

The city’s residents know the truth, however: that their water is contaminated, their mushrooms and berries are poisoned, and their children may be sick. Ozersk and the surrounding region is one of the most contaminated places on the planet, referred to by some as the “graveyard of the Earth”. Yet the majority of residents do not want to leave. They believe they are Russia’s “chosen ones”, and even take pride in being citizens of a closed city.


Miranda Sawyer had a good run as a hip music journalist – but then one day she realised she was in her 40s, married, and with kids. Suddenly, she felt like she wanted to run away. But here’s what she did instead.

(The Guardian, approx 14 mins reading time)

But, like the difference between a wedding (the gaudy manifestation) and a marriage (the everyday reality) with a midlife crisis it’s not the crisis that matters. The crisis is just the bit that other people witness. What’s actually important is the midlife part, and living with that.

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday>

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