Features

Rowling's outing

Human Race | A surreal U.S. book tour for Potter fans

Issue: "Elephant in the room," Nov. 3, 2007

What's the significance of "outing" someone who doesn't actually exist? Plenty, apparently, if the character in question is Albus Dumbledore, master wizard and headmaster of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series. And if you are J.K. Rowling speaking to fans at Carnegie Hall. Harry Potter's mentor "is gay" she told the crowd on her first U.S. book tour since 2000, to wild applause. Rowling then acknowledged that not everyone likes her work (a reference most media took to mean Christian groups that have objected to its witchcraft), and this, she said, will give them one more reason not to.

But if characters only exist in words, and no words ever defined this imaginary wizard as gay, then what's the point? Rowling spent much of her book tour spinning out the imaginary future of characters whose story was over with the July publication of the final Potter installment. Sharing plot twists in this fashion seems showy, pointed, and precious-like George Lucas coming out and saying, "Well, Darth Vader was against the war in Iraq."

Free at last

Asia: Korean-American survives Chinese imprisonment

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Steve Kim has a dubious honor: longest jail time in China for helping North Korean refugees. Released after four years in prison, the Korean-American businessman spoke publicly about his experience for the first time Oct. 19. Kim is a furniture retailer from Huntington, N.Y., who expanded his business to China 20 years ago. A member of the underground church in Guangdong Province, he began noticing that North Korean refugees were arriving in China helpless and friendless. "Every Sunday I saw one or two [in] church," he said. "The Korean people were afraid to help them."

Starting in 1999, Kim fed and sheltered refugees in apartments before sending them on an underground railroad to Vietnam, where they could apply for asylum in South Korea. He gave each person about $500 for the journey and asked the groups to contact him via public phone on their progress. But Chinese border police caught on and arrested Kim in 2003 as a "human trafficker." In prison he made artificial flowers and found that North Koreans endured harsher treatment than Chinese inmates and other foreigners. They are "non-nationality prisoners" unclaimed by Pyongyang, Kim said. "Nobody can help them. Nobody can visit them." With Kim safely back in New York, his North Korean counterparts face long imprisonment in China or repatriation to North Korea, where they likely face death for leaving home. -Priya Abraham

Close-ups

AFRICA: It's not the Nobel Peace Prize, but on Oct. 22 the first Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership-worth more than a Nobel at $5 million over 10 years and $200,000 a year after that-went to Joaquim Chissano, former president of Mozambique. Ibrahim, a cell-phone business magnate, launched the award to encourage good, clean government in Africa. His foundation credits Chissano with helping to end Mozambique's civil war and Marxist rule.

POLAND: The evil twin really does exist. Until recently, he ruled Poland. In the largest election turnout since the fall of communism, Poles rejected the party of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, whose identical twin brother Lech remains president. Jaroslaw divided the country with political witch hunts, and voters on Oct. 21 turned out the prime minister in favor of a party of free marketers.

LOUISIANA: U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal became the nation's youngest governor and the first non-white to hold the post in Louisiana since Reconstruction. The 36-year-old conservative lawmaker, whose parents emigrated from India, outspent two multimillionaire opponents and carried more than half the votes despite a field of 12 candidates.

Harrison Scott Key
Harrison Scott Key

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