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Read our essay on a year of migrant fiction
Don DeLillo is one of America’s greatest writers. His politically engaged fiction has tackled a broad range of subjects from nuclear war to terrorism. In this compelling and very funny short story, “Hammer and Sickle,” DeLillo satirises the world of high finance. We follow the life of a hedge fund manager who has been imprisoned for crimes reminiscent of those committed by the fraudster Bernie Madoff.
We walked across the highway bridge, 39 of us in jumpsuits and tennis sneakers, with guards front and back and at the flanks, six in all. Beneath us the cars were blasting by, nonstop, their speed magnified by our near vantage and by the sound they made passing under the low bridge. There’s no word for it, that sound, pure urgency, sustained, incessant, northbound, southbound, and each time we walked across the overpass I wondered again who those people were, the drivers and passengers, so many cars, the pressing nature of their passage, the lives inside.
I had time to notice such things, time to reflect. It’s a killing business, reflection, even in the lowest levels of security, where there are distractions, openings into the former world. The inmate soccer game at the abandoned high school field across the highway was a breezy departure from the daily binding and squeezing of meal lines, head counts, regulations, reflections. The players rode a bus, the spectators walked, the cars zoomed beneath the bridge.
I walked alongside a man named Sylvan Telfair, tall, bald, steeped in pathos, an international banker who’d dealt in rarefied instruments of offshore finance.
“You follow soccer?”
“I don’t follow anything,” he said.
“But it’s worth watching under the circumstances, right? Which is exactly how I feel.”
“I follow nothing,” he said.
“My name’s Jerold.”
“Very good,” he said.
The camp was not enclosed by stone walls or coiled razor wire. The only perimeter fencing was a scenic artifact now, a set of old wooden posts that supported sagging rails. There were four dormitories with bunk-bed cubicles, toilets and showers. There were several structures to accommodate inmate orientation, meals, medical care, TV viewing, gym work, visits from family and others. There were conjugal hours for those so yoked.
“You can call me Jerry,” I said.
I knew that Sylvan Telfair…