In his debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra transports readers to Chechnya, a war-torn Russian republic that has long sought independence.
The lyrical and heart-breaking novel begins in 2004 when a doctor watches as Russian soldiers abduct his neighbor, who has been accused of aiding Chechen rebels. He later rescues the neighbor's 8-year-old daughter, then colludes with another doctor to form an unlikely family amid the daily violence.
Sam Bompas (left) and Harry Parr made names for themselves with spectacular gelatin creations.
Credit Andrew McRobb / Kew
Boaters on the Palm House pond at London's Kew Gardens. Bompas and Parr's pineapple island is visible in the background.
Credit Greta Ilieva / Courtesy of Sam Bompas
London's famed St. Paul's Cathedral, re-created in Jell-O.
Credit Courtesy of Sam Bompas
The dynamic food art duo surrounded the SS Great Britain, a British naval ship built in the 1800s, with 55 tons of gelatin â the lime green color was inspired by the limes that sailors ate to combat scurvy. The installation is seen here illuminated from below at night.
These may sound like the makings of a Roald Dahl children's book (he of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame). But at London's Kew Gardens, visitors can now immerse themselves in such fantastic-sounding experiences like rowing down a blue-dyed boating lake to the aforementioned island, which features a 15-foot replica pineapple towering over a banana grotto.
NPR's Bob Mondello and Susan Stamberg read excerpts of two of the best submissions for Round 11 of our short story contest. They read Snowflake by Winona Wendth of Lancaster, Mass., and Geometry by Eugenie Montague of Los Angeles. You can read their full stories below and find other stories on our Three-Minute Fiction page or on Facebook.
I found your journal in my car. A slim, Moleskin, six by ten centimeters, soft cover, blue, curving upwards at the edges like an incredibly shallow bowl, or a key dish. By the concavity in its form, the book seemed to be suggesting it was capable of carrying something. Something real. Not much. A few pennies. A handful of nails. One heavy pen cradled at that depression in the center, which had dropped out of the flatness of the book from riding around in the back pocket of your jeans.
She found the photograph early in the day, while she was cleaning for spring, pulling a winter's collection of domestic detritus out from under the bed. Ticket stubs, grimy grocery notes, coffee-stained lined paper, and dead pens. Their life: movies, food, and books. She didn't like housecleaning, but the weather had changed, and something moved her to sweep around, put things in order, clean them up.
"Don't put your daughter on the stage," Noel Coward famously cautioned his imaginary Mrs. Worthington, and no wonder: Stage acting is one of the toughest professions imaginable. For all the potential triumph, there's hardly any job security — and more than a little potential for heartbreak and disappointment.
With summer travel season just over the horizon, millions of Americans are poised to take off for family vacations. But before they reach their destinations, they'll likely endure security lines, luggage fees, tiny bags of pretzels and unexplained delays.
Patrick Smith, an airline pilot and columnist, has written a new book for curious fliers. It's called Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel: Questions, Answers and Reflections.
The Gateway Arch "is really a monument to the 20th century and to the height of American power," says historian Tracy Campbell.
The Arch nears completion as the two legs stretch to within 6 feet of their intended 630-foot height on Sept. 25, 1965.
Workmen bring the keystone section into place on Oct. 28, 1965. The crane in the background lifted the 10-ton stainless steel section. The Mississippi River is to the right.
A 60-ton steel strut is lifted into place joining the two towers of the Arch on June 17, 1965.
Credit Fred Waters / AP
Workmen close the gap on Oct. 28, 1965, as they insert a 10-ton keystone, completing three years of construction. A hydraulic jack atop the 630-foot arch forced the structure's legs apart for installation.
The next-to-last 8-foot stainless steel section is fitted into the top of the Arch on Oct. 19, 1965.
Credit Charles W. Harrity / AP
The Gateway Arch was completed on Oct. 28, 1965. It is pictured above in 1976.
Credit Fred Waters / AP
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis was conceived in the 1940s and completed in the 1960s. It was designed to symbolize the opening of the West. Here, it is shown under construction on June 17, 1964.
Credit Yale University Press
Tracy Campbell is a history professor at the University of Kentucky and the author of three previous nonfiction books.
The iconic Gateway Arch — overlooking the Mississippi River from the St. Louis side — took almost a generation to build, but the 630-foot monument hasn't transformed the city as hoped in the four decades that have followed.
Conceived in the 1940s and completed in the 1960s, the history of the signature American symbol is described in Tracy Campbell's new book, The Gateway Arch: A Biography. The story has some surprising twists — including, Campbell says, a very early vision of an arch by the Mississippi:
Michele Tafoya is the Emmy award-winning reporter for NBC's Sunday Night Football, but she's spent time on basketball courts, softball diamonds, gymnastics mats and now public radio quiz show game grids.
We've invited Tafoya to play a game called "Enter at your own risk!" As one of the first female reporters to be allowed inside the NFL locker room, she has been a pioneer in her field. But there are still places out there where they believe in cooties, so Tafoya will answer three questions about men's-only clubs.
Arthur Fiala, shown here in 1918 and 2005, was a private in the 26th Company of the 20th Engineers Regiment during World War I.
Credit S.E. Brown / Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Richard Rubin has written for The Atlantic and The New York Times Magazine. His other books include Confederacy of Silence and Everyday American History of the 20th Century.
Credit Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
George Briant, shown here in an undated photo and in 2004, recalls Nov. 11, 1918, the day the war ended and the guns fell silent: "You looked like you were in a new land; you couldn't believe that everything is quiet".
Ten years ago, writer Richard Rubin set out to talk to every living American veteran of World War I he could find. It wasn't easy, but he tracked down dozens of centenarian vets, ages 101 to 113, collected their stories and put them in a new book called The Last of the Doughboys. He tells NPR's Melissa Block about the veterans he talked to, and the stories they shared.
Celine and Jesse are sporting a few physical wrinkles — and working through some unsettling relational ones — in Before Midnight, but that just makes this third installment of their once-dewy romance gratifyingly dissonant.
It's been 18 years since they talked through the night that first time, Julie Delpy's Celine enchanting and occasionally prickly, Ethan Hawke's Jesse determined to charm; their chatter then, as now, scripted but loose enough to feel improvised as captured in long, long takes by Richard Linklater's cameras.
A lot of things about grilling can ignite a fight, including the meaning of "barbecue." And with the proliferation of fancy equipment — from gas grills to pellet smokers to ceramic charcoal cookers — amateur cooks are growing more knowledgeable, and opinionated, about how to best cook food outdoors.
A new study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film has led to headlines claiming that women are missing from film criticism. "Female Movie Critics' Influence Shrinking, Says Study," reads the headline in the Chicago Tribune.
Well, they did say this one was going to be different.
After The Hangover II essentially duplicated the structure of the first movie --three guys piecing together a night of debauchery and mayhem none of them can entirely remember — director Todd Phillips promised that the third would go in a new direction. And, in a bold if unbelievable move in the era of never-ending sequels, he pledged that this Hangover would be the last.
Forensic psychologist Scott Fraser studies how we remember crimes. He describes a deadly shooting and explains how eyewitnesses can create memories that they haven't seen. Why? Because the brain is always trying to fill in the blanks.
Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman goes through a series of examples of things we might remember, from vacations to colonoscopies. He explains how our "experiencing selves" and our "remembering selves" perceive happiness differently.
Some people can memorize thousands of numbers, the names of dozens of strangers or the precise order of cards in a shuffled deck. Science writer and U.S. Memory Champion Joshua Foer shows how anyone can become a memory virtuoso, including him.
"Some memories come with a very compelling sense of truth about them. And that happens to be the case even with memories that are not true." -- Daniel Kahneman
Memory is malleable, dynamic and elusive. When we tap into our memories, where's the line between fact and fiction? How does our memory play tricks on us, and how can we train it to be more accurate? In this hour, TED speakers discuss how a nimble memory can improve your life, and how a frail one might ruin someone else's.
Source material: As a virtual prisoner these days, he doesn't supply much in the way of fresh information — but WikiLeaks overlord Julian Assange is very much at the center of Alex Gibney's documentary We Steal Secrets.
Current-events buffs probably think they know the tale of WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange. Prolific filmmaker Alex Gibney may have thought the same when he began researching his film We Steal Secrets. But this engrossing documentary soon diverges from the expected.
Even the movie's title, or rather the source of it, is a surprise. Not to spoil the fun, but it's neither Assange nor one of his allies who nonchalantly acknowledges that "we steal secrets."
Domestic drama: Among the ultra-Orthodox world of Tel Aviv's Haredi Jews, Rivka (Irit Sheleg, left) and her daughter Shira (Hadas Yaron, second from left, with Hila Feldman and Razia Israeli) are confronted with a dilemma after a death in the family.
Credit Karin Bar / Sony Pictures Classics
Handsome and thoughtful, Shira's sister's widower (Yiftach Klein) is nonetheless not her first choice for a husband — which may not make a difference in the end.
Driving home from a screening of the ravishing new Israeli film Fill the Void, I caught sight of a young man in full Hasidic garb, trying to coax his toddler son across a busy Los Angeles street. My first thought was, "He's a boy himself, barely old enough to be a father, and they both look so pale."
My second was, "I wonder what his life feels like?" This is the more open mindset that director Rama Burshtein asks from audiences going into her first feature, a love poem to the ultra-Orthodox world as seen from within.
In the film What Maisie Knew, Julianne Moore plays a troubled rock star whose young daughter witnesses her parents' volatile behavior as they argue over custody during their rocky separation.
On the surface, Moore's character, Susanna, might seem to be an entirely terrible one — a self-involved person and inappropriate mother who's not paying attention to her child. But Moore makes her more complicated than that.
Before you see any of Behind the Candelabra -- when you just consider the concept of the TV movie and its casting — this new HBO Films production raises all sorts of questions: How much will be based on verifiable fact, and how much will be fictionalized? On an anything-goes premium-cable network such as HBO, how graphic will the sex scenes be?
And the most important questions involve the drama's two leading men, playing an ultra-flamboyant piano player and the wide-eyed young man who becomes his behind-the-scenes companion for five years. Michael Douglas? Matt Damon?
Writings from childhood — cards, stories and other notes — can hide for decades, like time capsules tucked away in boxes, old bedrooms, attics and journals. Writer Jim Sollisch talks about how old thank you notes from his youth foreshadowed his adult life.
The biggest problem with pretending all of reality television is categorically odious is that it denies us the opportunity to identify and hold accountable what is actually odious. To those who insist that it's all gross — that no matter the documentary aspirations or good-natured competitiveness of plenty of unscripted television, it all belongs in the same giant dumpster — I am your Crocodile Dundee of distaste: Those aren't destructive and grotesque and irresponsible. This is destructive and grotesque and irresponsible.
Moving on to other news in education, last week hip-hop mogul Dr. Dre and music producer Jimmy Iovine announced that they would be giving the University of Southern California $70 million to create a degree that will blend business, marketing, product development, design and liberal arts.