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Ocean Vuong Makes His Fiction Debut, in the Form of a Letter

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ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS
By Ocean Vuong

“On Earth We’re Briefly Beautiful” is Ocean Vuong’s second debut. His first, as poet, was spectacular and met with huge reward, even garnering comparisons to Emily Dickinson. The expertise on show in that ebook, “Evening Sky With Exit Wounds,” is simple, and if you happen to haven’t but learn his poetry, I’d suggest beginning there earlier than venturing on to Vuong’s debut as a novelist. Most of the identical themes and obsessions hang-out each books: Violence is one, whether or not from the American conflict in Vietnam (Vuong himself is Vietnamese-American), or from inside the household; queerness is one other; the physique itself; race; ecstasy and pleasure. In truth, the novel is titled after one in every of Vuong’s poems, and in a approach you possibly can consider this second ebook as one thing like a slicing from the primary, planted in new soil and morphed into some new genus.

All to say, it’s an experimental, extremely poetic novel, and due to this fact tough to explain. The structural conceit of the ebook is ostensibly a letter written from a son, Little Canine, to his mom, Ma. However this letter is almost 250 pages (with poemlike sections within the second half), containing a prolonged essayistic meditation on Tiger Woods’s Asian heritage, his ideas on Duchamp’s “Fountain,” and loads of literary musings on figures like Roland Barthes. Most essential, Ma, or Rose, can not learn, so the protracted dedication is known as inside.

The vanity could make for some pretty strains, as when Little Canine falls for an additional boy: “There have been colours, Ma. Sure, there have been colours I felt once I was with him.” Studying that line, I used to be reminded of Melanie’s well-known B-side, “Look What They’ve Carried out to My Track, Ma”; there in addition to right here, the ability lies within the intimacy of that “Ma” on the finish of the chorus, in capturing the will to take the ache of the world residence to mom and maintain it as much as her like a damage she would possibly kiss. That act is a type of talismanic seal, a spell, a gesture that transforms damage into therapeutic by way of the shared perception in its energy.

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The truth is that Little Canine has been kissing Ma’s bruises his entire life. Ma emerges as troubled, troubling and enchanting. Her personal mom, Lan, survived the conflict by doing intercourse work, and Ma’s father, whom she by no means knew, was one in every of Lan’s American soldier purchasers. Throughout the postwar years, Rose suffered the brutal bullying penalties of being a mixed-race baby. Little Canine was born in Vietnam, however his household flees as refugees to Hartford when he’s only a toddler. He’s raised by his uneducated mom (who works at a nail salon) and grandmother in 1990s America.

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Editorial

Here Lies the Skull of Pliny the Elder, Maybe

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In 2017, after Mr. Cionci chronicled the mystery in the Turin-based daily La Stampa, Project Pliny was launched. DNA sequencing and an analysis of cranial shape and sutures suggested that the skull fit the Elder’s general profile. Still, Luciano Fattore, an anthropologist and occasional lecturer at University of Naples “L’Orientale,” warned that the older the individual, the less reliable the age range. “On average, however, the data is compatible with the possibility that the skull was Pliny’s,” he said. “This is a process of clues, with very strong evidences.”

Mr. Cionci’s team was buoyed when examination of isotopes in the tooth enamel in the jawbone revealed that the owner could have grown up in Northern Italy, Pliny’s birthplace. Then came the deflating news that the jaw likely came from a man of North African ancestry who had died in his thirties.

Mr. Cionci speculates that Matrone played mix-and-match with the bones, borrowing the jaw from a skeleton of a slave who lived on Pliny’s estate and served as his bodyguard. A footnote in “The Shadow of Vesuvius” refers to an ancient rumor that Pliny was killed by a slave “whom he urged to hasten his death in the agonizing heat.” Mr. Cionci’s hypothesis raises the tantalizing possibility the unmatched set of bones is an amalgam of murderer and murdered.

Unsurprisingly, some prominent scholars are deeply skeptical of Project Pliny’s conclusions. Dr. Dunn, who has closely followed the developments, wondered why, if Pliny the Elder’s body had been found in a sleeping posture, his body had not been entombed.

“If this is the skull of Pliny the Elder, I’d be absolutely flabbergasted,” she said. “The science does not appear to have established that connection, and we cannot know for certain that the skull was found as described or rule out the possibility that it was positioned opportunistically to lend credence to the theory that it was his. It is a pity we can’t recreate the moment of its discovery.”

She quoted an idiom that Pliny coined in a recipe for a kind of antidote to poison: addito salis grano — with a grain of salt. “We’ve appropriated the phrase to mean read or take with caution,” she said.

In an email, Francesco Sirano, director of the Archaeological Park of Herculaneum, and who was not involved in Project Pliny, praised the effort for “bringing back within a solid scientific basis a debate closed too hastily” in the early 1900s. “The group of researchers is trying to derive the maximum of the results from the few archaeological and anthropological remains, also thanks to the help of new technologies.”

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Editorial

Violin Lessons During the Coronavirus Outbreak. A Pupil’s Progress.

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He realized how serious the situation was at the end of January when the family’s Lunar New Year vacation to Chongqing, a city in the middle of China, was canceled. Kevin had been looking forward to playing his violin loudly outside every day. Instead, he had stayed home, watched news reports about the virus, and became nervous.

Kevin said the nerves passed quickly. His mother, who works at a hospital in Chengdu in its supplies department, told him as long as everyone’s careful, they won’t catch the virus.

Two weeks into the boot camp with Ms. Kreston, he is feeling much better, but longs for the outdoors. He is able to go into his apartment’s yard to play basketball, but he misses swimming and playing water polo and board games with friends.

“I feel bored!” he said while jumping from foot to foot as if filled with energy to burn.

Although he is “still very worried about Wuhan,” Kevin said is not so concerned about his own city. He doesn’t even worry about his mother, who has spent a lot of time recently buying masks and protective clothes for the hospital. “We’re often joking she’s the most dangerous person in our home and we should keep her in the bathroom,” he joked.

Kevin’s improved mood has a lot to do with the daily violin lessons with Ms. Kreston, he said. The two of them don’t just share videos back and forth, but also emoji messages about his violin playing.

Kevin now practices four hours every day, and he said his technique has improved and his sound has become more beautiful. Ms. Kreston said she gave Kevin the Lalo concerto because it was passionate at points and sad at others. Kevin could use it to tap into his feelings, even complicated ones about death and loss.

“The virus is terrible,” Kevin said, “but music gives us the confidence to overcome.”

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Editorial

A. E. Hotchner, Writer and Friend of the Famous, Dies at 102

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It was on such an assignment that he met Hemingway in Havana in 1948. Thus began a long friendship, recounted in “Papa Hemingway,” that included travels on both sides of the Atlantic, drinking adventures, manly and familial bonding and, finally, bearing witness to Hemingway’s psychological decline. Hemingway encouraged his younger friend to write and gave his approval to Mr. Hotchner’s adaptations of his works for television and the stage.

One production was a television play adapted from Hemingway’s story “The Battler,” about a young man — the Hemingway alter ego Nick Adams — who has been thrown off a freight train and encounters a punch-addled former boxer and his caretaker at a campfire in the woods. The boxer’s part had been intended for James Dean, but Dean was killed in a car crash on Sept. 30, 1955, shortly before rehearsals, and the role went to a young actor named Paul Newman.

“The Battler” was broadcast live on Oct. 18, and it led to Mr. Newman’s breakthrough role as Rocky Graziano in the 1956 movie “Somebody Up There Likes Me.”

It also led to a friendship of more than a half-century, which was cemented in the late 1950s, when Mr. Newman bought a house, not far from Long Island Sound, in Westport, where Mr. Hotchner had lived since 1953.

“We owned a series of dilapidated boats we’d take out on the water to go fishing and drink beer and have all sorts of adventures,” Mr. Hotchner told the London newspaper The Daily Mirror after Newman’s death in September 2008. “We drank a lot of beer and so never actually caught many fish.”

Mr. Newman had made it a holiday ritual to make batches of homemade salad dressing in his barn, pour it into wine bottles and drive around his neighborhood giving them away as Christmas gifts. Just before Christmas 1980, Mr. Newman was stirring up an enormous batch, with a canoe paddle, when he invited Mr. Hotchner to join him. Out of their small adventure came the idea for Newman’s Own.

Founded in 1982, the company has given away hundreds of millions of dollars through its charitable arms.

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