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I asked Louise Erdrich to introduce the main character of her new novel, The Night Watchman. His name is Thomas Wazhashk.

She reads:

"In the real world, villains too often succeed and heroes, too often die," says writer James McBride — and that's one of the great things about being novelist. "In novels you can move matters around ... you get to show the best side of people. You get to show redemption, and forgiveness, and you get to show the parts of people that most of us never get to see."

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For all the words uttered about urgent, vital issues at this week's Democratic presidential debate, one was missing: Syria.

The war in Syria has gone on for 9 years.

At least half a million people have died. More than 5 million Syrians are now refugees. Almost another million have had to flee their homes in the Idlib region just since last December, as Bashar al-Assad's army, supported by Russian air strikes, has tried to bomb and shell the people of the province into an obliteration from their own country.

Harry Nilsson's concept album The Point turns fifty this year; to celebrate, the 1971 animated film adapted from the music will be released digitally and on BluRay for the first time. Nilsson, a beloved if occasionally overlooked writer of late 1960s pop hits, died in 1994, but his strange and endearing fairy tale album still resonates with those that remember it.

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Let's ask R. Eric Thomas to tell us about the church in which he grew up.

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It can be hard to reconcile Bob Marley's massive and ongoing influence with the fact that the genre-defining reggae artist was just 36 when he died of cancer in 1981. Marley would have turned 75 this Thursday; to this day, his music accounts for nearly a quarter of the reggae listened to in the United States.

The Haden sisters — Petra, Rachel and Tanya — have a long history in American music.

When I met Tom Railsback a few years ago, he told me he'd worried about going to a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Peoria in the fall of 1974.

Tom Railsback of Illinois was a middle-aged Republican congressman from a state in the middle of America when he was on the House Judiciary Committee in 1974 that heard the case for impeachment against President Richard Nixon.

Mr. Railsback greatly admired President Nixon. "His opening of the door to China," he told me, "had to be the most brilliant foreign policy move ever."

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Marcus King has rock and roll in his bones: He comes from a family of famed guitarists in Greenville, S.C. With his raspy falsetto and guitar licks, he's been hailed as a revival of B.B. King or Stevie Ray Vaughan.

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The toll of the Australian bush fires is staggering. 27 people have died, more than 2,000 homes destroyed and 18 million acres have burned. A billion animals may have been killed.

Try to hold that horrifying number in your mind a moment: a billion animals.

As the impeachment inquiry against President Trump continues its march through Congress, questions are churning around his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.

What makes a banana taped to a wall worth $120,000 to someone?

If it has been put there by the right artist.

This banana was duct-taped to a wall by Maurizio Cattelan, the Italian artist, and it's on display this week at Art Basel in Miami Beach.

The banana is real, by the way, not a sculpture. It will soon go brown, slimy, and may already be ... fragrant.

The Perrotin art gallery of Paris has already sold this piece of produce, and it turns out that $120,000 is practically a bargain. Another banana the artist taped to a wall is going for $150,000.

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And talk about methane release. Time to talk sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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Meg Schmidt's signature song is a Top 40 track that could have been written for her.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHUT UP AND DANCE")

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"I think that Tom Waits is an artist who makes art for the sake of making art," singer Allison Moorer says.

The forced imprisonment of more than a million Muslim Uighurs in detention camps in the Xinjiang region of western China may make Americans feel outrage and sadness. But many may just shrug and ask, "What does that have to do with me?"

Look down at your shoes.

About 99% of the shoes sold in America are made overseas, with China being the largest manufacturer by far. Nike, Naturalizer, Dr. Scholl's, Hush Puppies, Keds and many other American companies make shoes in China, where the costs of production are far less.

Mary-Louise Parker is drawing rave reviews for her central role in Adam Rapp's new, two-character Broadway drama, The Sound Inside.

In the play, Parker stars as Bella Baird, a 53-year-old Yale English professor and fiction writer living with cancer, a role Parker herself describes as "arduous."

Night to night, under the direction of David Cromer, she's tasked with commanding a bare stage as she narrates her thoughts and actions during the better part of 90 minutes.

To achieve the appearance of effortlessness she musters great effort, she says.

What did a meal taste like nearly 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylonia? Pretty good, according to a team of international scholars who have deciphered and are re-creating what are considered to be the world's oldest-known culinary recipes.

The recipes were inscribed on ancient Babylonian tablets that researchers have known about since early in the 20th century but that were not properly translated until the end of the century.

It might be called "Revenge of the Pin-Stripes."

In this week's House Intelligence Committee hearings, career diplomats dressed in somber suits who have often been derided as "elites," "insiders," "the establishment," and even "the Deep State" got the chance to tell Americans how they have been nonpartisan representatives of America from administration to administration.

Those parts of their testimony weren't news "bombshells." But their words are worth noting.

Bernardine Evaristo's novel Girl, Woman, Other is just being published in the United States — after being awarded the U.K.'s Booker Prize last month (an honor shared with Margaret Atwood's The Testaments).

The Berlin Wall stood for 28 years. Today, Nov. 9, marks the 30th anniversary of when it began to come down.

It may be hard to imagine, a generation later, what a momentous event that was and why the sight of ordinary citizens, chipping away by hand and hammer at that edifice of cruelty, lifted so many hopes around the world.

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NPR has lost a friend and an old colleague. News reached us this week that David Rector died last month at the age of 69. He'd suffered an aortic dissection years ago that left him a quadriplegic.

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The field of 2020 presidential candidates with health care overhaul plans is crowded, and Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., is drawing lines of distinction between his proposal and his competitors' plans.

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