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Abu Anas al-Libi, the man who allegedly planned the 1998 attack on U.S. embassy buildings in East Africa and was awaiting trial in America, has died of complications from liver surgery, his wife says, according to The Associated Press.

Al-Libi, believed to have been an al-Qaida operative, was captured by U.S. special forces in the Libyan capital in Oct. 2013 and brought to the U.S. to stand trial.

As NPR's Leila Fadel reports from Cairo "Abu Anas al-Libi, whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, was indicted more than a decade ago in a U.S. federal court for involvement in twin bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. The attacks killed more than 224 people."

The AP reports that on Saturday, al-Libi's wife, who asked to be identified as Um Abdullah, told the news agency that the experience of being in U.S. custody had exacerbated her husband's ailments, including hepatitis C, and hastened his death. He was 50.

"I accuse the American government of kidnapping, mistreating, and killing an innocent man. He did nothing," she said, according to the AP.

Um Abdullah was informed of her husband's death by the U.S. embassy in Libya, she said.

The Telegraph reports that after spending a week aboard a U.S. Navy ship in the Mediterranean where he was interrogated, in his first appearance in a U.S. court in October 2013, al-Libi "appeared frail and exhausted as he shuffled into the courtroom with his hands cuffed behind his back."

He pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim Americans and to damage U.S. buildings and property, including U.S. national defense facilities. He was denied bail.

An attorney for al-Libi, who had a $5 million bounty on his head before his capture, said that his client had never sworn an oath to Osama bin Laden and was not involved either directly or indirectly in the 1998 embassy bombings.






This week, the FBI stood firm on its claim that North Korea was responsible for the hack on Sony Pictures, even though independent cybersecurity experts have questioned the FBI's stance. We also looked at a new app that helps people share their stuff, and at Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler's handling of the net neutrality debate.


App Connects People And Stuff: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports on a new Netherlands-based app, Peerby, that helps people share and borrow their stuff like power drills and bicycle pumps. Peerby connects 100,000 borrowers and lenders in the Netherlands each month, and the company plans to introduce the service in 50 U.S. cities this year.

All Tech Considered

Sony Hack Highlights The Global Underground Market For Malware

All Tech Considered

Doubts Persist On U.S. Claims Of North Korean Role In Sony Hack

Spotlight On The FCC Chairman: When President Obama appointed former cable TV lobbyist Tom Wheeler to head the FCC in 2013, Wheeler probably never imagined he would become a public face of the net neutrality debate. NPR's Brian Naylor reports on how Wheeler is managing the debate.

Tech Trends That Will Stay Hot In 2015: NPR tech reporters Elise Hu, Laura Sydell and Aarti Shahani reconsider 2014 tech trends that are likely to resurface in the year ahead. Among them, Apple's reputation as an innovator, a new age of voice command devices, and the focus on cybersecurity after a year of data breaches.

The Big Conversation

Despite much uncertainty from cybersecurity experts, the FBI wouldn't back down from its claim that North Korea was to blame for the devastating cyberattack on Sony Pictures. FBI officials and data scientists from the U.S. cybersecurity firm Norse met Monday in St. Louis, where Norse representatives presented research linking several people, including a former Sony employee, to the hack, CNN reported.

The new information comes after a wave of speculation regarding the FBI's claim that North Korea is the culprit. As NPR's Aarti Shahani reported, private security researchers doubted the FBI's explanation for blaming North Korea. The FBI said the IP addresses — unique computer addresses — in the attack trace back to North Korea, but experts say it's fairly easy to spoof an IP address. The FBI also said the malware used in the attack was similar to software North Korea used in previous attacks, but experts say criminals are always reusing code.

And The Interview, the comedy film that was pulled from major theaters after threats from the hacking group Guardians of Peace, is booming at the box office. The movie raked in $15 million in online rentals and purchases in the first four days it was available, and it earned the studio nearly $3 million from screenings at mostly independent theaters.

On Friday, President Obama authorized expanded sanctions against North Korea over its alleged role in the Sony hack.


Venture Beat: Chaos Computer Club Says It Can Reproduce Fingerprints From Public Photos

TravelByDrone.com: Best Drone Videos of 2014

The Verge: Hyundai will let you start your car with an Android Wear watch

Samantha Raphelson is a producer for NPR.org. You can reach out to her on Twitter.

sony hack

the interview


Sony data breach

Net neutrality


North Korea



In politics, conventional wisdom can have a certain power. But, sometimes the obviously true thing isn't so true upon inspection.

The new Republican Congress hits Capitol Hill on Monday, but the latest round of that wisdom seems to have already been established — from how it's going to work to its relationship with President Obama. Here's a look at 2 1/2 pieces of that wisdom.

1. Republicans are going to have to show they can govern.

At this point, it's been said so many times it's become an established Washington truth.

In his NPR interview late last month, President Obama said: "They are going to be in a position in which they have to show that they can responsibly govern, given that they have significant majorities in both chambers."

And Colorado Republican Sen.-elect Cory Gardner on Fox News Sunday back in November had a similar sentiment: "If Republicans don't prove that we can govern with maturity, that we can govern with competence, we'll see the same kind of results two years from now, except it will be a wave going back a different direction."

He's saying Republicans could lose their majority if they don't show they can govern. Or not.

"You're creating a test that you cannot pass," says Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at the conservative publication National Review, which ran an editorial titled "The Governing Trap." "That requires the support of people who have an incentive for you not to pass it."

That is, if the definition of governing is passing bills the president signs into law, then Ponnuru says congressional Republicans shouldn't make that their goal. Instead, he says, they should do the basics, keep the government open for business and outline an agenda they'd implement with a Republican president. That, Ponnuru says, is what Democrats did when they took the majority in 2006 for President Bush's final two years in office.

"They don't run in 2008 on the basis of the things they cooperated with President Bush to accomplish, and it's just I think sort of absurd to think that that's the right strategy for Republicans to employ," he says.

2. House Democrats will be totally irrelevant.

They'll have fewer members than they had in the last Congress. "Make no mistake about it, Minority Leader Pelosi would much rather be Speaker Pelosi by any condition," says former GOP Rep. Tom Reynolds. "She is the steward of the minority in some real tough circumstances."

But John Lawrence, former chief of staff to Pelosi, says hold on. "I always refer to it as the Rodney Dangerfield of politics. They get no respect." But in this case, he says, the House Democrats are "very salient" for two reasons.

First, when it comes to legislation where Republicans aren't united — like votes to keep the government funded — some Democratic support will inevitably be needed for passage. And second, Lawrence points to presidential vetoes. Take a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Many expect the president would veto it. Republicans don't need House Democrats to get it passed.

"But you can't override vetoes with only Republican votes and that means that Pelosi and the House Democrats have an ace up their sleeve," Lawrence says. "And then the House Democrats become highly, highly relevant in terms of upholding those vetoes."

2 1/2. The president will start wielding the veto pen.

How often will there even be vetoes to uphold? That's our final bit of conventional wisdom. President Obama has said he expects his veto pen to get a workout. But with only 54 Republican senators in the new Congress, it will be rare for a bill Obama dislikes to get the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural hurdles and make it to his desk.

I don't know when people started to think they could successfully make fun of you for being a person who grew up listening to a lot of Billy Joel — and perhaps still does — but they can all forget it.

Friday night, PBS is running a special concert in which Joel gets the Library Of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, and it's great fun, and he deserves it. Somehow the model-dating and perceived rock posturing and rehab have been rolled up into something that makes people feel entitled to write hyperbolic essays of contempt that bubble over with bizarre levels of anger at the music itself (while, in that case, choosing "The Longest Time" and "An Innocent Man" as the man's only defensible music, which I personally find the height of hilarity from a self-proclaimed tastesplainer). And, too, where even thoughtful defenses are kind of grudging and "with friends like these"-y. Somehow, people who hate Billy Joel are very, very sure that their critiques are devastating to the people who like him — they are comforting the afflicted (with Billy Joel) and afflicting the comforted (by Billy Joel).

As a longtime listener, I respectfully can say only this: I don't care.

Here's the scoop on Billy Joel, whose music I listened to unrelentingly from about age 10 to about 25, not an unusual length for a fandom that begins in youth: some of his music is good. Some of it is bad. Some of it is dumb. Some of it is wise. Some of it would be good if it weren't really strangely and badly produced, such that it benefits from being revisited and rearranged. Some of it really sticks with you. Some of it is really hard to play on the piano. He really wanted to be a rock star, but some of his best stuff is pretty, hymn-like or lullaby-like. He is not a symbol of either everything good or everything bad in the world. But yes, in those records, there is plenty to justify a position as a celebrated writer of 20th century popular song.

The special is, as these tribute concerts often are, a bit all over the place. It seems a little on the nose to send out Boys II Men to sing "The Longest Time" (a song I've always considered pretty disposable, if charming in the attempt). I wanted LeAnn Rimes to take it easier with "Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)," which is pretty and simple and does not need to be sung quite so hard. And if I agree with detractors on anything, it's that I don't need "It's Still Rock And Roll To Me," particularly, sung by Gavin DeGraw. And Josh Groban singing "She's Always A Woman," while I think it's pretty, is not going to win over the people who have written the whole thing off as A Thing For Uncool People.

On the other hand, Natalie Maines has a lovely take on "She's Got A Way" that does bring out the musicality of it nicely (though the third-personing of the song so that the "me" is a "him" seems strange and unnecessary). And "New York State Of Mind" does indeed, when sung by Tony Bennett, sound utterly timeless and classic.

I don't know what to say about the all-hands-on-deck performance of "Piano Man." You have to see it. I will say this: it's not my favorite song of his. I know. But this performance, particularly the way it starts, is ... something.

So yes, it's a little up and down. But I think if you watch the clip of Joel singing "Only The Good Die Young" in Russia, when he was young enough to stand on the piano and jump off it like a goof, and where people stretched their arms toward him, and when he sweated and high-fived them, and you can't understand the appeal of it at all, that's not necessarily an objective, level-headed appreciation of the line between shlock and culture so much as it is an expression of the natural variance in the things people like, which I understand makes for a much less interesting piece than "WHY THIS MUSIC IS TERRIBLE EVEN THOUGH MANY PEOPLE LOVE IT."

The special, the performances, didn't do all that much for me. But the performance clips — the early ones and then the footage of him performing in the concert special itself, where he's in better voice than I've sometimes heard him in recent years — sent me directly back to the music, which is still good. (A clip with Paul McCartney is a good reminder that even the most revered songwriters have their ups and downs.) It's worth listening to the ones that aren't from his radio-pop history: he plays "Vienna," which he's long been known to like very much — as do I — despite the fact that it never was a hit. Same with "Miami 2017," which I consider a high point in cheeky apocalypse pop. (And nobody sang "And So It Goes," which is tragic. That's so pretty.)

Yes, this will show you a lot of awkward-looking people in fancy clothes singing and clapping. That's what I would have been doing had I been there. Even those of us without our own kids ultimately become the people who listen to what becomes defined against our will as Music For Parents. It's all very, very unfashionable if that's the eye with which you look at music. I get it. I accept it.

I don't care. I wish I remembered how to play the beginning of "Vienna" the way I once could. Perhaps that's the best thing you can take away from giving this particular guy a listen: that finger-twitching feeling.

I should get a piano.

haters gonna hate


An Ethiopian kitchen can be a place of both succulence and self-denial.

As I stand in the restaurant kitchen of Abyssinia, a popular Ethiopian eatery in Nairobi, the owner, Abebe, shows me how his cook prepares the dish called kitfo. It's raw minced beef whipped together with cardamom and chili and a spicy butter with a texture and taste closer to delicate cheese than to steak tartar.

Kitfo is actually Abebe's favorite food, but it's one he's not allowed to eat this month. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, one of the world's oldest, observes Christmas on Jan. 7, following a calendar similar to the Coptic. The 40 days prior to Christmas (including Dec. 25) are observed with a vegan fast.

The 12 Days Of Quirky Christmas Foods Around The Globe

That usually means just one meal per day, in the afternoon or evening.

This 40-day Nativity Fast — also observed by the Eastern Orthodox Church, Eastern Catholic and Coptic Church, among others — typically prohibits meat, dairy, eggs, oil and wine. (Some traditions are ambiguous around the restriction of fish.)

The church considers refraining from some meals and some foods to be a form of purification and spiritual preparation. While the term "vegan" was coined only 70 years ago, prohibitions against eating meat and dairy for extended periods have been around for millennia. But no church has as many fasting days as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Abebe says that at a time of year when others are gorging, there's something gratifying in self-denial, Abebe says. "In fact that gives a psychological edge to those of us who are fasting." And the hungrier he gets, the closer he says he feels to God.

Abebe, who like many Ethiopians goes by only his first name, has a lot of practice serving food he's forbidden to touch. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has 250 fasting days, 180 of which are obligatory for laypeople, not just monks and priests.

During the 40-day advent fast, only one vegan meal is allowed per day in the afternoon or evening. Abebe says that he's come to enjoy that feeling of apartness. "It enables me to deal with this world. Because this world is full of challenges," he says.

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Doro wat, the traditional dish eaten in Ethiopia on Christmas Day, served with injera bread. John Elk/Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image hide caption

itoggle caption John Elk/Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image

Doro wat, the traditional dish eaten in Ethiopia on Christmas Day, served with injera bread.

John Elk/Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image

It also makes the Christmas feast, when it finally arrives, that much more of a party. The traditional dish for Ethiopians on Christmas Day is doro wat, which features pieces of meat swimming in a rich red sauce.

Unlike the doro wat eaten the rest of the year, the Christmas dish is prepared with a slaughtered rooster rather than a hen, and carved into exactly 12 pieces, representing the 12 disciples, says Abebe's wife, Shitaye. (Each wing is divided into two pieces. Those four pieces plus the breasts, thighs, drumsticks, neck and back make 12.)

Then come the 12 hard-boiled eggs, which some say symbolize eternity. But eternity is what it can feels like to make the sauce, which requires simmering down 9 pounds of chopped onion for every one rooster, with a chili called berbere. It's a process that normally takes 5 hours.

I ask Shitaye if the specialness of this dish is perhaps lost on her many Kenyan and expatriate customers, for whom doro wat is just another dinner option, instead of a long-awaited reward for asceticism.

"Yeah, if you [eat] it every day it's true," she says. Catching herself, she adds: "But our guests are very special for us!"

There are some traditions that the Ethiopian diaspora in Kenya have to miss out on this holiday season. Kenya has outlawed the sale of homebrew, so there will be no honey wine, called tej, or barley beer, called talla. Likewise, there will be no sound of children playing the traditional Christmas game of Ethiopian field hockey, or genna. Legend has it that this is what the shepherds played when they heard of the birth of Jesus. (Abebe says he used to play a mean right wing, or skipper.)

Today, however, as every day this month, they will be eating just like their relatives in Ethiopia. At 2:45 p.m., when the day's fast can be broken, Abebe emerges with a woven basket on which is laid the spongy sour flatbread called injera, with a generous dollop of a chickpea-and-white bean dish called shiro (11 ingredients, nine of which are spices). It's accompanied by scoops of lentils, kale and other greens.

We dig in, using more of the injera as knife and fork. Unlike the white injera you often find in the U.S. is made of corn flour, this one is brownish, made from an ancient grain called tef specially imported from Ethiopia.

With fasting food this delicious, you could say asceticism has its perks.

Christmas foods




Clockwise from top left: Dr. Simi Mahesh examines a patient. A chart shows the number of abortions performed at the clinic. Illiterate patients sign the consent form with a thumbprint. Palo Khoya waits with the doctor's assistant. Poulomi Basu for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Poulomi Basu for NPR

Dr. Mahesh prepares to carry out an abortion for Palo Khoya. "They just come because they don't want to continue the pregnancy," the doctor says. "They're not bothered whether it's legal or not legal. But we're doing awareness campaigns to tell them it's legal, it's not wrong, to get rid of the stigma attached to it." Poulomi Basu for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Poulomi Basu for NPR

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Palo Khoya, in the operating room, explains her decision: "I got an abortion because I have two little children and I would like them to grow up a little more before I can think of conceiving again and have a third and fourth child," Khoya said. Poulomi Basu for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Poulomi Basu for NPR

Palo Khoya, in the operating room, explains her decision: "I got an abortion because I have two little children and I would like them to grow up a little more before I can think of conceiving again and have a third and fourth child," Khoya said.

Poulomi Basu for NPR

Poulomi Basu for NPR

Dr. Simi Mahesh and Palo Khoya talk after the abortion. "I was traumatized and terrified, wondering whether I would be in massive pain," Khoya says. "The doc reassured me and carried out the abortion safely." She now visits the doctor regularly for family planning advice. "Women don't know the methods [of family planning]," Dr. Mahesh says. "So the key is educating women." Poulomi Basu for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Poulomi Basu for NPR

Poulomi Basu is a documentary photographer based in New Delhi, India. She is part of the VII Photo Agency Mentor Program.

family planning



Hollywood would just as soon forget 2014 when it comes to box office numbers. Despite the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, and the arrival of the final Hobbit sequel, movie grosses are off about half a billion dollars from last year. What about quality? This year's films were quirkier than usual — but still, my cup runneth over.

Usually, I'm conflicted when picking a favorite film of the year. This year, it's no sweat. I have flat-out never seen a movie that took bigger chances for more intriguing rewards than Richard Linklater's Boyhood. Shooting over a dozen years, just a day or two each year, he captured his leading child — actor Ellar Coltrane — growing from a precocious six-year-old giving his father a hard time to a young man of 18 ... still giving his father a hard time.

“ This year's films were quirkier than usual — but still, my cup runneth over.

- Bob Mondello

It's hard to overstate the emotional impact of watching someone literally grow up before your eyes. Is Boyhood stunt filmmaking? Well if so, it had some very classy competition. Director Alejandro Gonzlez Irritu's Birdman was already flying into meta territory just by casting Michael Keaton, a former superhero making a comeback, to play a former superhero making a comeback, but the director also upped the ante by shooting almost all of Birdman — including leaps out windows in fantasy sequences — to look as if the film were one continuous shot.

For pure directorial bravura, it would be hard to top Birdman, but other directors sure made a stab at it. Wes Anderson, for instance, in his delirious spoof of 1930s melodramas, The Grand Budapest Hotel. It stars Ralph Fiennes as an easily distracted concierge who romances dowagers in a resort that looks like a pink wedding cake perched atop a Swiss alp.

The film is at least as easily distracted as its concierge, with flashbacks inside flashbacks, each with its own aspect ratio, from wide-screen to basically square. Yes, Anderson's films are an acquired taste, but Grand Budapest Hotel makes clear that it's a taste worth acquiring.

Mike Leigh's exquisitely earthy biopic, Mr. Turner could hardly be more different — a muscular, artful portrait of an artist. Actor Timothy Spall grunts and snorts his way through the film as J.M.W. Turner, spitting on his canvases, stabbing them with brushes, attacking them in ways that make painting look almost like combat, but the results are incandescent: Every frame of Mr. Turner is worthy of framing.

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That's four. Other real-life figures in the year's best films include two who practiced civil disobedience while advocating for governmental change. Laura Poitras begins her scintillating documentary Citizenfour by reading one of the emails Edward Snowden sent her when he was first preparing to go public with his revelations of widespread government surveillance. "Laura, I am a senior government employee in the intelligence community," she reads. "I hope you understand that contacting you is extremely high-risk ... this will not be a waste of your time." Call that the understatement of the year. The documentary Citizenfour unreels with the intensity of a thriller.

Ava Duvernay crafted a no less passionate film: The historical epic Selma, in which Martin Luther King, Jr. organizes the Alabama protests that would lead to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — and that makes six of my top ten.

The next three hail from overseas: Russia's Leviathan, a gorgeously shot tragedy about a little guy battling a corrupt state to save his home. Belgium's corporate downsizing drama, Two Days, One Night, which follows Marion Cotillard as she struggles to save her job.

And Sweden's Force Majeure, about a young father on a skiing vacation who screws up and is suddenly trying to save his marriage. The catalyst in his case is one of the ski resort's "controlled" avalanches that starts to seem not-very-controlled. It comes down the mountain straight at the family, and at the camera, and — well, there's no other way to say it: Mom grabs the kids, Dad grabs his cellphone, and runs. When the powder settles, no one's hurt, but the family dynamic has been forever altered.

Another marital drama — Love Is Strange — rounds out my ten favorite films. It's an intimate story about a gay couple, an artist and a choir director, who decide to get married after 39 years together. When the choir director's church gets wind of the ceremony, he's fired, at which point the couple's finances come apart and they have to turn to friends. What looked like a new beginning in Love Is Strange instead starts to seem the beginning of the end.

That's ten, and it's an arbitrary number, so I'm gonna keep going. Two provocative war movies celebrated real-life war heroes: Clint Eastwood's wrenching American Sniper, set in Iraq, and the World War II-era The Imitation Game, about the math genius who cracks the Germans' Enigma code — leave it to Benedict Cumberbatch to make the impossible sound "elementary."

The East Indian comedy The Lunchbox struck me as the year's most savory romance. Edge of Tomorrow as its most underrated sci-fi flick — and Calvary its most intriguing tale about the search for redemption. A corrosive one, mind you, that gets under way with a startling admission in an Irish chapel's confessional.

A trio of terrific low-budget films were centered on gay characters this year — the documentary Dog, about the real guy that Al Pacino played in Dog Day Afternoon, the Hitchcock-like thriller Stranger by the Lake, and the hugely engaging labor-union comedy Pride. And speaking of engaging, you can have your animated Legos, give me Big Hero 6 and the inflatable health care robot Baymax.

That's nearly a second ten to savor as we head into the barren cinematic dumping ground the studios always make of January. Look forward to horror sequels, misbegotten comedies and with luck, an occasional gem. I can vouch for Jennifer Aniston in Cake. Here's hoping there are others.

Three years after the U.S. military officially withdrew from Iraq, 2,000 U.S. troops are back. They're restoring the old buildings they'd left behind and renewing contacts with Iraqi officers they knew before.

They're also taking incoming rocket fire at their bases.

This week began an ambitious training program to put 5,000 Iraqi soldiers through boot camp every six weeks.

“ It is a little spooky to walk out there and ... things are pretty much exactly as people pulled out.

- Maj. Patrick Kiley

Operation Inherent Resolve was designed by the U.S. to build a coalition of states to strike back against the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, in Iraq and Syria. The operation has seen a return of U.S. troops to Iraq, mainly as advisers and trainers. Another 1,000 are expected in the coming weeks.

Many of those troops have deployed here before, and have mixed feelings about coming back to a country where America spent years at war and where many believe they had helped create a stable country.

Their commander is Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard, and one recent evening he flew by helicopter to the military base Taji, just north of Baghdad, to meet about 180 U.S. troops stationed there.

Pittard explained the strategy he worked out with Iraqi leaders against the Islamic State, which he calls by the Arabic nickname Daash.

"Phase one is degrade Daash, phase two is dismantle, which will be a counter-offensive, and phase three is defeat," he says. "But it's going to take a couple years to defeat them."

Trainers will work at five bases and work with Iraqis, mainly recruits just through basic training, every six weeks until there's enough for an offensive.

"If you look around the room at the combat patches here," Pittard says, noting the markings on the U.S. troops uniforms, "people either served in Iraq or Afghanistan for the most part."

There are some advantages to that.

"A lot of us served here before," says Col. John Reynolds. "A lot of the Iraqi generals ... the senior leaders, know us."

But for many it's surreal to be back. Staff Sgt. Marlon Daley was deployed in 2003 and 2004, then 2009 to 2010 and again from 2011 to 2012.

Asked whether he thought he'd ever be back here, he says, "I did not, to be honest."

Most say they're happy to deploy and help out, they're just sad the country unraveled. Also, since they had pulled out of these vast bases completely they're having to dig back in.

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A U.S. soldier walks through a fence on Monday at the Taji base complex north of the capital Baghdad. Ali al-Saadi /AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Ali al-Saadi /AFP/Getty Images

A U.S. soldier walks through a fence on Monday at the Taji base complex north of the capital Baghdad.

Ali al-Saadi /AFP/Getty Images

On another flight and another day, Pittard visits Al Asad base in the province of Anbar. Here, the Islamic State is much closer.

"Well you just missed the war a little bit ago," says Marine Maj. Patrick Kiley. Turning to a comrade he asks, "How many rounds did we take today?"

It's four, it turns out — rocket fire on this contingent of at least 200 troops in the U.S.-led coalition. Parts of the base are dilapidated.

"It is a little spooky to walk out there and just, you know whatever year we left this place, things are pretty much exactly as people pulled out," Kiley says. "So you walk in and the only difference is there's a lot of dirt on the places now."

They have been here about a month, and say they don't know how long they'll stay. A wooden building has been refashioned into a dining facility and chapel.

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"This building here has old Marine Corps stuff all over the walls that's been painted over," says a Marine named Nolan. He doesn't want his last name used in case ISIS targets his family. Inside the building are candy canes, Christmas trees and an improvised kitchen. It's almost cozy.

But indirect fire — rockets or mortars — does come in several times a week. For Cpl. Zak Taylor, it's his first time in Iraq.

"It's not too bad," he says. "You kinda get used to everything. Not the rockets, that's definitely one thing we'll never get used to."

Reinforcing structures has been a big part of Taylor's first month. Some days he spends 12 hours filling sandbags.

Many of the Americans agree the struggle against ISIS will take years and that they want to help but insist they're not here to fight the war.

"We are not going to come into this country and clear it out again," says Maj. Kiley. In reference to Iraq's military, he says they have to start learning to do for themselves.

"We'll give them all of the training that they can handle, but they have to learn to pick it up and plan, prepare, take care of their people and fight the fight," he says.

Even if you're a fairly enthusiastic sports fan — someone who can identify sportscasters Jim Nantz or Joe Buck by tenor and intonation alone — you may very well have never heard the name Doc Emrick.

Mike "Doc" Emrick is the world's premier announcer for what is America's fourth team sport: ice hockey. For those who know hockey, or those aficionados who listen to a few minutes of an NHL game just to hear Emrick talk about blue lines or poke checking, he is absolutely revered.

Emrick isn't even Canadian, and his background is in academia — hence the professorial nickname — but he is that rare play-by-play man, who is both an authority of the game and a connoisseur of the language. The eloquence he brings to such a bombastic activity is the sort of giant contradiction that even overwhelms irony.

Hockey is surely as fast a game as any — but somehow, even during line changes, or the chaos of a scramble for a puck behind the cage, Doc is able to speak in coherent sentences, complete with subordinate clauses, even turning a clever phrase as the puck clears, and he is able to catch his mind. A devoted fan once counted 153 verbs that Doc used in one game to describe the movement of the puck.

To hear more on Doc Emrick from Frank Deford — and a sample of those 153 verbs — click on the audio link.

ice hockey

Frank DeFord

A year ago, same-sex marriage was legal in 18 states and Washington, D.C. Now that number is up to 35 states, and there's a strong possibility that remaining bans will go before the Supreme Court in the year ahead.

While activists in the legal and political battle over same-sex marriage called 2013 a banner year for their cause, they're calling 2014 a "super banner year."

"This moment that we are in is nothing any of us could have predicted," says Kate Kendall, the executive director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights. "Just barely 10 years ago, there was not a jurisdiction in this country where a same-sex couple could legally marry, and now, just a little over 10 years — 35 states!"

Kendall and other supporters of same-sex marriage are optimistic their side ultimately will prevail, because state laws banning same-sex marriage were struck down this year by federal judges across the country. At the appeals court level, four circuit courts ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. In October the Supreme Court rejected, without comment, petitions to review those lower court rulings.


Turf Shifts In Culture Wars As Support For Gay Marriage Rises

"It was the first time that the Supreme Court had the opportunity to say 'we are going to let a whole set of marriage rulings in lower courts stay just the way they are,' " says Ned Flaherty, a Boston-based marriage equality activist who tracks court decisions. "That had not happened before, so it was a new type of progress that had not been seen."

But barely a month later, judges in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals went the other way. They upheld laws banning same-sex marriage in four states: Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee.

That created a new conflict among the circuit courts — some in favor of same-sex marriage, one against. It was a game-changer, says Chapman University law professor John Eastman, who opposes same-sex marriage.

"I think the proponents of redefining marriage are overly optimistic in their anticipation of an ultimate ruling in their favor," Eastman says.

Ultimately, both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage agree that the 6th Circuit's decision increases the likelihood that that the Supreme Court will have to step in.

Still, there's no way of knowing which cases, if any, the Supreme Court might consider.

Among the couples waiting to hear are Thomas Kostura and Ijpe DeKoe of Memphis, Tenn. They were married in New York two years ago, just before DeKoe, an Army sergeant, was deployed to Afghanistan. Upon his return, DeKoe was stationed at Naval Support Activity Mid-South base in Tennessee, and Kostura says he wasn't sure how he would be accepted as a military spouse.

"What surprised me was how welcoming everyone I met in Tennessee was, and how they themselves respected our marriage," Kostura says. "Really at this point, it's only been the state who hasn't recognized our marriage."

Kostura and DeKoe filed suit along with two other same-sex couples to have their marriages recognized by the state of Tennessee. DeKoe says no couple should have to base a job choice on how a state is going to treat their marriage.

"Yes, in my case it's military, but any couple that marries anywhere should be able to move to Tennessee without a problem," he says.

Amid the speculation about whether the Supreme Court might take a same-sex marriage case, another potential front in the cultural war over marriage slowly is emerging.

In South Carolina, for example, there's a bill that would allow judges and other public officials to refuse to issue marriage licenses if it violates their religious beliefs.

Eastman, the law professor, says he expects similar moves in other states to preserve the traditional definition of marriage as between only a man and a woman.

"As long as there's a fight to redefine the institution of marriage that runs contrary to your human nature, human nature's going to have a way of fighting back," he says.

Eastman says the Supreme Court ultimately could allow different states to have different laws on marriage. The justices are expected to decide in January whether they will hear a case; they may issue a decision by summer.

same-sex marriage


The 114th Congress convenes on Jan. 6 and GOP leaders are preparing their to-do list for the new year, when they will control both chambers. The November elections were a victory for Senate and House Republicans and the change in Congressional leadership will mean a new legislative landscape for President Obama, who entered the White House with a Democratic majority behind him.

First on the list, according to incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will be the Keystone XL oil pipeline. NPR's Ailsa Chang reported Monday on the tone of that first legislative action.

"It will kind of be the first test for McConnell to see if he holds true to his promise that he'll let both Republicans and Democrats propose amendments to shape bills. He's said he would on Keystone, even contentious amendments."

The most-watched issues going forward will likely be immigration reform and Obamacare. McConnell has promised a vote to repeal the Obama Administration's health care law, telling Roll Call that it was "a very big issue in the election." As for immigration reform, a big sore spot for Republicans who were angered by the President's recent executive action, USA Today referred to it as one of the "tough sell" actions for a GOP-led Congress, calling the issue "politically flammable."

"Republicans are searching for a response that will appease hard-charging conservatives who want the GOP to block the president's action — but that doesn't alienate the fast-growing, politically powerful Hispanic population."

Last week, NPR's Tamara Keith examined the coming year in Congress and how it might signal a change in the President's political tactics.

"As viewed from the left, President Obama agreed to water down every major piece of legislation in those first two years to keep moderate Democrats on board and unsuccessfully trying to get Republican support. The great, new era of bipartisanship never arrived. Six years and two wave elections later, the big Democratic majorities in Congress are gone. Republicans are about to hold more House seats in the 114th Congress than they have since the 1920s. Oh, and they've taken back the majority in the Senate, as well. Will this change President Obama's approach to governing?"

Maybe. NPR's Steve Inskeep sat down with the President before he left Washington for the holidays. Mr. Obama said he was prepared to use his veto power more often but is optimistic for a productive year with the GOP leadership.

"What I've said repeatedly is that I want to work with them; I want to get things done. I don't have another election to run.

There are going to be areas where we agree and I'm going to be as aggressive as I can be in getting legislation passed that I think help move the economy forward and help middle-class families. There are going to be some areas where we disagree and, you know, I haven't used the veto pen very often since I've been in office, partly because legislation that I objected to was typically blocked in the Senate even after the House took over — Republicans took over the House.

Now I suspect there are going to be some times where I've got to pull that pen out. And I'm going to defend gains that we've made in health care; I'm going to defend gains that we've made on environment and clean air and clean water.

But what I'm hopeful about — and we saw this so far at least in the lame duck — is a recognition by both Speaker Boehner and Mitch McConnell that people are looking to them to get things done and that the fact that we disagree on one thing shouldn't prohibit us from getting progress on the areas where there's some overlap."

A deadline is already approaching on February 27th, when the Department of Homeland Security will run out of funding. That deadline was specially planned by Republicans in order to quickly revisit immigration reform once the GOP took control of Congress.



Mitch McConnell

This year saw some very large corporate mergers and takeovers. Comcast and Time Warner's proposed deal topped the list.

Globally, there was $3 trillion worth of deals announced this year — the biggest year for mergers and acquisitions since the financial crisis. And the trend is expected to continue next year.

It wasn't the number of deals that was impressive, it was the large sums involved. And they involved some big names such as Reynolds American buying smaller tobacco rival Lorillard for $28 billion, and Burger King closing on its deal to buy Canadian coffee and doughnut icon Tim Hortons for $11 billion.

David Harding, who leads corporate mergers and acquisitions for Bain & Company, says, to him, this was all fairly predictable.

"The M&A industry is highly cyclical," he says. "It's a little bit like sun spots."

And this year's flare up, he says, was driven in part by companies' huge cash coffers.

"There is a tremendous amount of capital sloshing around in the world, looking for a home," he says.

“ "The M&A industry is highly cyclical. It's a little bit like sun spots."

- David Harding

Harding says the economy is improving, but companies in the U.S. and Europe are finding it hard to grow "organically," as they say in business circles. So instead, Harding says, they're looking at targeted acquisitions.

In one of the year's biggest deals, Facebook bought messaging software firm WhatsApp for an eye-popping $22 billion. Drug firm Actavis announced plans to buy both Allergan and Forest Laboratories this year, as pharmaceutical companies tried to buy their way into new markets and expertise.

The corporate merger trend is likely to continue, says Harding. The dramatic fall in oil prices is setting the stage for still more mergers among some companies in the energy and manufacturing sectors.

"Shale industry, for example, are going to come under distress, and so they are going to be looking for white knights to buy them," Harding says.

And, he says, selling begets selling. As the value of deals goes up, more companies are willing to sell, creating a collective swell.

"My sense is that 2015 will be a bigger year than 2014," Harding says. "But there will be a falloff at some point in the not too distant future."

Richard Jeanneret, a vice chair at Ernst & Young who advises clients on deal-making, agrees.

"To use a baseball analogy, we're in the early innings," he says.

The Two-Way

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Jeanneret says he expects more mid-sized companies to get in on the action next year, making it a bigger year for mergers and acquisitions overall.


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A number of this year's deals — including Burger King and Tim Hortons — caused a big stir because they involved U.S. companies buying smaller firms, and then moving headquarters abroad to avoid paying higher U.S. corporate taxes. The practice, known as tax inversion, prompted the Obama Administration to change the tax rules in September.

That change scuttled the year's biggest announced deal — drug maker AbbVie's plans to buy UK-based firm Shire for $54 billion. AbbVie publicly criticized the Obama Administration.

But Jeanneret says tax inversions were not a major factor in this year's deals.

"It makes for great fodder," he says. "It's clearly been present in some very large transactions, but the reality is the volume is extremely low."

In the past, some companies have been burned by bad deals. But Jeanneret says companies are vetting deals more carefully than they did a decade ago.

"At that time they were responding to market pressures to be bigger," he says. "Now the marketplace wants greater focus."

So sometimes that means merging. But other times — as was the case this year with eBay and Hewlett-Packard — it means spinning off old acquisitions that didn't work out.

tax inversion


Tim Hortons


Reynolds American


Time Warner





Burger King


If you could make a lot of bourbon whiskey these days, you could be distilling real profits. Bourbon sales in this country are up 36 percent over the last five years.

But you'd need new wooden barrels for aging your new pristine product. Simple white oak barrels, charred on the inside to increase flavor and add color, are becoming more precious than the bourbon.

Making these barrels is a very old craft, almost an art, called cooperage. The Scots-Irish who settled in Appalachia could do this. Cut the white oak boards into staves, steam them to bend, make metal hoops to hold the barrel tight.

My first stop to see this process is the small town of Lebanon, Ky. This cooperage is one of several owned by a company called Independent Stave. It's based in Missouri and it's the largest maker of whiskey barrels in the world.

As the barrels take shape they are carried, rolled, and conveyed – sometimes overhead – to the different work stations. Starting out as a collection of oak staves, they are fitted together, steamed, bound with steel and seared with flame before arriving at the end ready for inspection.

"The barrel has water and air in it," says Leo Smith, the supervisor for the last stop on the production line. "They're looking for any kind of leak or defect in the barrel. He's gonna put a plug in that barrel where it's leaking to stop that leak."

The plug is a simple piece of cedar, whittled by hand.

Independent Stave is a family-owned company and they don't talk much. I can't ask how many people work here in Kentucky or how many barrels they make. But the plant manager, Barry Shewmaker, does say, in the last two years production has doubled.

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"Once we have the toast layer we'll let the barrel ignite," says Paul McLaughlin of Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville, Ky. Noah Adams/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Noah Adams/NPR

"Once we have the toast layer we'll let the barrel ignite," says Paul McLaughlin of Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville, Ky.

Noah Adams/NPR

The Salt

It's Brown, It's Barrel-Aged, It's ... Gin?

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"We're seen an increase and it looks like there's no end in sight," Shewmaker says.

Independent Stave makes barrels for the big distilleries – Kentucky brand names you might have tasted — and so far Independent is staying steady with demand.

But there's another need for oak barrels: very small craft distilleries starting to make bourbon, vodka, gin or rum. Their output is low – sort of like a drop compared to the big brands– but someone does have to make the barrels.

Kevin and Paul McLaughlin moved to Louisville from Scotland and are joint presidents of Kelvin Cooperage here. For more than 20 years they've been crafting wine barrels, and they buy used bourbon barrels to fix up and sell to the whiskey trade in Scotland and Ireland.

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Aging bourbon at a distillery in Kentucky. Paul Joseph/Flickr hide caption

itoggle caption Paul Joseph/Flickr

Aging bourbon at a distillery in Kentucky.

Paul Joseph/Flickr

The Salt

It's Not Tennessee Whiskey If It's Aged In Kentucky, State Says

But now a different market has come right to them: They're making white oak barrels for the newly-rising craft distillers. Paul McLaughlin takes me to watch the charring process – they put oak scraps in the finished barrel – and soon we see the flames. In the beginning it's called toast.

"We start smelling kind of a baked bread — that's what we like, that's when we know we're getting the toast layer and once we have the toast layer we'll let the barrel ignite," says Paul McLaughlin. "You get baked bread, you get marzipan — really nice smells."

There may be as many as 700 small craft distillers in the U.S. today, and that number is going up fast.

"Some of them call and say I'm making whiskey I've got my stills going and I need barrels and I didn't think there would ever be a problem getting barrels," Kevin McLaughlin says.

At the Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville they are working overtime. But the company estimates that in 2015 they could sell all the barrels they could make, 10 times over.

craft distilleries





The Interview, the Sony Pictures movie that was pulled from theaters after alleged threats from a group of hackers, has earned the studio $15 million in online rentals and purchases in the four days since it was made available last week.

The $15 million figure was only slightly less than the $20 million the studio had estimated The Interview to generate in its opening weekend in theaters across the nation.

The film starting Seth Rogen and James Franco is a comedy that centers on a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But Sony's emails were hacked in the period leading up to the movie's planned Christmas Day release, and the group that claimed responsibility for the hack, the Guardians of Peace, also threatened violence against moviegoers if the movie made it to theaters. That prompted the nation's largest movie theater chains to say they won't screen The Interview. Sony, too, said it won't release the movie.

That seemed to be the end of the road for the film, which reportedly cost $44 million to make, until last week when it was announced that about 300 independent movie theaters would show The Interview. Sony also announced it would make the movie available for rent online for $4.95 on services such as YouTube Movies and Microsoft's Xbox video console, as well as a dedicated website, and for sale at $14.99.

Variety reported today that the movie was rented or bought more than 2 million times through Saturday. That figure will likely increase as Apple's iTunes service made the movie available over the weekend. The Interview also earned nearly $3 million through its screenings at 331 theaters. Bloomberg noted that the movie is Sony's top online film ever. The news service adds:

"The unconventional rollout of The Interview is the first big test for a simultaneous theatrical and online release. Typically, such debuts have been reserved for smaller films, such as independent movies that may not have enough widespread appeal to warrant a big theatrical marketing budget, according to Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Rentrak."

The FBI initially accused North Korea of being behind the hack, but the communist country, while calling the hack "righteous," denied any role. Some experts say they doubt North Korea has the capability to carry out such an attack.

sony pictures

sony hack

the interview

Sony data breach

North Korea



"We answer everything," Caballero-Li tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer. "Patrons can call us and reach out to us for anything they feel curious about, any service that they need — and I think that surprises a lot of people."

In fact, she says there's a surprising amount of overlap between the questions from the archive and the questions she fields in 2014. "These are questions that we are answering still, today, and we will probably be answering tomorrow, as well," she says.

There are questions of etiquette, questions about the Bible and — especially in the days after Christmas — a lot of people want to know how download e-books onto their brand new e-readers.

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"How many neurotic people in U.S.?" New York Public Library hide caption

itoggle caption New York Public Library

"How many neurotic people in U.S.?"

New York Public Library

Caballero-Li says plenty of people call the library because they don't have access to the Internet, but others call after they couldn't find a satisfactory answer on Google.

"You can find a lot of information online, of course, and that's great," she says. "But when you can't, or when you have too many answers, or you can't quite distinguish fact from fiction, that's when you reach out to us."

Librarians are "information specialists," she says, and can help point patrons to resources that aren't available online. Also, sometimes there's just something about speaking to a human being.

And nothing is off-limits — really.

The Protojournalist

Before Google ... Who Knew?

"There are no stupid questions," Caballero-Li says. "Everything is a teachable moment. We don't embarrass people; we try to answer any questions they have with honesty and we try to refer them to appropriate resources that they might find useful."

Granted, the librarians have received a fair number of stumpers over the years. "We don't know everything," Caballero-Li says, "but we can always point you in the right direction."

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New York Public Library

New York Public Library

Romania is one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in Europe and it's been that way for years. It's a tough legacy to overcome, but there are signs the country is trying to make a fresh start.

Klaus Iohannis, an underdog presidential candidate who campaigned on a platform of fighting corruption, won a surprising victory last month over the ruling party's nominee. Iohannis, 55, was sworn into office last Sunday.

To make headway, he'll need to work in tandem with Laura Codrua Kvesi, who heads Romania's National Anti-Corruption Directorate. She faces the tall task of rooting out graft that has plagued the country since the fall of communism in Eastern Europe 25 years ago.

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Kvesi is lanky 41-year-old, a former teen basketball star with a tough-as-nails reputation. She says the legacy of her prosecutor father and her strong Romanian Orthodox faith inspire her to seek justice.

Kvesi says her agency sent some 890 defendants to trial, including former ministers, parliament members and even the ex-president's brother and the head of Romania's organized crime and terrorism investigation unit.

One of her high-profile cases involves software licenses sold at inflated prices for use in Romanian schools. Nine former cabinet ministers are under investigation in that case.

The nearly $200 million confiscated by the courts in connection with those cases are more than seven times the directorate's annual budget, she says.

"It is encouraging for the Romanian people to see that we take action, that the authorities function so well," says Kvesi. "It leads to an increased trust in our institutions and also encourages more people to come here and file complaints."

And yet Kvesi acknowledges that corruption is deeply ingrained in the Romanian psyche.

She and other anti-corruption figures say that attitude developed in the years following the collapse of communism, when law enforcement was weak and opportunities were rife for politicians and businessmen to make money from the shift to a market economy.

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Laura Codrua Kvesi, the chief prosecutor of Romania's National Anti-Corruption Agency, has a reputation for aggressively pursuing graft. Gabriel Amza for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Gabriel Amza for NPR

Laura Codrua Kvesi, the chief prosecutor of Romania's National Anti-Corruption Agency, has a reputation for aggressively pursuing graft.

Gabriel Amza for NPR

"The transition period is one in which law enforcement bodies were weak, when even police were afraid to go out on the street," recalls Monica Macovei, an EU parliament member and outspoken Romanian anti-corruption activist. "So you have a lot of money in the public budget being transferred into private hands without knowing how to do it."

Macovei says an independent judiciary and Kovesi's directorate are forcing Romanian politicians to be more accountable, something the Romanian public is demanding with a vengeance.

During November's Romanian presidential elections, thousands of Romanians took to the streets in Bucharest and other European capitals to protest mismanagement of the polls.

At issue was the right to vote abroad. Many expat Romanians were prevented from voting during the first round at their embassies in Paris, London and Munich, among other cities.

Those complaints sent a surge of sympathetic voters to the second round and swept Iohannis to victory over the candidate of the ruling Social Democratic Party, Prime Minister Victor Ponta.

Iohannis, the former mayor of the Transylvania city of Sibiu, is of German descent and is the first Romanian president from one of the country's ethnic minorities.

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A young girl waves the Romanian flage at a recent anti-corruption rally in Timisoara, Romania. Gabriel Amza for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Gabriel Amza for NPR

A young girl waves the Romanian flage at a recent anti-corruption rally in Timisoara, Romania.

Gabriel Amza for NPR

"We are a nation that has shown the world that we embrace democratic values, that we want courage and that we want change," Iohannis said earlier this month.

He agreed in writing to 10 measures to clean up corruption and ensure transparency, says Macovei.

"I have some worries deep inside, but I don't want to discourage him or anyone else. I just wish him to be strong and not to listen to those in the parties, so I wish him not to listen to these voices coming from a dark past," Macovei says.

In Iohannis' hometown of Sibiu, many believe he can succeed.

He served as mayor for 14 years in the city, where he once taught high school physics and has one of the few homes here outfitted with solar panels. He is credited with turning the city into a popular tourist destination.

The president's Lutheran pastor in Sibiu, Kilian Doerr, says when Iohannis was first elected as mayor, a local taxi driver commented: "Now we can leave all the doors open here, no one will steal anything anymore."

That may be wishful thinking, but Doerr believes that under Iohannis, "corruption and misuse of public funds won't be allowed anymore."


In the winter of 1905, in the London neighborhood of Bloomsbury, a group of friends began meeting for drinks and conversation that lasted late into the night. The friends – writers like Lytton Strachey, artists like Roger Fry and thinkers like economist John Maynard Keynes — continued to meet almost weekly for many years. Eventually, they came to be known as the Bloomsbury Group.

In the beginning, their clubhouse was the home of the Stephen siblings — two brothers and two sisters. Today, the women are better remembered than their brothers: They were the painter Vanessa Bell and the writer Virginia Woolf.

Priya Parmar has written a novel about the group, and especially about the Stephen women. It's called Vanessa and Her Sister and it's written in the form of Bell's journal. Parmar tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer that she chose to put Bell at the center of her novel because, compared to her sister, her voice has been largely unheard.

Interview Highlights

On the Bloomsbury Group's love lives and how they influenced her decision to write the book

I was reading the letters of Vanessa Bell, not with the idea of writing about her but just because I love reading people's letters, especially from this period. And she had written a letter rejecting a marriage proposal. And she told him, you know: You're just a little bit too available. Could you maybe go away for a year and come back? And maybe I'll like you a little better then, and maybe I'll say yes.

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And so their romantic lives were a huge draw for me, but she was really the thing that pulled me in. She was so modern and so interesting and it was sort of her that I was interested in. I didn't realize quite how entangled they were until I got into it.

On how much she relied on the letters and journals Bell, Woolf and their friends and family left behind

Vanessa Bell did not keep a diary, so this is entirely fictional. But I did use all of the primary material I could find to get an idea of, you know, their lives and their voices and their writing styles and just who they were. It was invaluable. It was amazing. They left behind huge amounts of correspondents. They wrote letters the way we write email, basically.

On why she chose to put Bell at the center of her novel

She was the most interesting to me by far in the group. She was the sort of voice that I felt at home with. And she didn't leave a journal and her voice is the least, I guess, publicly known. You know, Virginia's diaries are so famous and her letters are so famous, whereas only a very, very few of Vanessa Bell's letters are published. So her voice is largely unheard and I was really interested in that.

On sharing her book with Bell and Woolf's descendants

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Their descendants are very much alive and with us, and they themselves write about Bloomsbury. So, yes, it was a daunting, daunting thing. ... [The family has] been wonderful and just so supportive and so lovely and took me to Charleston, Vanessa Bell's home. And [Bell's granddaughter] Virginia Nicholson — who's a wonderful, wonderful writer, nonfiction writer — she took me and introduced me to her mother and it was just a magical, magical day.

On whether there were any parts of the book the family disapproved of

Virginia Nicholson gave me notes and her biggest note was that her grandmother would have used the word "napkin" instead of the word "serviette." So that was her biggest note all the way through the book.

Read an excerpt of Vanessa and Her Sister

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