Pearl S. Buck emerged into literary stardom in 1931 when she published a book called The Good Earth. That story of family life in a Chinese village won the novelist international acclaim, the Pulitzer and, eventually, a Nobel Prize. Her upbringing in China as the American daughter of missionaries served as inspiration for that novel and many others; by her death in 1973, Buck had written more than 100 books, including 43 novels.
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.
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.