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I know where me and the boy are going this weekend:


But "Pompeii the Exhibit: Life and Death in the Shadow of Vesuvius," which opens on Friday at Discovery Times Square, is unusual because its dead bodies are not really dead, and they are not really bodies. They are, however, often more affecting, and they form the fulcrum of an absorbing show about a place more widely heard of than thoroughly understood. 

The bodies are made of white plaster, and their rough surfaces allow only vague outlines. But, like death masks, they capture a moment when their subjects ceased to be. A man sits crouched, his legs pulled up to his chest, covering his face, as if in despair. A girl desperately thrusts herself at her mother, grasping for comfort. A man, prostrate, begins to pull himself up a staircase but can go no farther. These bodies are writhing, groping, reaching, protecting. And their white forms are starkly displayed on black platforms in a dimly lighted gallery, looking like otherworldly figures enduring infernal agonies. 

They are plaster casts from Pompeii -- more, we are told, than have ever been gathered together for an exhibition. Pompeii, of course, was the Roman village near Naples that was entirely wiped out in the year 79, when Mount Vesuvius erupted, engorging the town with its ash and lava, preserving it as if it were a bug caught in sap that would turn to amber.

This is going to be great.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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